Tropical Resource Management and Conservation


Leonor Ceballos, Ph.D. cand.

Indigenous Fishing

Faculty of Science
The University of Melbourne
Parkville Victoria 3010, Australia
Phone: (507) 6489-5570

Course Description

This course is designed to provide students with various principles and tools required to understand and manage tropical resources. The field station is located in a tropical system in the Bocas del Toro archipelago where natural resources, including rainforests and coral reefs, have historically been over-utilized and mismanaged. Through lectures, discussions, field exercises and an independent research project, students will gain an in-depth understanding of tropical ecology and conservation. Students will also learn through hands-on field research experience, the importance of balancing biodiversity and natural resource conservation with human development needs. By the end of the course, students will have familiarized themselves with the methods and skills necessary to manage the sustainable utilization of the innumerable and valuable natural resources of Bocas. The course material is equivalent to a university upper-level field course.

Bananas for sale on Rio Cricamola

Course Schedule

During the first few days students will receive an orientation lecture and gain an appreciation for the history, ecology, resource management, and socio-economics of the Bocas region. The next phase of the course integrates traditional lectures, readings, discussions and field exercises to provide students with a working knowledge of the principles of biodiversity protection and familiarity with a broad range of approaches to conservation in tropical ecosystems. Students will then draw upon this knowledge as they design independent research projects and write individual research proposals. Halfway through the course, the entire field station will take a three-day trip to the Boquete highlands where students will be able to appreciate and compare different ecosystems, such as cloud forest and seasonal dry forest, along with their human impacts and the types of crop production that these particular ecosystems enable. While traveling through Panama, students will also gain a broader perspective of the complexities of resource management and habitat conservation in the region. Upon returning to the station, students will implement their independent research projects and collect data for approximately one week. During the last few days, students will analyze their data, write a research report, and present their findings during a student research symposium. The course schedule will be determined on site as a function of student needs and preferences, and may also be weather-dependent.

Course Material

Lectures, discussions, and exercises will cover topics such as:

  • Natural Resource Management
  • Conservation Biology
  • Land Management Practices
  • Habitat Fragmentation and Land Degradation
  • Protected Areas
  • Ecotourism
  • Ecosystem Services
  • Climate Change and Environment

Required Readings

Logging Operations

Most readings are peer reviewed articles and will be assigned and provided as PDFs. Some examples of readings include:

  • Costanza, R., de Groot, R., Sutton, P., van der Ploeg, S., Anderson, S. J., Kubiszewski, I., … & Turner, R. K. (2014). Changes in the global value of ecosystem services. Global environmental change26, 152-158.
  • Moritz, C., & Agudo, R. (2013). The future of species under climate change: resilience or decline?Science341, 504-508.
  • Porter-Bolland, L., Ellis, E. A., Guariguata, M. R., Ruiz-Mallén, I., Negrete-Yankelevich, S., & Reyes-García, V. (2012). Community managed forests and forest protected areas: An assessment of their conservation effectiveness across the tropics.Forest Ecology and Management268, 6-17.
  • Foley, J. A., Ramankutty, N., Brauman, K. A., Cassidy, E. S., Gerber, J. S., Johnston, M., … & Zaks, D. P. (2011). Solutions for a cultivated planet.Nature, 478, 337-342.
  • Laurance, W. F., Camargo, J. L., Luizão, R. C., Laurance, S. G., Pimm, S. L., Bruna, E. M., … & Van Houtan, K. S. (2011). The fate of Amazonian forest fragments: a 32-year investigation.Biological Conservation144, 56-67.
  • Vörösmarty, C. J., McIntyre, P. B., Gessner, M. O., Dudgeon, D., Prusevich, A., Green, P., … & Davies, P. M. (2010). Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity.Nature467, 555-561.
  • Lawton, J. H., Bignell, D. E., Bolton, B., Bloemers, G. F., Eggleton, P., Hammond, P. M., & Watt, A. D. (1998). Biodiversity inventories, indicator taxa and effects of habitat modification in tropical forest.Nature391, 72-76.
  • Henriques, W., Jeffers, R. D., Lacher, T. E., & Kendall, R. J. (1997). Agrochemical use on banana plantations in Latin America: perspectives on ecological risk.Environmental toxicology and chemistry16, 91-99.

Recommended Reading

Ecotourism on Starfish Beach

  • Forsyth, A., & Miyata, K. (1984). Tropical nature: Life and Death in the Rain Forest of Central and South America. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. This small book is written in an enjoyable and easy-to-read format and covers a wide array of important tropical ecology topics.


Group Field Exercises

Some group exercises and activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Biodiversity Analysis in Tropical Forest and Marine Systems
  • Waste Management System in Bocas
  • Human-beach Environmental Challenges
  • Habitat fragmentation and land use around the Archipelago
  • Environmentally-friendly lodging options in Bocas