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Syllabus: Tropical Forest Ecology

BIOSC 1220

Dr. Walter P. Carson, University of Pittsburgh (

Dr. Lee Dyer, University of Nevada, Reno (

Summer 2017


Prerequisites: Two semesters of general biology for majors


Course Description:  This course provides a solid foundation in tropical forest ecology.  It is designed to prepare students to carry out research on the interaction of plant and animal communities and to engage the serious challenges facing Neotropical forests.  Students will learn to compare pristine to altered forests identifying key factors in forest decline and regeneration.  Students will examine each of the diverse elevational zones that comprise the Amazonian watershed.  The highlight will be a visit to Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, an untouched area of the Amazon with the highest bio-diversity on Earth.


Location: The primary location is the Iyarina Forest Reserve located at 550 m above sea level on the headwaters of the Amazon.  Additional environments will include:

Páramo – 4,300 m Andean watershed polylepis forests and grasslands

Cloud Forest – 1,800 m epiphyte rich Yanayacu Reserve

Amazonian lowland forest – 275 m Yasuni National park


Course Objectives:

To understand how biodiversity came to exist and why it is higher in tropical rainforests.

To learn how tropical forests are categorized by altitude, disturbance and succession.

To understand the basic elevational habitats of the watershed in relation to each other.

To understand plant animal interactions in terms of disturbance and dispersal.

To understand the role of carbon sequestration in tropical forests.

To understand how climate change will affect the Amazonian watershed.

To understand how the loss of key species contributes to the loss of other species.

To understand the potential of fragmentation in multi-use forests.


Course Requirements:

Ecology, natural history, and indigenous views assignment (20%)

Independent research project paper, due Sunday, August 7 by 11:59 pm (35%)

Independent research project presentation (15%)

Final exam (30%)


Notes: You are responsible for information presented during all field trips and all lectures for the final exam.  Late assignments handed in after the deadline immediately lose one letter grade, followed by the loss of one additional letter grade per day.


Monday  July 3   Arrive in Quito-  Transfer to Hotel Real Audiencia


Week 1:   June 5-10 The Ecuadorian Health care system and the problems it seeks to address


Tuesday  July 4    Travel to Iyarina

Wednesday, July 5      Hike up the Canoa Yacu 

Thursday, July 6      Travel to Estación Científico Yasuní  

Friday,  July 7          Canoe into Tiputini Biodiversity Station


Saturday and Sunday July 8-9:  Tiputini Biodiversity Station

Week 2 (July 10):  Traditional Diet, and Health Consequences Dietary Change,


Monday,   July 10             Canoe back to Estación Científico Yasuní        

Tuesday,   June 11           Travel back to Iyarina.

Wednesday,  July 12        Free day 

Thursday, July 13             Free day    

Friday, July 14                   Free day.


Saturday and Sunday July 15-16   Cosanga cloud forest Yanayacu Biological Station


Week 3-4: (July 17-21) 


Monday,  July 17               Lee Dyer

Tuesday, July 18                Lee Dyer

Wednesday, July 19          Lee Dyer

Thursday, July 20              Lee Dyer

Friday, July 21                    Lee Dyer


Saturday and Sunday July 22-23


Monday, July 24               Work on projects at Iyarina

Tuesday, July 25               Work on projects at Iyarina

Wednesday, July 26         Work on projects at Iyarina

Thursday, July 27             Travel to the airport


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