Summer REU – Tropical Rainforest and Canopy Ecology



COURSE LOCATION: Bocas del Toro Biological Station, Boca del Drago, Isla Colon, Republic of  Panama.  The biological station is located on a hill facing the Caribbean Sea.  Coral reef and sea grass ecosystems lie in front of the station and lowland tropical rain forests are directly behind.  This juxtaposition of the two most biologically diverse ecosystems provides tremendous opportunities for education and research.  See for details.


Dr. Barry Sullunder, Ph.D., Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation and the Cuixmala School, Jalisco, Mexico.  Phone: 713-226-5561, email: barry.w.sullender@gmail.comSpecialty: Neotropical forest ecology, plant-animal interactions, insect behavior. 

Prof. Bill Maher, Tree Climbing U.S.A. , 251 Oak Grove Rd., Dawsonville, GA, 30534 phone: 229-732-5973, email:,  Specialty:  Tree canopy access techniques.

COURSE DESCRIPTION:  This field course is designed to provide the student with a foundation in ecological concepts and field techniques as applied to tropical rainforest ecosystems.  The material covered is equivalent to a university upper level course in tropical ecology.  The course is divided into three parts.  During the first few days students will become familiar with the many ecosystems found in our area and with the trail systems during “orientation” walks.  The bulk of the first 10 days will be spent learning field techniques and carrying out various group projects or exercises (see below).  It is during this time period that students will learn to access the canopy using various rope techniques (Climbing Certification is available, please contact Joe Maher for details).  Midway through the course the entire station community takes a field trip to the cloud forests of Boquete (see details below).  On returning to the field station, students work on their individual research projects and continue to receive lectures in the evening.

FORMAL LECTURES.  Formal lectures will take place in the classroom and will include the use of PowerPoint presentations and chalkboard.  Lectures may take place both during the day and evening.  Lecture topics will include:

o  Neotropical Life Zones and Forest Types
o  Tropical Forest Structure
o  Tropical forest Productivity
o  Epiphytes, Lianas and Creepers
o  Tropical Forest Dynamics
o  Nutrient Cycling 
o  Neotropical Vertebrate Ecology
o  Neotropical Invertebrate Ecology
o  Biodiversity Hypotheses
o  Plant-Animal Interactions
o  Animal Defensive Strategies and Mimicry
o  Plant Defensive Strategies
o  Pollination and Dispersal ecology
o  Consequences of Human Use 
o  Tropical Forest Conservation

INFORMAL LECTURES.  Informal lectures will be provided periodically during orientation walks (when you first arrive), during group field projects or in discussion groups. These will cover a wide variety of topics and will generally be prompted by what we encounter in the field, or by the direction taken during group discussions. 

READINGS.  Readings corresponding to lecture subjects will be assigned in the text.  We may also read and critique papers brought by students and faculty and additional readings may be assigned from time to time.  In addition, each student will read, critique, and provide oral reports on published papers brought to Bocas. 

REQUIRED TEXT: Kricher, John (2011).  Tropical Ecology.  Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.  ISBN 978-0-691-11513-9.

FIELD BOOK.  A field book will be required in the course.  The field book will contain all data related to group projects and independent research project.  The field book should also contain all other incidental observations such as species lists, behavioral notes, etc., and contain detailed location information. The field book must be water-proof and either pencil or water-proof ink used to record data.

GROUP PROJECTS.  These are research, exercises or demonstrational projects designed by the faculty and worked on in groups of four or six students.  The purpose of these projects is to familiarize students with an array of field sampling techniques and equipment commonly used in field studies.  With help from a faculty member, students set up projects, collect data, and generally (depends on the project), analyze data, present the results to the class, and write a report.

INDIVIDUAL RESEARCH PROJECTS.  Working closely with faculty, students will be responsible for designing and completing an original research project of their choosing.  The project may deal with any topic in tropical ecology or conservation.  These projects will be carried out during the second half of the course and students will have about 10 days for data collection.  A few days before the end of the course students will analyze their data, write a technical report, prepare a PowerPoint presentation of their work and orally present their findings during a station-wide symposium on the last day of the course.

BOQUETE CLOUD FOREST FIELD TRIP:  This field trip will allow students the opportunity to visit other areas of Panama, to experience Panamanian culture, and to visit tropical cloud and seasonal forests first hand.  We travel in ITEC boats to the mainland and then by chartered bus to Boquete which lies at the base of 11,000 ft. Volcan Baru.  The bus trip will take us up and over the central mountain range and through Palo Seco National Park.  Several stops will be made in route.

COURSE LENGTH: ITEC Summer field courses are about four weeks in length.  The TRE B-18 will run from June 15 through July 10, 2018.

TUITION: $2250 USD.  Tuition fee includes all lodging, meals and airport transfers in Bocas del Toro.  The tuition also covers transportation and lodging during the three-day cloud forest field trip on the mainland.

REGISTRATION DEADLINE: May 15, 2018.  The course is limited to 10 students and applications will be evaluated as they arrive.  If you believe that your application may arrive late, notify ITEC.

GRADING and COURSE CREDIT:  Up to 6 units of credit will be given, 3 for the lecture portion and 3 for the field portion.  A letter grade will be assigned based on exams, reports, proposals, attendance at lectures, as well as by less tangibles such as personal attitude, motivation, and contribution to the course.  Course credit must be arranged in advance at the student’s institution.  Contact ITEC for details.  

APPLICATIONS can be found at: 

Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation,  2911 NW 40th PL, Gainesville, FL 32605, phone: 352-367-9128, email: <> , web: <>    ITEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1996.