Field Ecology & Evolution … including Costa Rica trip, Jan 2024

Trip Overview (PDF with photographs of field sites)

Course objectives

This class sequence will introduce students to organisms and ecosystems of the Neotropics, with a focus on Costa Rica. The Fall lecture class will cover topics in the ecology, evolution, and natural history of animals and plants of the region, illustrating general principles about tropical biology. The required embedded field trip will focus on identification and observation of Neotropical animals and plants, and on in-person learning about ecological/environmental science in the region; it will also feature an opportunity for each student to complete a brief independent research study. Post-trip work will involve writing about trip experiences and research results along with follow-up discussions.

Both parts of the course sequence are required: we generally do not allow students to register for the Fall lecture unless they are committed to also completing the January trip and the spring lab course.

Cost to students (above and beyond tuition)

Students will be responsible for some or all of the costs associated with the embedded (required) trip to Costa Rica in Jan 2024. At present, we estimate the full cost per student at $1650 for all-inclusive in-country expenses (accommodation, meals, transportation, etc.) and about $800 for airfare (PHL – LIR). The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will support course expenses to reduce this base cost for all participants; we will add more information here once we know the level of support from CLAS.

Scholarship support

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is committed to insuring that students will not be prevented from participating in study abroad opportunities because of financial barriers. We anticipate that CLAS will provide need-based scholarship support for trip expenses, as was the case for our last trip in 2019-2020.

Students wishing to apply for CLAS scholarship support should contact Dr. Curry. He will steer you toward the relevant program director in CLAS about the application process.

Format of the course sequence

  • Fall: lecture course (2 credits) focused on preparation for field trip
    • Bio 4451 undergraduates
    • Bio 8940 graduate students
  • Spring: lab course including required 2-week field trip before the start of the semester (1 Jan – 15 Jan 2024)
    • Bio 4452 undergraduates
    • Bio 8941 graduate students
      • Note: occasionally, we offer the sequence with both the lecture and laboratory courses in the spring semester, in which case the field trip takes place in May (but still counts as a required part of the laboratory course)
        • This alternative version of Field Ecology & Evolution usually involves instructors other than Dr. Curry, with a regional focus other than the Neotropics; Dr. Russell’s Marine Biology version in S19 (with field trip to Sweden in May 2019) is an example


  • The lecture, field trip, and laboratory components are all required
  • Prerequisite for the course sequence
    • Ideally, one or more courses in ecology, behavior, evolution, environmental science, or relevant organismal biology (e.g., entomology, ornithology) … but we’re open to other possible preparation. Contact Dr. Curry or Dr. Olson to discuss.
      • It also works very well for students to take a relevant course in Fall concurrently with the Field Ecology lecture. In F23, possibilities include (along with permission of the FEE instructors): Evolutionary Ecology, Global Change Ecology, Genealogy & Kinship
  • We expect all students enrolling to appreciate that the trip in Costa Rica is not a vacation but instead involves intensive field study, including lots of very early morning activities and some nighttime excursions
    • The trip will, though, include a few recreational opportunities, including swimming in the Pacific Ocean and under a rainforest waterfall

Details for Fall 2023 – Spring 2024, Costa Rica

  • Instructors: Drs. Curry and Olson
  • Emphasis: because both instructors have primary expertise in ornithology and because birds are the most readily observable group of vertebrate animals in tropical ecosystems, the course and field trip in 2023-24 will focus a lot on birds.  We will expect students to learn how to observe and identify Costa Rican birds in the field and to include coverage about them in journal accounts.
    • for independent student projects, students could work with birds but there will be many other possibilities concentrating on plants, arthropods, or other organisms
  • Possible itinerary (tentative … but looking good at present)
    • 1 Jan: flight from Pennsylvania to Costa Rica (Liberia airport, LIR); Santa Rosa National Park (Guanacaste dry forest)
    • 2 Jan: Santa Rosa National Park
    • 3 Jan: Centro Manú (mid-elevation montane forest, Caribbean slope)
    • 4 – 8 Jan: Camaquiri Conservation Initiative (biological station, Caribbean lowland rainforest); student projects
    • 9 – 10 Jan: Paraiso Quetzales (Talamanca Mountains, cloudforest)
    • 11 – 12 Jan: Estación Biológica La Cotinga & Los Patos trail, Corcovado National Park (Osa Peninsula, Pacific lowland rainforest)
    • 13 Jan: Rio de Sueños (Pacific lowland rainforest)
    • 14 Jan: Hotel Villa Lapas (Pacific lowland transitional wet/dry forest)
    • 15 Jan: return flight from Costa Rica (Liberia airport, LIR) to Pennsylvania (or New Jersey)
  • Trip dates: 1 – 15 Jan 2024

Past offerings

Independent Projects in Costa Rica, January 2018