THE ECUADOR PROJECT: WILDLIFE AND ECOSYSTEMS
Join us as we explore 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 wide, meandering rivers and tropical rainforests of the Amazon basin, ending on the sunny, remote Galapagos Islands. In Ecuador, we will traverse one of the most biologically rich regions on the planet, giving us the opportunity to study an incredibly rich flora and set of highly diverse wildlife communities across various tropical habitats. We will also transect a cultural landscape from the Kichwa of the highland Andes to the Huaorani people of the lowland Amazon, interspersed with cultural landmarks such as the colonial splendor of ‘old-town’ Quito (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Together we will experience firsthand natural resource management strategies of governments and local communities, identify land degradation pressures, and evaluate strategies for conservation and ecosystem restoration.
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 hotspots, 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 expect to encounter creatures such as giant otters, black caiman, Amazonian river dolphins, hundreds of species of birds, monkeys, marine mammals, and of course a countless variety of butterflies and other exotic insects. Team members will have opportunities for hands-on investigation of key species and habitats, as well as the management of these resources by local people.
We begin our studies in the high Andes, where the chilly grasslands of the paramo are the dominant ecological feature. Here, the bizarre frailejones, a giant member of the daisy family, contribute to the mysterious atmosphere of this unique ecosystem. The paramo then gives way to cloud forest, so named because the trees are enveloped in a perpetual covering of fog and mist. In the Andes we will hone our field and observational skills, examine endemic plant and animal species, and study conservation initiatives to protect these disappearing ecosystems. Our second field site, the Rio Bigal Biological Reserve, at the base of the Sumaco volcano in the Andean foothills, we will focus on plant and animal census techniques, field observational skills and ecological study, and biodiversity monitoring. We then make our way to Tiputini Biodiversity Station, located within the heart of the Yasuni National Park, in the lowland Amazon and 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 healthy, oil development has emerged as a growing threat. Here we will further enhance our field skills through group research projects ranging from plant phenology to insect biodiversity to primate behavioral studies. Finally we travel to the Galapagos archipelago, perhaps the world’s most famous natural evolutionary laboratory. Here we will study how extreme isolation has helped to produce a flora and fauna that is almost entirely endemic. We will also study the human activities that now threaten Galapagos plant communities and wildlife, and what is being done to protect and restore this unique ecosystem.
This project represents an exciting opportunity to learn about the functioning of diverse ecosystems as well as the interaction between the natural environment and local communities in one of the most visually stunning and biodiverse spots on the planet. By the end of the project, team members will have a deep understanding of the Ecuadorian natural and human landscape, the human activities that threaten its biological integrity, and the efforts underway to conserve and restore the natural environment.
GEOFF GALLICE is a tropical ecologist whose research focuses on Neotropical butterfly ecology and conservation. He is interested in what makes rare species rare, from both ecological and anthropogenic perspectives. His research has taken him to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru.
WWU Accessibility Notice