Tropical Field Ecology in Panama

  • EEOB 4420 H (Tropical Field Ecology in Panama)
  • May Term 2020, 3 credits, offered every other year
  • Prerequisites: EEOB 3310, EEOB 3410, or permission of instructor
  • Applications accepted now. Limited spots!!

Where can I learn more?

  • Education Abroad Expo: Thursday, Sept 12, 2019, 2 – 6 pm in the Archie M. Griffin East Ballroom in the Ohio Union.
  • Course info session: Monday, Oct 21, 2019 5 – 6 pm at 100 Enarson
  • College of Arts and Sciences’ Education Abroad Expo: Monday, Nov 4, 4 – 6 pm in the Ohio Union
  • Course info session: Thursday, Nov 7, 2019 4 -5 pm at 100 Enarson

When does the course happen?

The main portion of the course takes place at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, May 10-22. There will be there mandatory class meetings on campus in the Spring semester (dates to be determined) and a mandatory meeting on campus between April 29 and May 6.

How do I apply?

Step 1: Fill out this form so I have your email.

Step 2: Read the eligibility guidelines here. If you don't meet any of them, email me (carter.1640).

Step 3: Apply at the Education Abroad website. Deadline is January 2. The application will ask you to answer the following questions in under 200 words each:

  • How will you prepare yourself for traveling to Panama?
  • How will your participation in this program help you reach your personal and academic goals?
  • How do you plan to be a good representative of Ohio State Abroad?

About the course

Course Description: Our goal is to give students first-hand knowledge of tropical biology with an emphasis on evolutionary and behavioral ecology. This is an intensive foreign study tour in Panama, a country renowned for its biological and cultural diversity and based at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), arguably the world’s leading research station for studying neotropical biodiversity. The course includes travel to several tropical habitats and experiences with common field methods in behavioral ecology such as setting up mist-nets, recording and analyzing sounds, and radiotelemetry. Students will also read, discuss, develop and work on research projects in groups, gain experience reading papers (then discuss with the authors), writing scientific reports, presenting results to their peers, and engage in science communication. The course will include talks and discussions with working scientists at STRI. It will be a hands-on learning experience in the field, with most of the time spent outside, rather than in a classroom.

Course goals

  • Develop an appreciation for tropical diversity with particular emphasis on co-evolution and social evolution
  • Understand the principles underlying evolutionary and behavioral ecology
  • Understand deep principles of scientific research and thinking clearly and critically about experimental design and observational studies
  • Develop skills in scientific communication (writing and speaking)
  • Communicate research ideas informally and formally
  • Develop skills in assessing peer research
  • Develop skills in common field biology methods

Course structure

There will be three mandatory class meetings: one organizational meeting during Spring semester (date to be determined (TBD) soon), a Health and Safety Orientation at the Office of International Affairs (TBD), and a meeting in the May term prior to departure for Panama (TBD). Students will communicate their learning experiences to the public through the maintenance of a student blog. In Panama, we will touch on a number of topics (listed below) through a combination of talks by instructors and guest scientists, discussions, readings, guided natural history hikes, and a group research project. Students will complete a final paper following their return to Ohio.

Course fee is $2093 and covers insurance, plane travel, transportation, housing, food, research equipment, park admission, kayak rental, etc. In addition to STEP funds, here are some sources of funding to help you pay:


Assistant Professor in Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology

Postdoctoral Researcher in Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology

Program Coordinator: Tiffany Pierskalla, Office of International Affairs at OSU,

Course Topics

Each day we will cover 1-2 general topics using a case study in the tropics. Topics include:

  • Tropical ecology: Why are there so many tree species in the tropics?
  • Social evolution: Why are ants altruistic?
  • Evolutionary ecology: How do fig trees manipulate the world around them?
  • Behavioral ecology: Why do vampire bats share their food?
  • Cognitive ecology: How does natural selection shape how bees learn?
  • Mutualism: How do trees use chemical signals to talk to fungi and insects?
  • Competition: How does the ‘landscape of fear’ shape predators and prey?
  • Sexual selection: Why do frogs call, birds sing, and males fight so much?
  • Conservation biology: How can we use science to save biodiversity?
  • Anthropogenic change: How will climate change change the world?
  • What are the deep principles of experimental design and statistical analysis?

Required readings will be assigned during the class

Suggested reading

Suggested field guides

  • Trees of Panama and Costa Rica, by Condit et al.
  • The Birds of Panama: A Field Guide, by Angehr and Dean
  • A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico, by Reid

Tentative Schedule

(*** need updating)

Sunday May 10: Travel to Panama

Mon May 11: Introduction to the tropics and fieldwork

    • How to dress in the field
    • Forest walk
    • Tour of Gamboa Labs
    • Gerry research talk
    • Simon research talk
    • Plan group project

Tues May 12: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and group research project

    • 9:30am leave Gamboa
    • 10am Orientation and safety at Tupper
    • 12:30pm Tupper Talk
    • research talk at Tupper***
    • collect data for group project

Wed May 13: Evolution and adaptation: sensory ecology in neotropical bats

    • bat talks
    • visit bat roosts
    • intro to mist nets
    • bat netting
    • collect data for group project

Thurs May 14: Biodiversity: the Janzen–Connell hypothesis

    • tour of Barro Colorado Island
    • science talk: Bambi Seminar
    • collect data for group project
    • Stay overnight on BCI

Fri May 15: Sexual selection in the tungara frog

    • Discuss Somjee et al. 2018, Ryan et al. 2019
    • Summit Park
    • Frog walk
    • research talk: Ummat Somjee
    • collect data for group project

Sat May 16: Social evolution in eusocial insects

    • research talk: ants***
    • ant walks and baiting ants
    • hike on pipeline road
    • collect data for group project

Sun May 17: Mutualism: figs and fig wasps

    • research talk on figs and fig wasps: Allen Herre??***
    • fig talks
    • Kayaking on Chagras river (with Iann Sanchez)
    • radiotelemetry game
    • collect data for group project

Mon May 18: Landscape ecology and habitat fragmentation

    • nature hikes at Campana National Park (with Iann Sanchez)
    • dinner in Gamboa
    • collect data for group project

Tues May 19: What’s special about Panama?

    • MiraFlores Locks
    • 12:30pm Tupper talk
    • 2pm Punta Culebra
    • Dinner at Mi Ranchito
    • Casco Viejo??
    • collect data for group project

Wed May 20: Bioacoustics and data analysis in R

    • bioacoustics in Raven and R
    • data analysis in R

Thurs May 21: Scientific communication

    • Prepare talks
    • Final talks
    • Dinner in Clayton

Fri May 22: Travel back to USA

Ant trails through flower petals

Tent-making bats

Geoffrey's tamarin

Capuchin monkey