The Ecuador Project: Wildlife and Ecosystems

Meeting Location               Quito, Ecuador
 Program Dates        Winter 2018: January 17 - March 2, 2018
   Winter 2019:
January 17 - March 2, 2019

 Accommodations    Research stations, occasional camping and/or youth hostel
   or rural lodge
 Language    English instruction
 Courses    ESCI 437A, ESCI 437B, ESCI 437C
 Credits    15 quarter credits or 10 semester credits
 Prerequisites    One college level course of ecology or similar           
   18 years of age


            Ecuador Program Costs, Winter 2018
 $  150      Application Fee
            $4150      Program Fee
            $2750      Estimated In-Country Group Fee
            $1600      Estimated Airfare/Visa
            $1000      Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending      
            $9650     Total Estimated Cost

            Winter 2018: Program fees due by November 1, 2017   

            Ecuador Program Costs, Winter 2019
 $  150        Application Fee
            $5500        Program Fee
            $2900        Estimated In-Country Group Fee
            $1600        Estimated Airfare/Visa
            $1000        Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending      
            $11,150    Total Estimated Cost

            Winter 2019: Program fees due by November 1, 2018   

  IMG 0184

IMG 0380Join us as we research four of Ecuador’s major ecosystems, from the windswept paramo in the shadows of the towering Andes, down through the mists of the montane cloud forests, to the meandering rivers and tropical rainforests of the Amazon basin, and ending in the remote Galápagos Islands. We will traverse one of the most biologically rich regions on the planet, providing us the opportunity to study incredibly rich flora and highly diverse wildlife communities across varied tropical habitats. We will also examine a cultural landscape that ranges from the Kichwa of the highland Andes to the Huaorani of the lowland Amazon. Together we will analyze firsthand natural resource management strategies of governments and local communities, identify environmental degradation pressures, and evaluate strategies for conservation and ecosystem restoration.WS-Ecuador-parrot


WS-Ecuador-Amazon-Forest-Dragon-lizardOwing 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.

IMG 0141Next 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. WS-Ecuador-large-treeIn 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.


Ph.D in Entomology, University of Florida, 2015
Geoff is a tropical biologist whose scientific research interests lie in the ecology and evolution of butterflies. In particular, he is interested in the clearwing butterflies, a group whose biology is fascinating, and which serves as a model for diverse studies in ecology and evolution in the tropics. He is also active in applied conservation research, and is currently leading a project to explore the threat posed by road construction to biodiversity conservation in the Amazon rainforest of Peru. His research has taken him throughout Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Malawi, Zambia, and Malaysia. Geoff has been teaching with Wildlands Studies since 2012 and currently leads our Peru and Ecuador Projects.