History of Tropical Field Courses
Eastern Connecticut State University
Since 1968 the Department of Biology has annually offered an international field experience in tropical biology. Until 1984 the course was conducted each May, at the end of the regular spring semester, in Bermuda at the Bermuda Biological Station for Research. In May 1984 a second course was introduced, with a group of students traveling to Jamaica to the Hofstra University Marine Laboratory. For a variety of reasons this experience was not considered a satisfactory complement to the Bermuda course, and alternative locations were considered for future courses. Subsequently, in March 1986, Eastern offered its first field course in Central America in the country of Belize. For the next 15 years the Bermuda and Belize courses were offered on an alternate year rotation, with the Bermuda field experience being conducted in May of odd-numbered years and the Belize trip occurring in January of even-numbered years. In 2001 Eastern’s 33 year tenure of offering a fieldcourse in Bermuda ended, and the site for the field experience was moved to the Gerace Research Center, San Salvador Island, Bahamas. The most recent change in the Program was made in 2008, with a shift in the location of our Central American course from Belize to Costa Rica.
Presently, the two courses share the same course number (BIO 320) and name (Tropical Biology), but differ in several regards. The San Salvador Island course has an accompanying 1-credit seminar (BIO 319 - Oceanic Island Ecology), is open to a wider audience, and is more organismal in emphasis. In contrast, the Costa Rica course has a prerequisite of 6 credits in biology, a 1-credit preparatory seminar (BIO 360 - Tropical Ecosystems), is generally open only to biology majors, and its emphasis is on community structure and dynamics and the conservation of tropical terrestrial ecosystems. Each course offers unique educational opportunities and experiences. Aspects of the San Salvador Island course that are particularly noteworthy are its oceanic island characteristics, its easily accessible coral reefs, and the island’s relatively undisturbed Caribbean plant community. The Costa Rica course offers students exposure to the extraordinary biodiversity typical of tropical lowland rainforest, and the unparalleled uniqueness of tropical montane cloudforest communities .
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