Tropical Ecology


Course Objective

Students will:
- understand the main patterns of tropical vegetation and how this
drives animal distribution
- have an insight in the processes that generate and maintain
biodiversity in the tropics
- understand the role of humans in historical and future changes in
tropical forest ecosystems
- have an understanding of theoretical ecology in explaining community
composition in tropical forests
- carry out limited field work in a the tropical rainforest of Tiputini
station Ecuador
- follow and report on an excursion along the eastern slope of the
Andes, from the alpine paramo into the lowland rain forest (Ecuador)
- get a firsthand understanding of the altitudinal zonation in the
- have a fantastic field experience in one of the most diverse countries
in the world

Course Content

The tropics are by far the most biodiverse areas on our planet. How did
this diversity arise and how is it maintained? How can we manage
tropical forests? Will tropical ecosystems survive global warming?
Topics addressed are: biogeography and evolution in the tropics;
structure and dynamics of tropical rain forests; rain forest tree
species richness (with a theoretical ecological twist); biotic
interactions, trophic dynamics and coevolution in tropical rain forests;
carbon dynamics and climate change in tropical Ecosystems; nutrient
cycling and tropical Soils; humans as part of tropical ecosystems.

The course of 4 weeks will consist of one week of intensive lectures and
discussions based on the book ‘Tropical Ecology’ of John Kricher. In the
second and third a two week excursion to Ecuador will be made. Ecuador,
located in northwestern South America, is one of the most ecologically
and topographically diverse countries in South America. Ranging in
elevation from sea level to over 6,000 meters, Ecuador has one of the
richest floras and faunas in the world. We will arrive in Quito and
start with an orientation day at the Universidad San Francisco de
Quito-USFQ, followed by a single day trip to the Antisanilla region,
where we will get some experience in the field, and acclimatize to the
Andean conditions. Then we will transfer to Papallacta with a four hour
hike through the paramo, starting at around 3,900, going downhill, and
finishing at the hot springs at Papallacta. Then we will transfer to
Coca at the Napo river from where we will go by boat to the Tiputini
Here we spend will four days and carry out field work, comparing flora
and fauna of the main forest types in the vicinity of the station. In
the final week in the Netherlands the students will write a trip report
and carry out statistical analyses with their field data and vegetation
data of the Andean transect, provided by the course.

Teaching Methods

Week 1: Lectures 3-4 lectures per day; 1-2 hours discussion; reading
Week 2-3: Field trip, field work Ecuador (see content)
Week 4: data analysis, writing report (3 days), reporting & discussions
(1 day); exam

Method of Assessment

Individual performance during the fieldwork (25%); a written exam on all
course contents (50%); a report on field work and excursion (25%). All
sub-marks should be 5.5 or higher to pass the course.


Compulsory course book: Tropical Ecology. John Kricher. PUP, 707pp.
ISBN: 0691115133. ~75 Euro. This full-color illustrated textbook offers
a comprehensive introduction to all major aspects of tropical ecology.
It explains why the world's tropical rain forests are so universally
rich in species, what factors may contribute to high species richness,
how nutrient cycles affect rain forest ecology, and how ecologists
investigate the complex interrelationships among flora and fauna. It
covers tropical montane ecology, riverine ecosystems, savanna, dry
forest - and more.

Target Audience

MSc students with focus on ecology.

Custom Course Registration

To attend this course there will be costs involved. The field excursion to Ecuador is expected to cost a maximum of €3000 per person (This is the absolute maximum, we are trying to bring the costs down). This will have to be paid for by the students. In the case that the course has too few students (less than 15) the course will not be given.

General Information

Course Code AM_1223
Credits 6 EC
Period P3
Course Level 500
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator prof. dr. H. ter Steege
Examiner prof. dr. H. ter Steege
Teaching Staff

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Seminar, Fieldwork, Lecture
Target audiences

This course is also available as: