Nine Virginia Tech undergraduates traveled to Ecuador this summer as part of the university’s Tropical Biology and Conservation course. The expedition, led by Associate Professor Bill Hopkins of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and Associate Professor Ignacio Moore of the College of Science, allowed students to conduct field research in one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. “The course was very demanding for the students, both intellectually and physically, but served as the capstone educational experience in their undergraduate careers,” said Hopkins.

The undergraduates conducted research on the topic that interested them the most. Katy Battle of Richmond, Va., a junior majoring in wildlife science, studied species richness across the country’s elevational gradient. “With the help of professors and other students, I was able to record a master list of all species detected at the four different elevational study sites we visited during the course,” she explained.

Lauren McPherson, a 2012 wildlife science graduate, set up camera traps to capture images of wildlife near the field stations. “My study resulted in photos of many different species, including a jaguar that was only about 175 meters from our lodge,” McPherson said. Moore remarked that it was something even the station manager had never seen.

Wildlife science majors Jeronimo Silva of São Paulo, Brazil, and Alex Garretson of Rockville, Md., along with biological sciences major Meredith Swartwout, studied predation on poison dart frogs. “The Ecuador trip went above and beyond my expectations,” Garretson remarked. “It was a truly transformative experience and I would highly recommend the trip to anyone with even a remote interest in biology or pristine wilderness.”