Field study to offer unique opportunities

Lauren Cole, Staff Writer

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During the Summer II semester, the Biology department is offering a tropical ecology class, BIOL 318, which includes a two-week trip to Ecuador.

The class will count for four credit hours and will give students from all majors a chance to experience a new culture and diverse ecosystem.  Francis Marion University (FMU) will take eight students to the Wildsumaco Biological Station in Wildsumaco, Ecuador where they will perform research projects in the field for two weeks.

The station is a new, state-of-the-art facility that includes lodging, lecture classrooms and a cafeteria.  Travis Knowles, associate professor of Biology and director of Wildsumaco Biological Station, teaches the course and will lead the students on the trip.

“Everything about Ecuador is mind expanding.  It broadens your horizons both culturally and scientifically,” Knowles said.

The station is centered in the Andes Mountains and overlooks the Sumaco volcano.  Since it is in the rainforest and located on the equator, the station is in the middle of the most diverse ecosystem on the planet.  It holds more species of animals and plants than any other area on Earth.

“You can sit by the feeder and see twenty different hummingbird species in less than an hour,” Knowles said.

On top of the hummingbirds, Ecuador is also home to pumas, margays, tapirs, bears, monkeys, toucans and giant earthworms up to a meter in length.  The field study allows students to experience the species in their normal habitat, instead of in a classroom setting.  During the 2012 Ecuador trip, one of the students discovered a new species of frog in the rainforest.

“It’s like a lab course but the lab is outside in the field.  It’s more hands on than any other lab or class,” Knowles said. “Each day is different; it’s never the same thing twice.”

The class does include extensive amounts of time in the field, so students interested in going should be prepared to hike, walk, explore and be able to handle being outdoors for long periods of time.  The climate of the region is usual mild and in the 80’s; however, it does rain heavily quite often.  Students who have gone on the trip in the past have called it “phenomenal, amazing, mind blowing and beyond anything you could imagine.”

Participating in international trips allows students gain firsthand knowledge of other cultures and see how others live.  Students will also spend a few days in the capital city of Quito, which will give students the opportunity to visit South American markets, try local cuisine, purchase hand crafted souvenirs and totally immerse themselves in another culture.

Students interested in learning more about the class or for students who want to sign up for the class should contact Professor Knowles.  His office is 201-H in McNair Science Building (MSB).  He can also be reached by phone at (843) 661-1408, or email at tknowles@fmarion.edu.

The first deposit to hold a seat for the trip is due April 11.

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