Costa Rica

Enroll in Bio 370 and 370L Tropical Field Ecology this Spring 2014 and earn 4 credits which can count as a 300 level elective for biology majors! The Field study component for this course will take place over summer break in Costa Rica and Panama, May 22- June 11, 2014

Program Description

This course addresses tropical ecology starting with the discoveries and theories of early explorers to modern theories of biogeography of species richness. A large emphasis in this course will be placed on introducing students to field research in the tropics, including the design, implementation, data analysis and presentation of individual and group research projects.

We will also learn:

  • to identify terrestrial and marine biodiversity of Central America
  • how humans impact tropical diversity and the sustainability of tropical ecosystems
  • why are the tropics so diverse
  • how is this diversity maintained
  • how do communities respond to disturbance
  • how are different land uses having an impact on tropical people and communities
  • how will global climate change affect communities and species richness.

The course will include a mandadory three-week trip to Costa Rica and Panama, Central America, where students will directly interact with and do scientific research in the tropical terrestrial and marine ecosystems studied throughout the semester at Occidental College.

Course Goals

Students will be able to...

  •  Discuss global patterns of biodiversity, why the tropics so diverse and how this diversity maintained in terrestrial and marine systems.
  •  Analyze how tropical terrestrial and marine communities respond to various types of disturbance.
  •  Describe how humans impact tropical diversity and the sustainability of tropical ecosystems.
  •  Discuss how will global climate change will affect tropical communities and species richness.
  •  Identify common and important tropical terrestrial and marine organisms while in the field and describe how they interact with their environment.
  • Apply ecological and statistical methods and principles to design field experiments.
  • Collect then analyze and graph data using the statistical software R.
  • Interpret historical and newly collected data from tropical ecosystems in light of existing ecological theory relating to tropical ecosystems.
  • Communicate and collaborate effectively

Faculty Leaders

Professors Braker and Claisse, from the Biology Department, will lead the Tropical Field Ecology program.

Dr. Elizabeth Braker is an Associate Professor at the Biology Department. She has been working in Costa Rica generally and at La Selva Biological Station in particular for over 30 years. She has taught graduate and undergraduate level courses for OTS in Costa Rica, and has taken over 60 Occidental students to conduct summer research at La Selva. She received her B.A.,  at Colorado College; and Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley.

Dr. Jeremy Claisse is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Biology Department. He has been conducting research in tropical marine environments, including Caribbean Coral Reefs, since 1999 and taught marine biology and ecology field courses at Occidental since 2009. He has studied, worked and traveled, in Costa Rica and Panama extensively, including participating in a UC Costa Rica Tropical Biology Program as an undergraduate and volunteering as a teaching assistant for the same program in 2001. He received his B.S. at UC Santa Barbara, M.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.


For a preliminary itinerary click on the following link: Itinerary

Field Station websites


16 students, 2 faculty instructor (Professor Braker and Professor Claisse), and support from Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) and Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC).

At La Selva, guest lectures will be provided by OTS professional staff, including: Dr. Carlos de la Rosa (La Selva director), Dr. Pia Paaby, OTS Director of Education, and Sr. Orlando Vargas (La Selva biologist), and by several Ph.D. students or long term researchers currently working at La Selva. In Panama, guest lectures will be provided by ITEC professional staff and faculty, and Ph.D. students and long term researchers currently working in Bocas Del Toro.

We are seeking bright students who possess the willingness and ability to engage seriously with course material, to conduct rigorous independent research, and to engage with the intellectual interests of their faculty member and peers.

It is essential that participants be flexible and mature. We are looking for students who can adapt with ease to new cultures and unfamiliar conditions, who handle with grace unexpected problems, and who will possess positive attitudes in any circumstance. 

The program requires a good deal of walking, up to 6-8 hours/day, sometimes over uneven terrain. In Panama multiple hours per day will be spent snorkeling in shallow coral reef environments. Additionally, some days our meal options will be limited. Finally, students will be limited to one small piece of luggage, which they will be responsible to carry on their own.

Academic Pre-requisites

Minimally, students will have completed either Bio 260 or Bio 270, which means that by the time they would enroll in Tropical Field Ecology, students would have at least sophomore standing, would have completed CSP and passed the writing requirement, and would have at least one college-level biology course in addition to the specified pre-requisite courses. Students would also have to be cleared by IPO for international travel. 
Ideally, students will have the following academic qualifications: demonstrated interest in tropical ecology, environmental biology, and field biology; will have achieved a grade of at least a B in Bio 260 and 270; will have basic computer literacy; and will have completed at least one year of Spanish language study prior to the international portion of the course.

Information Session

Tuesday, September 17, BioScience 113 12:30 - 1:15.


Total $4,550 ESTIMATE will be finalized by early November, 2013. Includes: $3,200 program fee and $1,350 out-of-pocket expenses.

Program fee will be billed to the Oxy student account. It includes: Lab fees, scientific equipment, field study costs, room and board, field study transportation in Costa Rica and between Costa Rica and Panama.

Out-of-pocket expenses include: international airfare, specific field and safety equipment (e.g., snake boots, headlamp, mosquito net, mask, snorkel, fins, rash guard), some in-country meals.

Financial Aid

The total additional cost will be included in Financial Aid calculations for Spring semester 2014. A Financial Aid officer will to determine how your package may be adjusted depending upon your need. Students eligible for need-based aid may be awarded a combination of College loan and scholarship. Please contact the Financial Aid Office with further questions. 

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