General Field Course Design
The ITEC course model is built around experiential learning in three basic areas, field data collection methods and analysis, independent research, and cultural experience. The availability of tropical marine, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems adjacent to the field station provides unparalleled opportunities for education and research. Each course begins with an orientation period designed to familiarize the student with forest trails systems, coral reef locations and ecosystems available for study at the field station. This is followed by a week of intensive instruction concerning the field methods and techniques employed for data collection specific to the course subject. Up to six hours of field instruction will be provided each day and will be in the form informal lectures, group projects, demonstrations and exercises. Formal lectures will take place in the classroom during the day or at night along with various assigned readings, discussions or critiques. With knowledge gained with these experiences and under the guidance of faculty, students will design and write an independent research proposal on a topic of their choosing. At mid-course the entire field station community will embark on a three-day field trip to the Boquete highlands where students will have the opportunity to experience high elevation montane (cloud) forest and low elevation seasonal (dry) forest on the same day. This trip also provides a cultural experience as we travel widely across western Panama, stopping at various locations in route. On return to the field station students will have five to seven days to carry out their independent research project. Towards the end of the course students will analyze their data, write a technical report and present their findings during a station-wide symposium.
Coral Reef Ecology
This course will take advantage of the great variety of tropical marine ecosystems available in the vicinity of the field station including hard and soft coral reefs, sea grass beds, rocky intertidal zones, beaches and mangrove forests. After orientation, students will organize into groups to inventory the marine biota in these ecosystems and discuss their phylogeny, biology, physiology, ecological requirements and roles in species interactions on reefs. Formal lectures will cover a wide array of topics including discussions of marine ecosystems, reef evolution and structure, biotic communities, biodiversity, anthropogenic effects and conservation, among others. Daily debriefings will take place to discuss the day’s events and identify biota. Due to the very shallow depths of area reefs, SCUBA certification is not required (but is recommended) to enroll in or carry out independent projects in this course. For detailed, individualized course description, click on instructor links below.
Tropical Rainforest and Canopy Ecology
This course is focused on tropical lowland rain forest, their composition, function and biodiversity. During orientation walks the various ecosystems available at the station will be pointed out and discussed including lowland tropical rain (wet) forest, lowland swamp forest, Raphia forests, freshwater streams, ponds, marshes and limestone caves. We will also have the opportunity to examine cloud and seasonal forest ecosystems during our field trip to the Chiriqui mountain highlands. As an integral part of this course, students will be able access the canopy using rope technique. Daily lectures will include forest structure, biodiversity, forest dynamics, forest productivity and nutrient cycling, plant-animal interactions, invertebrates, vertebrates, symbioses and conservation, among other topics. A wide range of independent research projects are possible with this course and may include any aspect of plant or animal ecology. For detailed, individualized course description, click on instructor below.
This course will familiarize students with field methodology for studying primate ecology and behavior in their natural habitat. There are three species of non-human primates available for study at the field station including howler monkeys, white-faced capuchins and night monkeys. Following orientation walks designed to locate primates, students will work in groups to learn habitat structure analysis, plant phenology profiles, behavioral sampling techniques, recording methods and other field methods. Lectures, discussions and readings will include principles of primate behavior and ecology, feeding ecology, social behavior, locomotion, communication, breeding systems, and conservation, among others. Independent student projects may include primate ecology, behavior or both. For detailed, individualized course description, click on instructor below.
Forest Canopy Access Techniques
This course is designed to provide students with the methodology and expertise necessary to explore and conduct research in the tropical forest canopy. The course involves a hands-on approach to the techniques necessary for accessing the canopy as well as lectures on various topics relating to climbing techniques, safety while climbing, facilitation of climbing activities, and combining scientific research with climbing. This course is the equivalent of the Basic Canopy Climbing Course, the Canopy Access Technicians Course, and the Facilitators Course. Certification at each of these levels will be awarded to those completing the course and examinations. The first week will consist of orientation, introductory climbs into the canopy during which students will be introduced to, and practice, basic methods for both single rope technique (SRT) and double rope technique (DRT) climbing. Techniques for initial access into the canopy will also be introduced. On return from the field trip to Boquete students will train in the facilitation of climbs, rescue techniques, and building confidence. Using the experience gained in this course and under the supervision of the instructor, students will prep and facilitate a climbing experience for other students and faculty residing at the field station. For detailed, individualized course description, click on instructor below.
