In the Field: Ecology of the Tropics

Field courses in the Department of Environmental Sciences offer students meaningful opportunities to translate their classroom learning into practice. Students may participate in field courses close to campus (i.e. ENVS 442: Ecology of Emory) or travel abroad to places like Peru, San Salvador Island (Bahamas) and Southern Africa.

Offered in the spring, ENVS 371/372: Ecology of the Tropics provides students an opportunity to travel to the Upper Amazon basin rainforest of Peru to explore the diverse biomes of the tropics. The course is an immersion experience into the heart of biodiversity on the planet. The experience can be life-changing and a few students who traveled to Peru in spring 2015 shared brief reflections of their time in the field. We invite you to find out more about international field experiences by linking to our Study Abroad page.


Gabe Andrle
I have always had a passion for wildlife.  Growing up, I was constantly yearning for opportunities to see and learn more about wildlife.  I used to seek out any leftover pockets of nature in Chicago suburbia to catch critters and explore the environment.   I grew a particular interest for reptiles and amphibians as I watched Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin travel the world sharing their passion by bringing people closer to a wide range of animals in their natural habitats.  In high school, I started volunteering at Chicago Zoological Society's Brookfield Zoo where I learned all about wildlife conservation, research, and education.  Coming to Emory, I was unsure if I would be able to find classes and opportunities that aligned with my core interest of wildlife conservation.  After getting involved with the Gillespie Lab my first year, I was pleasantly surprised by the extent of wildlife conservation related opportunities.  A major part of conserving wildlife lies within understanding how they interact with their environments.  After taking Dr. Larry Wilson's Ecology of the Tropics lecture and field courses, I have gained an incredible insight into understanding the many vital relationships in nature, particularly in the wide range of tropical biomes.

Traveling to Peru with the Ecology of the Tropics field course class was my first time going abroad, and I am extremely glad that I had the opportunity.  The trip was an incredible experience where I was not only learning new things, but also constantly applying knowledge I had just gained in classes at Emory. I used my Spanish 201/202 skills to communicate with people in Lima and Iquitos.  Having Dr. Wilson and our guide Roldan Hidalgo, both experts in their fields, lead our class through some of the most biodiverse places on the planet was something I will never forget.  For me, I was now able to witness and learn first-hand in a place that I had only known before by books and television.  The hands-on experience is something that can not be replaced. Sleeping in mosquito nets, navigating through the rainforest at night, swimming in the Amazon river, and playing soccer with locals are just a few of the many experiences I will never forget. I was astounded by the abundance and diversity of frogs that we came across. I saw and caught frogs I had only seen in zoos and on television before. We also found many that I had never seen before, and having Dr. Wilson and Roldan allowed for quick identification.  This trip was the first of hopefully many for me.  As I am soon embarking on a trip to Rwanda to do research with the Gillespie Lab, I can only thank the Emory Department of Environmental Sciences for the seemingly endless resources and learning opportunities.  

Gabe's YouTube Link of trip:

Cindy Chu

There are very few times in our lives that we can truly say our heart was elevated to a new level of joy. Getting accepted into our dream college or getting married may be on that list, but meeting the indigenous villagers and children of the Amazon has definitely topped mine. Our tour guide, Roldan, took us to his village and we met some of the families that have lived along the Amazon River for many generations. The families live in open huts with thatched roofs, while the children run free in a big open, muddy field that overlooks the river. When Roldan brought toys and new clothing, the children were fighting over it. I learned a powerful lesson. These children get new toys or clothing a few times a year, if any. They live and eat what they catch and grow; yet their laughter and eagerness to jump and play tag was incomparable. Playing soccer and volleyball with them and my classmates brought a new vitality that I didn’t fully realize until after I came back to the humdrum of college life. I couldn’t speak Spanish, but we were all able to compete in soccer and manage to teach each other how to play a riveting game of duck-duck goose. These children showed me that the heart of the Amazon Rainforest is not solely about the tremendous species diversity, but in their goodbye hugs and contagious livelihood.

Ryan Myers
Although this trip to the Amazon Rainforest of Peru may seem strictly recreational at first glance, it turns out to be much more than that. With the aid of Dr.Wilson and the information gained from the classroom portion of his course, you become ready for a somewhat arduous journey into the rainforest in order to witness first-hand the bountiful ecology of the neotropics. Countless lectures and discussions can be lead on the complexities of tropical ecology, but the perspective gained from this trip cannot be taught in a classroom. Being immersed in the highly interdependent web of life that is the rainforest can be overwhelming because it seems as though this ecosystem functions on full throttle, never taking a break. From studying the predator/prey relationships between insects to the impact of tropical rainforests on global climate, this trip helps develop a sense of scale, interdependence, and systems thinking that are not innate in today’s society. The group of students who went all formed a bond in our shared experience of this almost mystical place that is the rainforest. Not too mention, a large number of the sights I saw this past Spring Break, I will never have the chance to see again, and that’s pretty dang cool.