Tropical Field Ecology (Field trip Course)

F&ES 717b, E&EB 617

Credits: 3 | Spring 2016 | Tu, 3:30-4:50, 201 OML

This course is intended to give students first-hand knowledge of tropical biology and the issues surrounding conservation of biodiversity in a developing nation. It does so in the context of an intensive foreign study tour in Ecuador. The course includes travel to different tropical habitats, independent field projects, written and oral presentation of results, guided natural history exploration, and interaction with local and international scientists.


Instructors: Dr. Simon Queenborough (F&ES) and Dr. Walter Jetz (EEB)

Teaching Fellow: Andrew Muehleisen


The course meets in Spring 2017, Tuesdays 3:30 -4:50pm, with a mandatory field trip to Ecuador over Spring Break (tentative field trip dates: March 12-23).

This course provides a broad overview of the ecology, conservation and management of tropical habitats, with an emphasis on active learning and developing independent research projects carried out during the field trip. Using a case study approach, topics covered will include patterns of biodiversity, tropical forest structure and function, reforestation, species interactions and coevolution, climate change, ecosystem services and human land use. We will visit a variety of tropical ecosystems and hear first-hand from scientists about current research in the field.

Students will undertake two short-term research projects, and also learn basic identification and natural history of tropical plant, bird, mammal and insect species. The course will include weekly seminars on-campus and a mandatory field trip during Spring Break in Ecuador, a country famous for its high biological, cultural and economic diversity.

Important Notice

This is a course in field ecology in a foreign country. Students should expect to spend most of each day outside in the natural tropical environment under adverse conditions. A good degree of base physical fitness is expected and all typical health preparations for visit to a tropical country are required. It will be hot and humid. There will be biting insects. There is a (small) risk of serious illness. Ecuadorian culture is very different from the US.

Learning Goals & Outcomes

Successful students will be able to:

  1. foundational knowledge (information and ideas)
  1. application (skills, thinking and project management)
  1. integration (connecting ideas)
  1. human dimension (learning about oneself and others)
  1. values (developing new feelings, interests and values)
  1. learning how to learn (becoming a better student and self-directed learner)


We will meet Tuesdays 3:30 -4:50pm in OML 201, both in preparation for the field trip, and afterwards to prepare the written papers and oral presentations.

Pre-trip topics

Date Topic Leader
01/17/16 Intro to Tropical Ecology Jetz, Queenborough
01/24/16 People of Ecuador Ribieras (Anthro.)
01/31/16 Plant ecology, ID Queenborough
02/07/16 Invertebrates tbc
02/14/16 Primates and other vertebrates Fernandez-Duque (Anthro.), Jetz
02/29/16 Peabody (plants, insects, verts) in muerto Queenborough, Jetz
03/07/16 Group project planning Queenborough, Jetz

Ecuador field trip (March 12-23)

Post-trip classes: analysis, writing, and presentation skills

In these classes we will work through key stages in writing up a scientific paper. Each group will present to be critiqued by students and faculty.

Date Topic
03/28/16 Data analysis lab @ CSSSI (come with data entered and ready to analyse).
04/04/16 Main message, working abstract, title/s
04/11/16 Figures
04/18/16 Skeleton
04/25/16 Presentations of individual projects


Students will be assessed through the following:

  1. Collection or photography and identification animals and plants. (10%)

  2. Development and execution of part of a class project comparing different forest ecosystems in Ecuador. (15% oral presentation, 15% written paper)
  1. An independent research project in Ecuador. (15% oral presentation, 25% written paper)
  1. Peer-review of the papers. (10%)

  2. General conduct/participation in Ecuador. (10%)

Key Deadlines


November 30: Course application

December 10: Course commitment and deposit ($500)


April 22: Submission of both papers

April 29: Peer reviews

May 10: Final versions of both papers

Conduct in Ecuador & Academic Integrity

Students are expected to participate fully in all activities and comply with the Yale Graduate School's Programs and Policies, especially those of personal conduct.

Recommended Reading

Tropical Forests

Kricher, J. 1999. A Neotropical Companion. 2nd Ed. Princeton University Press.

Forsyth, A. & Miyata, K. 2011. Tropical Nature: Life and death in the rain forests of Central and South America. Simon & Schuster.

Leigh, E.J. 1999. Tropical Forest Ecology: A view from Barro Colorado Island. Oxford University Press.

Indigenous Culture

Kane, J. 1995. Savages. Knopf.

Elliot, E. 1986. Through Gates of Splendor: The event that shocked the world, changed a people, and inspired a nation. Tyndale House.

Field Guides

Copies of these books will be available for use during the course.


Borrer, D.J. & White, R.E. 1998. A Field Guide to Insects: America north of Mexico. Peterson Field Guides. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Utteridge, T. & Bramley, G. Tropical Plant Families Identification Handbook. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

Smith, N., Mori, S., Henderson, A., Stevenson, D.W. & Heald, S.V. 2004. Flowering Plants of the Neotropics. Princeton University Press.

Keller, R. 2009. Identification of Tropical Woody Plants in the Absence of Flowers. Birkhauser.

Fisher, B.L. & Cover, S.P. 2007. Ants of North America: A guide to the genera. University of California Press.


Gentry, A.H. 1993. A Field Guide to the Families and Genera of Woody Plants of Northwest South America. Conservation International, Washington, DC.

Perez, A.J., Hernandez, C., Romero-Saltos, H., Valencia, R. 2014. Arboles Emblematicos de Yasuni, Ecuador. Herbario QCA.

Valencia, R., Montufar, R., Navarrete, H., Balslev, H. (eds). 2013. Palms Ecuatorianas: Biologia y uso sostenible. Herbario QCA. PUCE.

Emmons. L.H. and Feer, F. 1997. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A field guide. University of Chicago Press.

Cornejo, F. & Janovec, J. 2010. Seeds of Amazonian Plants. Princeton University Press.

Ridgley, R. & Greenfield, P.J. 2001. The Birds of Ecuador. Cornell University Press.

McMullan, M. & Navarrete, L. 2013. Fieldbook of the Birds of Ecuador including the Galapagos Islands Paperback. Fundacion de Conservacion Jocotoco.

There are no good field guides to Ecuadorian or Amazonian herps or insects.

Duellman, W.E. 1978. The biology of an equatorial herpetofauna in Amazonian Ecuador. University of Kansas Publications, Museum of Natural History. Miscellaneous Publication No. 65.


Map of Life:

The Field Museum guides:

Bird sounds:



Yasuni Scientific Research Station:

Nature and Culture International: