Tropical Ecology

(University of Windsor Course Code: 55-487)
Offered through the Ontario Universities Progarm in Field Biology (OUPFB)


This course will next be offered in February 2012.  Approximate dates are February 19 to March 3, 2012.  (Reading week plus the following week.)


Dr. Daniel Mennill
Department of Biological Sciences,University of Windsor
Email: dmennill AT uwindsor DOT ca

Dr. Stephanie Doucet
Department of Biological Sciences,University of Windsor
Email: sdoucet AT uwindsor DOT ca

Course description:

This two-week field course is a hands-on exploration of the flora and fauna of Costa Rica with an emphasis on ecology, evolutionary adaptations, and community relationships in the tropics. Field research will involve identifying birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and plants; studying the ecology of neotropical animals in four different ecosystems; capturing and banding birds; monitoring the social behaviour of three different species of monkey; observing leaf-cutter ants, termites, ant/acacia mutualisms; assessing different conservation practices; and much more. Reports must be written individually and must be submitted by early April. The course will be offered in Costa Rica at the Guanacaste Conservation Area. This conservation area spans an elevational gradient from Pacific beaches and mangroves, to lowland rainforest, to tropical humid forest, to elfin montane forest. The field course will include five night stays at each of three different field stations within the park. In the first third of the course, we will stay in sector Santa Rosa (a low-elevation site) where we will focus on the tropical dry forest ecosystem, the behavioural ecology of dry forest mammals and birds, ant/acacia mutualisms, and monkey behaviour. In the second third of the course, we will stay in sector Pitilla (a middle-elevation site) where our research will focus on a comparison of Pacific versus Caribbean flora and fauna, riparian ecosystems, and the ecology of rainforests. In the final third of the course, we will stay in Las Bromelias (an Atlantic/Pacific transitional forest site) where we will focus on the montane forest ecosystem, forest bird and mammal communities, patterns of tropical forest succession, and leaf cutter ant ecology.

About living conditions and field conditions:

On this field course we will be living and working in rugged field conditions! We will routinely get very hot, very dirty, and very tired. You must be in good physical condition and you must be willing to hike for many hours each day, often over difficult terrain in hot tropical weather. If you do not enjoy long and challenging hikes, this is not the course for you.  Because we will be spending all day outdoors at remote field sites, you must be prepared to deal with the presence of bugs, snakes, and the many other organisms that make the tropics unique. Each day's research will be long and full of adventure and everyone on the course must be willing to work hard, support each other, and enjoy the experience to the fullest. Sleeping conditions will be rustic bunk rooms shared with several other members of the field course. Some of the field stations have modern bathrooms and showers; others have no indoor plumbing.


This course is open to third or fourth year undergraduate students as well as any interested graduate students. Graduate students are expected to assist undergraduates in the design of their field projects and are strongly encouraged to design and write their projects for submission for publciation.

Prerequisites for University of Windsor students:

55-140 (First year biology), 55-210 (Second year ecology), or equivalent courses.  Students should be in third year of their undergraduate program or later.


The approximate cost to each student for this course will be $2750 CAN, including airfare, transportation within Costa Rica, accommodation, and all meals. A specific price will be available by the end of the fall semester 2009. A $250 deposit is required to confirm your place on this course. The first payment will likely be required in late September or early October 2009 when we purchase flights. Not included in this price estimate is the tuition you must pay for the course, prophylaxis, or personal items such as hiking boots.


Dates will be finalized in August or September of 2009. 


Seminar (15%)
Participation and contribution to group learning (25%)
Field notebook (20%)
Report on independent project (to be completed within 2 months of course) (40%)


Recommended reading (to keep the price of the course low, we do not list these sources as required reading):
1. Costa Rican Natural History by Daniel Janzen (~$33.41)
2. Green Phoenix: Restoring Tropical Forests of Costa Rica by William Allen (~$19)
3. Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by Gary Stiles & Alexander Skutch (~$26)
4. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide Louise Emmons & Francois Feer (~$26)

Recommended equipment:

A list of required equipment will be sent to students as the course draws nearer. Important equipment will include: lightweight field clothes (long-sleeves and pants), a sun hat, binoculars, a field notebook, a head lamp or flashlight, tall rubber boots (or hiking boots with knee-high snake gators), and a mosquito net.
Space limitations:

Space on this field course is very limited!  If you are interested in taking this course, please express your interest A.S.A.P. by contacting Dan Mennill by email: dmennill AT uwindsor DOT ca


Visit Dan Mennill's Bird Songs of Costa Rica (listen to some of the animals that we will study during the field course)

Visit the Guanacaste Conservation Area Website

Visit the Janzen & Hallwachs Caterpillar Homepage (learn about many of the caterpillars that we will meet during the field course)

Return to Dan Mennill's Homepage

Return to Stephanie Doucet's Hompage

Return to the University of Windsor Biological Sciences Homepage

All photos by Daniel Mennill. Do not use without permission.