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BIOL 4400: Terrestrial Field Ecology (4 s.h.) and BIOL 4504 Undergraduate Research in Biology (2 s.h., WI)
Credit for this course can also be used toward the ECU Certificate of Global Understanding.
As part of the Summer Study Abroad Program, this course offers students the chance to experience the biological diversity of the tropical forest in Panama, Central America. The course will be operated through the facilities of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to observe and participate in tropical field research while living at a world-class tropical research facility used by tropical biologists from around the world.
Course Description: This course will introduce students to current field research on terrestrial tropical animals, with a focus on birds, amphibians and insects. Students will observe a number of classic systems firsthand (e.g. Heliconius butterflies, Tungara frogs, leaf-cutter ants), and will have the opportunity to engage in hands-on field research projects. The focus will be on understanding the importance of tropical field research to progress on issues of central interest in ecology and evolutionary biology, such as sexual selection, aposematism, mimicry, and biodiversity.
Objectives: Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to observe at least 50 species of frogs, 100 species of birds, and members of 20 insect orders. Students will understand key examples of ecological and evolutionary phenomena, including sexual selection and acoustic signaling (Tungara frogs), life history tradeoffs (red-eyed treefrogs), brood parasitism (common moorhens), sex-role reversal (wattled jacanas), aposematism and mimicry (Heliconius butterflies, poison frogs), and mutualism and coevolution (fig-wasps, leaf-cutter ants). Students will have accomplished a field research project related to a central theme in tropical ecology.
Cultural Activities: Students will have a day trip to a nearby Wounaan Village to learn about the history of this tribe and their cultural traditions. This will include information about the local plants used for food and medicine, about their relationship to local wildlife and the rainforest, their traditional attire, and songs, dance and storytelling. There will be opportunities to purchase crafts made sustainably from local rainforest products, such as carved Tagua nut jewelry, reed baskets and wood carvings. We learn the history of the building of the Panama canal and its impact on humanity and the environment during a visit to the Canal Museum at the Miraflores locks. We will also tour Panama Viejo (the city's Old Quarter), for an impression of Panamanian colonial times.
Facilities and accommodation: Students will stay in comfortable dormitory-style accommodation in the renovated schoolhouse in the town of Gamboa, Panama. Meals will be prepared by a local cook and consist of traditional Panamanian fare serve in the lodge. All meals in Gamboa are included in the cost. Located at the mouth of the Rio Chagres where it flows into the Panama Canal, Gamboa offers access to a remarkable array of ecologically distinct habitats. Pipeline Road, a birder's paradise boasting over 450 forest species, begins at the edge of town. At night, a chorus of tropical frogs can be heard only a few blocks away from the town center. Next to the river, iguanas, cayman, sloths and numerous waterbirds can be seen. Gamboa is also the launch point to the Smithsonian's famous tropical laboratory, Barro Colorado Island. A day trip to the island is planned to see howler, capuchin and spider monkeys, and a variety of other mammals including anteaters and peccaries, led by a local rainforest guide. We will also visit a nearby Canopy Tower and Ecolodge, and take a ride in a canopy crane in Parque Metropolitano to see canopy-dwelling wildlife. Each of these trips will be led by local guides.
Instructors: Professors Kyle Summers and Susan McRae of the Department of Biology, East Carolina University. Dr Summers is an evolutionary biologist and tropical ecologist specializing on poison dart frog evolution and diversity. Dr McRae is a behavioral ecologist and ornithologist with interests in cooperative and parasitic behavior in birds. Both have lived in Panama and conducted research with the Smithsonian Institution.
Eligibility: The course is for East Carolina University students, but is open to students from other universities through the ECU International Affairs Office, as space permits. Students should have the required prerequisite course, BIOL 2250/2251 Ecology and lab, and permission of the instructors. Working knowledge of Spanish language is an asset, but is not essential. Due to limited enrollment, we expect that participation in the course will be competitive. Students will be selected on the basis of a formal application. earn
Note to ECU Biology Students: Registration is handled by Mariann Appel at the Division of Continuing Studies, Office of Summer Study Abroad, 404-E Self Help Center, Greenville, NC 27858-4353, Phone (252) 328-9219, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Course Costs: Approximately $4303 per student, due in full by deadline. The course costs include the $75 application.
Information to be added.