Tropical Field Ecology

Final deadline to apply is January 2, 2020.

For information, find us here:

  • Education Abroad Expo: Thursday, Sept 12, 2019, 2 – 6 pm in the Archie M. Griffin East Ballroom in the Ohio Union.
  • Course info session: Monday, Oct 21, 2019 5 – 6 pm at 100 Enarson
  • College of Arts and Sciences’ Education Abroad Expo: Monday, Nov 4, 4 – 6 pm in the Ohio Union
  • Course info session: Thursday, Nov 7, 2019 4 -5 pm at 100 Enarson

Tentative Syllabus

Note: This is a draft in progress. This syllabus is tentative.

What is this class?

EEOB 4420H
May Term 2020, 3 credits, offered every other year
Prerequisites: EEOB 3310, EEOB 3410, or permission of instructor

When and where does it happen?

First you need to email me (Gerry Carter, and apply to the program (Deadline Jan 2). Once accepted, there will be 3 mandatory class meetings on campus in the Spring semester (dates to be determined) and 1 mandatory meeting on campus between April 29 and May 6. The main portion of the course takes place in Panama: May 10-22

Who teaches it?

Dr. Gerald Carter
Assistant Professor
Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at OSU

Dr. Simon Ripperger
Postdoctoral Fellow
Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at OSU
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Program Coordinator
Tiffany Pierskalla
Office of International Affairs at OSU

Course Description

Our goal is to give students first-hand knowledge of tropical biology with an emphasis on evolutionary and behavioral ecology. This is an intensive foreign study tour in Panama, a country renowned for its biological and cultural diversity and based at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), arguably the world’s leading research station for studying neotropical biodiversity. The course includes travel to several tropical habitats and experiences with common field methods in behavioral ecology such as setting up mist-nets, recording and analyzing sounds, and radiotelemetry. Students will also read, discuss, develop and work on research projects in groups, gain experience reading papers (then discuss with the authors), writing scientific reports, presenting results to their peers, and engage in science communication. The course will include talks and discussions with working scientists at STRI. It will be a hands-on learning experience in the field, with most of the time spent outside, rather than in a classroom.

Course goals

  • Develop an appreciation for tropical diversity with particular emphasis on co-evolution and social evolution
  • Understand the principles underlying evolutionary and behavioral ecology
  • Understand deep principles of scientific research and thinking clearly and critically about experimental design and observational studies
  • Develop skills in scientific communication (writing and speaking)
  • Communicate research ideas informally and formally
  • Develop skills in assessing peer research
  • Develop skills in common field biology methods

Course structure

There will be three mandatory class meetings: one organizational meeting during Spring semester (date to be determined (TBD) soon), a Health and Safety Orientation at the Office of International Affairs (TBD), and a meeting in the May term prior to departure for Panama (TBD). Students will communicate their learning experiences to the public through the maintenance of a student blog. In Panama, we will touch on a number of topics (listed below) through a combination of talks by instructors and guest scientists, discussions, readings, guided natural history hikes, and a group research project. Students will complete a final paper following their return to Ohio. 

Course Topics

  • Tropical ecology: Why are there so many species in the tropics?
  • Social evolution: Why does altruism exist?
  • Evolutionary ecology: How do fig trees manipulate the world around them?
  • Behavioral ecology: Why do vampire bats share their food?
  • Cognitive ecology: How does natural selection shape how bees learn?
  • Mutualism: How do trees use chemical signals to talk to fungi and insects?
  • Competition: How does the ‘landscape of fear’ shape predators and prey?
  • Sexual selection: Why do frogs call, birds sing, and males fight so much?
  • Conservation biology: How do we use science to save biodiversity?
  • Anthropogenic change: How will climate change change the world?
  • Critical thinking: What are the deep principles of experimental design and statistical analysis?

Required readings

The New Neotropical Companion. John Kricher. 2017. (Amazon)(Publisher)
…and papers that will be assigned during the class.

Suggested field guides

  • Trees of Panama and Costa Rica, by Richard Condit, Rolando Pérez, Nefertaris Daguerre
  • The Birds of Panama: A Field Guide, by George R. Angehr and Robert Dean
  • A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico, by Fiona A. Reid

Tentative Schedule (*** need updating)

May DateActivities
10 SunTravel to Panama
11 MonIntroduction to fieldwork
How to dress in the field
Forest walk 1
Gerry talks about his research
Tour of Gamboa Lab and Insectories***
Simon talks about his research
Discuss group project (on echolocation)
12 TuesWhat is STRI?
9:30am leave Gamboa
10am Orientation and Safety at Tupper
12:30pm Tupper Talk
Guest lecture at Tupper***
collect data for group project
13 WedAdaptation: Neotropical bats
bat talks
visit bat roosts
intro to mist nets
bat netting
collect data for group project
14 ThurDiversity: the Janzen–Connell hypothesis
Morning: Barro Colorado Island, Nature walk
Afternoon: Nature walk
Bambi Seminar
collect data for group project
Stay overnight on BCI
15 FriSexual selection: tungara frogs
Discuss Somjee et al. 2018, Ryan et al. 2019
1pm Summit Zoo
frog walk
5pm Guest lecture: Ummat Somjee
collect data for group project
16 SatSocial evolution: ants
Guest lecture: ant researcher***
ant walks and baiting ants
hike on pipeline road
collect data for group project
17 SunMutualism: figs and fig wasps
Guest lecture: Allen Herre??***
fig talks
Kayaking on Chagras river (with Iann Sanchez)
radiotelemetry game
collect data for group project
18 MonLandscape ecology and habitat fragmentation
nature hikes at Campana National Park (with Iann Sanchez)
dinner in Gamboa
collect data for group project
19 TuesWhat’s special about Panama?
at MiraFlores Locks and Punta Culebra
9am MiraFlores Locks
12:30pm Tupper talk
2pm Punta Culebra
Dinner at Mi Ranchito
Casco Viejo??
collect data for group project
20 WedBioacoustics and data analysis
bioacoustics in Raven and R
data analysis in R
21 ThursScientific communication
Prepare talks
Final talks
Dinner in Clayton
22 FriTravel to USA