During summer 2012, nine Virginia Tech undergraduate students traveled to Ecuador as part of Virginia Tech's Tropical Biology and Conservation course, taught by Ignacio Moore, associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, and Bill Hopkins, associate professor of wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment.
For the course, students met during the spring semester to study wildlife biology relevant to Ecuador, as well as the socio-political history of the country's conservation efforts. Then, each student designed and implemented a full-scale research project by developing a question, writing a proposal and protocol, conducting the field research in Ecuador, and writing a final paper detailing results and findings.
In Ecuador, the group visited four field sites: a lowland Amazon rainforest at 1,000-foot elevation, two cloud forests at 4500- and 7000-foot elevations, and a high elevation paramo grassland at 11,000 feet. The group used native guides, as well as Rudolph Gelis, owner of Pluma Verde Tours. Each site had a unique environment and wildlife and offered different student research opportunities.
Student projects included the study of poison dart frog predation and species richness across the elevational gradient, as well as observations of rarely seen animals like the jaguar and gray-bellied hawk.
See the related story: Undergraduate researchers study poison dart frogs and more in Ecuadorian jungle