Ecology students study in Ecuador

The new Francis Marion University logo FM is seen on a campus flag. The logo is also on university apparel and athletic practice wear.

The new Francis Marion University logo “FM” is seen on a campus flag. The logo is also on university apparel and athletic practice wear.

Nisheeka Simmons, Staff Writer

Recently, Francis Marion University’s (FMU) Biology Department conducted a trip to Wildsumaco Biological Station in Ecuador.

The two week excursion is the field component to the Tropical Ecology course offered by the university in the summer.  Travis Knowles, Associate Professor of Biology and Director of the Wildsumaco Biological Station, said this is not the first trip to Ecuador that the Biology Department has hosted.

“We have taken four groups of students, however this is only the second time the trip has been hosted at Wildsumaco,” Knowles said.  “This year we took a total of six students; four biology students and two professional writing students.”

Knowles, who has been employed at FMU since 1991, said the Tropical Ecology course is held each year during Summer II classes.  For the first few weeks, students attend lecture.  According to Knowles, while stationed in Ecuador the students each conduct a research project relevant to the course, the results of which are to be presented upon their return to campus.

An important part of the trip, according to Knowles, is the walks the class takes around the tropical rainforest because they give students the chance to gather information about a lot of unusual species. One such species being the caecilian, a wormlike creature that Knowles said may be new to science.

“Caecilians are striated like earthworms, but they are a vertebrate species,” Knowles said.  “People freak out when they get big because they think they are snakes, but their actually amphibians like frogs.  A lot of people do not even know they exist.”

Junior Biology major Hunter Johnson agreed that the walks around the forest were a great opportunity for observation.  Johnson said he considered the observation of birds one of the coolest parts of the trip.

“We observed seventy-five species of birds that I have never seen before, and that is a pretty big deal,” Johnson said.

While in Ecuador, Johnson said he completed research on mammal abundance using a camera trap to take pictures of mammals at night.  Johnson said he then compared the data between different types of forest.

“There was no difference found in the data compared between primary and secondary forest,” Johnson said. “We did however catch some pretty cool photos of margays and a puma.”

Johnson said he became interested in the Tropical Ecology course after taking Organismal Biology (biology 106) with Professor Knowles. He also said it seemed like a good opportunity because he had always been interested in ecologyand would recommend the course to anyone who is interested.

“It’s an awesome experience, so anyone who wants to participate should definitely talk to professor Knowles to make sure you really want to do it,” Johnson said.

Knowles agreed that anyone interested must first see him.  Knowles said that there is a lot of advance planning involved, but students from any major can participate.

“The only prerequisite is that the students take Biology 106, and under certain circumstances that can be waived,” Knowles said.

For more information contact Professor Travis Knowles at (843) 661-1408.