Ecuador Wildlife Biology

Tropical wildlife biology and ecology in the Amazon Rainforest and Andes Mountains.

 Starting location: Denver Airport 
Denver, Colorado (June 23rd) 

  Ending location: Denver Airport 
Denver, Colorado (August 3rd) 


Join us for two weeks of immersive field training and advanced biology that takes students deep into the cloud forest of the Ecuadorian Andes to explore wildlife biology. Local guides and Sternberg Museum staff will lead students on a survey of plants and animals high in the mountains. This region is home to hundreds of species of birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles, mammals, and new plants around every turn. College-level learning and hands-on experience with authentic field biology equipment, building confidence through a rigorous curriculum and supportive staff form the core of this incredible wilderness adventure. Expedition Ecuador camp is an intensive field biology program meant to immerse students in a supportive, fast-paced learning environment where conceptual content and lessons are brought into living focus all around them. Our goal is to make sure any student interested in pursuing a career in life science will leave this camp with relevant, practical skills and knowledge they can apply in their future coursework.


Tropical biologist, ornithologist, science educator

Instructor: Dr. Megan Patterson (Certified Wilderness First Responder)
After completing her BSc in Wildlife Biology at Humboldt State University Megan moved on to Florida State University where she earned a MSc in College Science Teaching and a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Megan spent several months each year between 2006 and 2013 in the tropics with extensive time in Ecuador, Panama, and Costa Rica. This experience includes leading research crews for several months, working with government officials and local business owners, and guiding educational tours including bird banding explanations and night walks. She now works as a scientist and science educator with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). While Megan’s specialty is birds, she is also an enthusiast for understanding complete communities. From slime molds to mammals and ants to frogs, Megan will help participants on this trip gain a full appreciation of tropical ecology.




Maggie during a nighttime amphibian survey in the Andes in 2017.

Teaching Assistant: Maggie Wolf (Certified Wilderness First Responder)
Maggie Wolf is a student at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana. She is a Biology and Spanish double major and hopes to continue her education and eventually conduct research. Maggie has had extensive experience in the outdoors through Girl Scouts and Venturing Crew. She participated as a student in Sternberg Paleontology Camp (2015), Southwest Biology Camp (2016), and Expedition Ecuador (2017), and returned to Ecuador in 2018 as the TA. During the summer, Maggie works as a camps  program assistant in the field and in the office, working with students and managing logistics. During the school year, Maggie manages our wildlife data processing, including overseeing the work of our student interns. She also helps with the development of new camps, and making improvements to existing camps. 

Project Summary

Students and staff will work together to document plant and animal diversity of sites visited in the Amazon Rainforest, and Andes Cloud Forest. Wildlife data collected will be added to the iNaturalist database, used by research biologists to track sightings of organisms around the world!

Ecuador part 1: Amazon Rainforest

Once in Ecuador, students will work with scientists, educators, and local guides on daily hikes into the forest, visiting sites known for world-class biodiversity! Our goal day each in the cloud forest is to cover as much ground as possible, documenting animal and plant life with field photos and descriptive field notes. (Later, this documentation will be organized by students into research-usable data.) Along the way, students will visit secluded waterfalls, bird sanctuaries, and research lodges deep in the Andes. At all of these sites, students are engaged in discussions addressing organisms, habitats, and teachable examples of evolution in action! In doing so, students will pick up valuable field research skills through training and hands-on practice. Our goal is to build a strong foundational understanding of ecology, evolutionary biology, and biodiversity during this program, in addition to advanced field skills students can take with them on their future endeavors.

Our first stop will be in Tena, a rainforest just below the Andes mountain range.
High in the mountains, it is a bit too cold for most reptiles, many amphibians, and many mammals. By heading into this lower forerst, we will be able to see a greater diversity of reptiles and amphibians, in addition to new species of other wildlife not found so high up! We will start our survey by setting our camera traps, which will stay out until the morning of our departure. A major point of emphasis will be identifying differences between the low and high elevation ecosystems. From climate conditions to vegetation structure, students will explore the vast differences that can exist between two geographically adjacent ecosystems. Students will be encouraged to build on lessons from our survey hikes and classroom work as we explore the forest, document new types of wildlife and consider their unique adaptations.

Ecuador part 2: Mindo Valley

Our next stop will be the Mindo Valley, high in the Andes mountains. This region is a top destination for birders around the world! (Our students documented over 100 species of birds in this area in 2017, with over 30 additional species in 2018.) Students will participate in a standard walking survey, documenting birds using binoculars, a super-telephoto digital photography setup, and a parabolic microphone to record calls. (Acoustic biology is a field of increasing interest, with entire online research databases established to collect and distribute animal vocalizations!)

Along with surveying bird diversity, we will be on the look out for insects, flowers, reptiles, and amphibians, with the goal of contrasting the species and diversity of this region with the lowlands where we began our fieldwork at the start of the trip. We will also set out our camera traps again, to document shy and nocturnal wildlife that inhabit the cloud forest.

