Ecuador: Comparative Ecology and Conservation
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Three week-long field excursions interspersed throughout the semester introduce students to the varied and unique ecosystems of Ecuador. Coupled with multi-day trips to farms, highland forests and grassland sites near Quito, students are exposed to Andean cloud forest, Amazonian rainforest, and Galápagos Island ecosystems, so that they can understand and identify life forms and their adaptations in a comparative context. Besides familiarizing themselves with ecological processes in each ecosystem, students conduct taxon-specific investigations. Finally, students observe the human impacts on each ecosystem and study different strategies for conservation.
La Florida, Intag Cloud Forest Reserve
After orientation week, the first excursion takes students to a cloud forest reserve in one of the world's top-ten biodiversity hotspots-the mega-diverse and highly threatened Chocó region of northwestern Ecuador. The first several days are devoted to learning about the cloud forest ecosystem at the reserve, principally through ecology field methods and guided hikes through the forest. Students get an introduction to botanical identification; practice setting up quadrats and transects to survey vegetation based on DBH; and hands-on experience mist-netting birds under the guidance of an experienced ornithologist. The students also gain insight into local environmental movements and grassroots conservation. The final days of the excursion include a homestay with members of the local women's artisan cooperative, which exposes students to the relationship between campesinos and the cloud forest environment.
During a previous semester, two SIT Study Abroad students discovered new species of orchids while doing field research for their Independent Study Project in the Andean cloud forest.
Tiputini Biological Station (TBS)
There is no more beautiful site than TBS in the remote region of the Ecuadorian Amazon for studying rain forest ecology. Students spend one week at the Tiputini Biological Station in a remote, intact area of Ecuadorian rain forest (termed the "Oriente") in Yasuní National Park. Here students learn about ecological characteristics of Amazonia and expand their repertoire of ecological field methods.
Specifically, they hone botanical and bird identification techniques; learn to use GPS units; monitor primate density; practice measuring forest density and tree height; and receive field applications of pollination biology and soil testing. Students also receive lectures from a guest faculty and other researchers working at the station as well as tours of the forest from local indigenous and mestizo guides. This site provides a unique opportunity to reach deeply into the Amazon beyond the encroachments of tourism and petroleum development.
Students have the opportunity to see Darwin's wonderland among the Galápagos Islands during their week-long excursion on a tour tailored to the program. Half of the week is spent aboard a first-class mini-yacht where a Spanish-speaking guide leads students on daily tours of the islands, giving tips for identifying the unique and often endemic plant, bird, reptile, or mammal species and their natural history information.
Much of the time is spent in the water snorkeling to study the marine habitat. Students witness island geological formations and trace evolutionary processes.
The other half of the week is spent with homestays on the island of Isabela in Puerto Villamil, which provides a unique understanding of the local people and their relationship with the Galapagos National Park.
Duration: 15 weeks
Program Base: Quito
Language Study: Spanish
Prerequisites: Coursework in environmental studies, ecology, biology, or related fields; 4 semesters college-level Spanish. Read more...
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