|Ecuador Student Program|
Students spend their time in the misty mountains just east of the continental divide dedicated to one or more of the following activities:
Students are based out of Cuenca, a city at 8,000ft in southeastern Ecuador, though most of the time is spent at two field camps high in the cloud forests and grasslands of the Mazar Watershed in the Andes. In addition to fieldwork, lectures, and discussions, students will participate in experiential learning walks with local researchers to learn about the region’s ecological, archaeological, and agricultural history. Spanish language skills are not required but many students have varying levels of Spanish proficiency. All lectures and field activities are taught in English.
Spend your days hiking the high elevation grasslands (paramos) and exploring the cloud forests of southern Sangay National Park, learning from local park guards how to track the threatened Andean bear, survey critical habitat, and document the biodiversity of this under-studied hotspot. In the past, students have discovered species new to science, showing just how rich this area is and what opportunities exist for exciting new research. Interact with local farmers and help a family build a fence, shear their alpacas; watch a local bullfight and experience the vibrant culture of Latin America.
Check out this photo-journal by one of our recent program leaders, Jesse Lewis, an avid traveler, writer, and freelance photographer. Jesse has led the Ecuador program in Fall 2009 and Spring 2010. His work focuses on biodiversity, community-based conservation, and the political ecology of resource use in the tropics.
Spring Semester: January 17 – April 11
Fall Semester: September 20 – December 13
The Conservation Context:
Ecuador is among the most biodiverse countries in the world, where a substantial 17% of its land area is protected as national parks and ecological reserves. Protected areas are, however, only one contributor to biodiversity conservation in tropical mountain settings, where habitats vary tremendously over small distances and where endemism reigns. Tremendous biodiversity exists in wild habitats that are and will remain outside of formal protected areas. Because these forests and high-elevation páramos are often titled, Ecuador must find a way to enlist landowners as conservation advocates if the country’s grand biodiversity is to survive. Instead of generating additional income by converting wild habitats to domestic landscapes, farmers need alternative activities in which conservation contributes to family incomes.
To this end, the Round River student program is working with landowners and the Fundación Cordillera Tropical (FCT) in southern Sangay National Park, a mountainous region of incredible beauty. These mountains, called the Nudo del Azuay, are host to an intact wild fauna, including the Andean (Spectacled) bear, mountain tapir, puma, brocket deer, golden-plumed parakeet and crescent-faced antipitta. The Nudo del Azuay also has a long history of human presence—most likely since the early Holocene. It contains many pre-Columbian roads, terraces, and ceremonial sites, and páramo landscapes perhaps created and maintained by hunter-gatherers beginning in the early Holocene.
The goal of FCT and its landowner allies is to develop sustainable incentives for conservation. Among the conservation tools employed are environmental education programs for the local residents of all ages, controlled studies to document the area’s biodiversity and hydrologic resources, support for community guards in Sangay National Park, ecological restoration, and compensation to landowners for their voluntary avoidance of deforestation and páramo cultivation. The RRCS student program has contributed significantly to FCT goals during the project’s history. It continues to do so, as well as generate data and in general aid the efforts by local landowners to conserve their forests and páramos.