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Tropical Field Biology: Ecuador and the Galapagos


Quito, San Cristobal Island, Ecuador, Galapagos

Program Description

Ecuador is an exquisite example of rich biological diversity. Notably, Charles Darwin made collections and observations of the animals and plants on the Galapagos Islands during his voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. These observations were instrumental in his development of his ideas regarding biological evolution. A contemporary of Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace developed similar ideas independently as he traveled among islands in Southeast Asia. We will be exploring several regions of Ecuador including the cloud forest, the high elevation Paramo, and the amazing and unique Galapagos Islands! Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be on a voyage of discovery?  Join us this summer and find out.

The main academic objective of the course is to expose students to the diversity, dynamics, and complexity of tropical ecosystems (paramo, cloud forest, volcanic islands). Students will have the opportunity to interact with local faculty and researchers who will guide us in our understanding of these systems and the value of the natural resources.  Guest lecturers and program leaders will provide instruction covering a variety of topics relevant to the systems we encounter in Ecuador. Students will be presented with the conservation problems that each ecosystems faces (e.g., human population, climate change, oil extraction, habitat destruction, introduced species) and challenged to come up with solutions.  Students will have the opportunity to design, implement, and discuss their own research project in tropical ecology and conservation. Results are presented orally.

Beyond academic content, the course aims to provide students with the opportunity to experience and explore a culture as rich as the biological diversity of the country. We will visit churches, markets, historical areas, university campuses, and places of national importance. We will experience local foods, cultures, customs, and transportation. We will have the opportunity to hike, swim, dive, and explore. 
Program includes:

• Orientation at University San Francisco Quito (host University in Ecuador) 

• 1 day tour of Quito's Historic Center 

• 1 day excursion to Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve & Papallacta Hot springs 

• 1 day excursion to Antisana Ecological Reserve 

• 6 day excursions to Sierra Azul Cloud Forrest Reserve 

• 1 day excursion to Jambatu Amphibian Research Center 

• 6-day excursion to San Cristóbal Island & Española Island, Galápagos including:

    • Visits to La Loberia
    • El Junco/Galapaguera/Puerto Chino
    • Kicker Rock
    • Española Island
    • Isla Lobos
    • Naturalist Guide
    • Snorkeling equipment for opportunities to explore marine diversity

Location Description

The program will be based out of Quito, Ecuador at San Francisco University (Cuyamba). Quito is a city rich in history, is the capital city of Ecuador, and sits at an elevation of 2,850 metres (9,350 ft) above sea level (making it the world's second highest capital city). Sitting on the slopes of the still active (at times) volcano Pichincha, and within view of other extinct volcanos, the city offers amazing views and opportunities to see some of South America's most beautiful vistas.  The historic center of Quito has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas. The central square of Quito is located about 25 kilometres (16 mi) south of the equator; the city itself extends to within about 1 km (0.62 mi) of 0 deg. latitude. A monument and museum marking the general location of the equator is known locally as la mitad del mundo (the middle of the world).

From this base we will travel to the highlands of Ecuador, an area called the Páramo. The páramo is a biodiversity and evolutionary hotspot found in the Andeas at regions above the continuous forest line, yet below the permanent snowline. It is home to many species of grasses, cold tolerant plants, and unique organisms found no where else on earth.

Sierra Azul is a private nature reserve in the cloud forest ( This site comprises 2600 hectares of primary tropical forest that is home to hundreds of unique species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants (not to mention thousands of invertebrate species!). This montane forest gets nearly 4m (12') of rain per year!

Finally we will head to the Galapagos Islands where we will be based out of the University's research center on San Cristóbal Island. From this base we will explore neighboring islands, their flora and fauna on land and the exceptionally diverse marine community. See marine iguanas feed, swim with sea turtles, experience amazing fish diversity comprising many species found no where else on the planet.


David McLeod | | Biology


Housing will be arranged by the host university. We will be staying in a mixture of hotels, dorms, and hostel-type accommodations. Students will be in shared rooms. Internet will be available at most locations, but at times may not be as fast as you would hope for.

All meals will be provided as part of the program. 

Additional Items to Consider

A passport valid 6 months beyond our travel dates will be required.

No visa is required. A 90-day tourist visa will be obtained upon entry.

Routine immunizations are required. Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended by the CDC. Areas we will visit are not identified as malarial areas. (See:

Applicant Criteria

Applicants must have a GPA minimum of 2.0

Spanish language ability is beneficial, but not required

Rising sophomores and above including graduate students

Anyone with an interest in biodiversity will enjoy and benefit from this course.

Application Process

This list serves as an application preview. To apply, students will need to complete the following:

  • Study Abroad Online Application ($25 fee)
  • Short essay 
  • Faculty letter of recommendation
  • Interview with Program Director may be required
  • Official transcript required for non-JMU students

Further details and instructions about these application requirements will be available upon log-in. 

apply now

Application Deadline


All dates are tentative and subject to change


BIO 427: Topics in Biology: Tropical Field Biology (3 credits)

Courses listed here are to be used as a general guideline for program curriculum. *All courses are considered pending until approved by the Academic Department, Program, and/or College.


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