Owing to its unique location and geography, straddling the equator and bisected by the massive Andes mountains, Ecuador is among the world’s most important biodiversity “hot spots,” with more species of plants and animals found in the country’s gr...
Owing to its unique location and geography, straddling the equator and bisected by the massive Andes mountains, Ecuador is among the world’s most important biodiversity “hot spots,” with more species of plants and animals found in the country’s grasslands, forests, aquatic and coastal habitats than almost anywhere else on the planet. Here we can observe animals such as giant otters, black caiman, Amazonian river dolphins, monkeys, marine mammals, hundreds of species of birds, and a bewildering variety of butterflies and other exotic insects. Team members will take part in hands-on investigations of key species, habitats and local management of these resources.
We begin our studies in the high Andes, where the chilly grasslands of the paramo are the dominant ecological feature. The bizarre frailejones, a giant member of the daisy family, contribute to the mysterious atmosphere of this unique ecosystem. The paramo gives way to cloud forest, so named because the trees are enveloped in a perpetual covering of fog and mist. This transition, known as an “ecotone,” is another factor driving such high levels of biodiversity. We will hone our identification and observational skills, examine endemic plant and animal species, and study conservation initiatives that aim to protect the region’s disappearing natural ecosystems. From the high Andes we make our way to our second field site, the Rio Bigal Biological Reserve, at the base of the Sumaco volcano in the Andean foothills. Here, where cloud forests meet the sprawling Amazon basin, Andean spectacled bears and jaguars roam the area. At Rio Bigal we will focus on plant and animal census techniques, biodiversity monitoring and ecological observational skills.
Next we head to the Yasuni Scientific Research Station in Ecuador’s lowland Amazon. This region is home to the highest concentrations of plant and animal species known on Earth. While the majority of Yasuni’s rainforest is intact and wildlife populations are generally healthy, oil development has emerged as a growing threat to both biodiversity and local indigenous communities. From the lowland jungles of Yasuni we depart for the Galápagos archipelago, perhaps the world’s most famous natural evolutionary laboratory. In the Galápagos we will study how extreme isolation has resulted in a diverse flora and fauna that is almost entirely endemic. We will also study the human activities that now threaten the islands’ plant communities and wildlife and what is being done to protect and restore this irreplaceable natural treasure. By the end of the project team members will have a deep understanding of the Ecuadorian natural and human landscapes, the human activities that threaten their biological integrity, and the efforts underway to restore and protect the country’s natural environment.
Location: Quito, Ecuador Accommodations: Research stations, occasional camping and/or youth hostel or rural lodge Credits: 15 quarter credits or 10 semester credits