Students expand ecology skills in Ecuador

The BIO 4333 study abroad trip to Ecuador gave 11 students the opportunity to experience tropical ecosystems firsthand. 

The trip, which was taught by associate professor Scott Tiegs, allowed students to go high up in elevations to observe the difference in ecosystems in more dry and grassland areas. 

“It’s a really neat trip where students get to experience a different country, culture, as well as pretty much explore the different types of ecosystems that exist in tropical latitudes,” said Jeremy Geist, a doctoral student and teaching assistant. “Throughout the duration of the trip, we traveled around Ecuador, throughout the entire country, looking at all the varieties of wildlife and ecosystems and types of rainforest.” 

The trip lasted from Dec. 14-25 and included a lot of hiking as students traveled around the capital of Quito, the Antisana Volcano, the Amazon rainforest, the Pacific coast and the Bellavista Cloud Forest. The variation of places the class visited made it possible for students to study the ecosystem and also come in contact with the culture.

Throughout the trip, Tiegs offered interactive discussions and direct interactions. Sophomore Samantha Averitt said the students experienced explanations of the ecosystems while observing the environments in person. 

“We go to these different locations like Cloud Forest and rainforest and coral reefs and a whole bunch of cool ecosystems that he teaches about while we’re there,” Averitt said.

A takeaway Geist was hoping the students would gain from the trip was inspiring them to become more interested in science and ecology while realizing the importance of these ecosystems.

“The goal is, they just gain a really great appreciation for tropical environments,” Geist said. “Especially, in the face of the change that a lot of these rainforest are experiencing with development and natural resource attraction that they really start to value and have a deeper understanding and appreciation for these environments that really hold much of the world’s biodiversity and are really ecologically important.”

Some students, like Averitt, were required to take this course for their degree but were also interested in studying abroad. Averitt ended up taking this opportunity to achieve both desires. 

“It has been my dream to go onto the Galapagos Island and find the bird, the blue-footed boobies and just to experience the Galapagos and see what Darwin saw,” Averitt said. “So, that is what I was most curious about, but I was also extremely curious about the rainforest and also just the different cultures of Ecuador.”

Students were required to keep daily blogs and journal entries of what they see and do throughout the trip and keep track of all the species. With Tiegs’ familiarity with the area, having done research there before, students were able to further their education.  

Students interested in visiting a tropical ecosystem area to learn more about ecology can attend a Guatemala trip this summer. To learn more about the study abroad opportunities OU has, visit