his course will emphasize the systematics, ecology, behavior, and biogeography of Neotropical amphibians and reptiles and the field techniques employed in their study. The course will begin by exploring all of the local ecosystems and the herpetofauna they contain. We will be in the field both during the day and at night to gain experience in the detection, capture, and handling of all herpetofaunal groups including caecilians, frogs, salamanders, lizards, snakes, turtles and crocodilians. Students will then work on various group projects that include mark/recapture, demography, community structure, breeding ecology and behavior. An opportunity to ascend into the forest canopy in search of arboreal herps will also be available. Formal lectures will be provided in the early evening and include the evolution and systematics, biodiversity, ecology, behavior, biogeography, anthropogenic influences and conservation of amphibians and reptiles. For detailed, individualized course description, click on instructor below.
Tropical ethnobotany, the study of how humans utilize plants for ritual practices, medicines, ornamentation, farming, food, apparel and construction in the tropics will be the focus of this field course. Much of the course will be spent learning qualitative and quantitative field techniques and carrying out various class activities in the surrounding rainforest and local communities. Ethnographic and data collection techniques will be applied to the various cultures in the Bocas del Toro region that may include Afro-Antillean, Mestizo, Ngöbe Bugle and Kuna peoples. Travel away from the field station to other islands and to the mainland will be required to meet with various communities for demonstrations by local healers, artisans, chocolate farmers and other specialists who utilize plants. Formal lectures and readings will focus on the plant use and traditional cultures of Panama and the surrounding regions of Central and South America, as well as innovative methodologies and current theory in the discipline. For detailed, individualized course description, click on the instructor below.
Tropical Animal Behavior
This course will focus on the theory, methods and techniques used to study animal behavior in their natural habitat. The behavior of animals inhabiting rainforest, mangroves, coral reefs, rocky intertidals, beaches, streams and limestone caves will be examined. The bulk of the first part of the course will be spent learning field techniques in animal behavior such as creating ethograms, behavioral sampling and recording methods, and in carrying out various group projects or exercises designed to teach these techniques. Lectures will generally take place in the evening and include research design, ecosystem structure, behavioral sampling methods and overviews of the many animals in our area that may be employed in behavioral research including insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. For detailed, individualized course description, click on instructor below.
Tropical Conservation Ecology
This course will focus on ecological concepts and field techniques as applied to conservation biology in a tropical setting. The course will include a discussion of general conservation topics and principals and then examine more closely conservation issues that directly affect developing countries in the tropics including uncontrolled development, burgeoning tourism, population growth, deforestation, pollution and the over-utilization of terrestrial and marine resources. Students in this course will work closely with local and indigenous Ngöbe communities to develop conservation education programs that emphasizes resource conservation and effects of tourism. The course is divided into formal classroom lectures, informal field lectures, readings, discussions and critiques, group field projects and individual research projects. Formal lecture topics will include the value of biodiversity, anthropogenic effects on biodiversity, conservation strategies and sustainable development, among others. For detailed, individualized course description, click on instructor below.
Instructor to be announced.
Tropical Field Photography
This course is designed to provide students with a basic understanding of photography and how photography can be used to document field activities in the tropical environment. The approach will be photo journalistic in nature. After the introductory phase of the course, involving acquainting students with basic photographic principles and skills, students will advance into areas involving the use of photography as a tool for tropical field research and for documenting activities that take place in the rainforest environment. Photographers will have the opportunity to observe, photograph, and participate in activities involving the research of other students in other courses. There will also be opportunities for students in this course to participate in, and document, a number of high adventure activities such as canopy exploration in the rainforest treetops, sea kayaking, and cave exploration. Opportunities for documenting the indigenous cultures of the region will also be included.
Tropical Avian Ecology
This course will begin with an introduction to the ecology and conservation of tropical birds, within the context of how a wide range of species utilize and interact with diverse ecosystems. We will learn extensive field identification techniques to facilitate identification of a variety of bird species from families common in the U.S., as well as species in families unique to the neotropics. Field observations will also be used to identify various bird guilds, and to study avian habitat use across different landscapes around the ITEC field station. A review of avian conservation topics will then transition the class into field research. Following training in ecological study design, students will form small groups to conduct research projects. We will address data management, statistical analysis, and presentation techniques as students prepare to orally present their research results. Finally, each student will design and implement an independent research project that includes data analysis and formal presentation. Lectures in research manuscript preparation will guide students in writing short reports on group and individual research projects.
You can download a course application form HERE.