From dip-netting in waters infested with alligator-like caimans, to attracting big cats with perfume, a group of students got the experience of a lifetime in Ecuador last summer. Five wildlife conservation students, along with five students from the College of Science, capped off a semester-long course with the trip to Ecuador, where they experienced the country’s politics, history, culture, biology, and conservation issues.

Under the guidance of co-instructors Bill Hopkins and Ignacio Moore, both affiliated with Virginia Tech’s Global Change Center, students conducted research projects during the trip, in teams or individually, based on subjects related to their interests.

Erin Dailey and her research partner, who both love frogs, examined whether color affects how the amphibians choose their breeding pools. They nailed colored plastic cups to trees to simulate such waters. During her time in the field, Dailey encountered the incredibly rare Pacman frog.

Alexandra Flevarakis studied macroinvertebrate community structures as possible indicators of water quality in an effort to find an inexpensive method for local individuals to assess the quality of their water source. Unfortunately, the remnants of a recent rainy season hindered the research. Despite this, Flevarakis said that studying abroad was a worthwhile decision, as she learned more about Ecuadorian culture, ecology, biodiversity, and even about herself than she would have anywhere else.

Matt Lacey worked alongside another student to research whether big cats are attracted to the Calvin Klein perfume “Obsession for Men.” While they did not find evidence to support the theory, Lacey’s team captured images of many wild creatures, including photos of dwarf leopards and video footage of an Andean bear. “Going to Ecuador also helped open my eyes to other cultures and to the realities of the third world,” Lacey shared. “It made me even more appreciative of what we have in our backyard.”

Christina Nelson conducted observational research on the cooperative breeding behavior of the masked crimson tanager. She also spent time observing the wildlife from an artist’s eye, rather than a scientific perspective, illustrating their behavior and movement, and shared that this experience gave her the opportunity to appreciate the world from multiple perspectives.

Emily Reasor’s team learned about the use of medicinal plants from members of two Ecuadorian tribes. They learned about two plants in particular — the Matico and the Kilum — that are most effective for treating infected wounds. “Getting to do this in a field setting was one of the best learning opportunities I’ve ever had,” Reasor said.