As we continue our wildlife survey fieldwork, we will reinforce student understanding of conceptual topics in evolutionary biology, ecology, and conservation work through observation and discussion.

Program Cost

Tuition is $3,900 per member, and $4,100 per non-member. Tuition includes airfare, lodging, and meals in Ecuador. 


Q: What if my student is not accepted into the camp they applied for? Do you refund tuition?
A: 100% of the deposit and any paid tuition is refunded to any students not accepted to a camp they applied for. We encourage students not accepted to a program to apply again the following year. Many of our programs are competitive, with more applicants than space available. Unfortunately, this means that some years we won’t be able to admit 100% of applicants to any particular program.

Q: What is your cancellation and refund policy? 
A: Our refund policy for cancellations is dependent on which kind of camp you are signed up for (domestic or international), and when the cancellation is received.

Refund policies Domestic Programs:
For programs taking place within the United States, cancellations must be  submitted in writing, via email or typed letter. Each camp registration is held  to a 20-percent cancellation fee. If you cancel 30 to 10 days prior to the  start of a program, half of the total fee is refundable. If you cancel 9 or fewer  days prior to the start of the program, no amount of the fee is refundable.  Registration fees are non-transferable between applicants.

International Programs:
Cancellations and withdrawals must be submitted in writing, via email or  typed letter. Up to the registration deadline of May 1st, 2018, the program fee is fully refundable. After May 1st, the registration fee is only 50% refundable, as we will have already provided payments for airfares, accommodations, and guide services.

For answers to more possible questions, see our Frequently Asked Questions page!


Additional Information and Logistics

Additional information regarding the Ecuador Wildlife Biology camp.

For this international programs, the Sternberg Museum requires registration and payment to be complete by May 1st, 2018. For accepted applications, full payment must be completed by May 1st, 2018. Click here for information about our refunds and cancellations policy.

* Students are expected to be in Hays at the Sternberg Museum by 8am on the morning of July 29th. Travel should be coordinated well in advance with the Museum Education Director David Levering ( once your student is fully registered. Dorms are available on the FHSU campus for students who arrive early. We will be departing as a group from Kansas City Airport for Quito Ecuador on July 31st or August 1st, depending on flights. If our flight leaves on August 1st, we will be lodging in the FHSU dorms the night of the July 31st.

The Centers for Disease Control advises travelers to “make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.” We will be at high altitude, away from areas where yellow fever and zika virus are known to occur.

Click here for information about travel insurance.

Food on international trips is prepared by guides, service staff, or Museum education staff. During travel involving airports, students will need to pay for their own meals. We will do our best during international trips to coordinate with our guides and lodges we are staying in to accommodate dietary restrictions.

The following are requirements for all student participants for participation in this program:

United States passport with at least 7 months remaining validity. If you do not have a valid United States passport, you cannot participate in this trip.

Up to date on immunizations, including:

  • Mumps-measeles-rubella (MMR) vaccine
  • Diptheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine
  • Polio vaccine
  • Chicken pox vaccine (varicella)
  • Yellow Fever (Primarily for Amazon portion)

Proof of travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation & repatriation. Trip cancellation and lost property are also good to make sure you policy includes. If you have any questions, please contact the Education Director at


Contacting Your Child
During international programs, education staff will do their best to provide status updates for the trip via Museum Twitter and Instagram (@SternbergMuseum) accounts. Access to wireless internet or cellular data will be unpredictable. Please assume no news is good news if there are gaps in our online updates. Along with this, please do not count on being able to reach your student by phone reliably. If you need to contact your child during the program, please email them or the Education Director ( If you email the Education Director, he will transmit your message to your student as soon as possible, and follow up however necessary.

Transportation for international programs is program-specific. Please see the individual program description, and contact the Education Director (

Pick up is by 5:00pm on the last day of the program.


Contact Us

For questions about the Sternberg Science Camps programs, contact us at or 785-639-5249.

Application Requirements

– All application materials must turned in no later than May 14th, 2019.
– Student applicants must be ages 14 to 18 as of June 2019.
– 2 page (5-7 paragraph) letter of interest from the student applicant.
– Letter of recommendation from the non-family member for the student applicant.
– Financial aid application paperwork (if applying for financial assistance).
– Complete online registration.

To understand the differences we observe in organisms, a robust understanding of evolution is absolutely necessary. Students are presented with an initial lesson on the population basis for evolution, and how selection over time leads to new species. We continue lessons on evolutionary biology throughout the program, always relating back to the essential concepts of heredity, selection, and variation of genes and physical features. From beak shape and feather colors in birds to the shapes of orchid flowers, we will be discussing evolutionary biology frequently, in great depth. Some sub-topics include:
– In-depth discussion of natural selection and selective pressures
– Bird feathers and reproductive selection
– Coevolution, as seen in flower shapes and some bird beaks
– Camouflage, primarily in insects
– Speciation and niche specialization
– Sex-based dimorphism
– Heredity and the importance of trait variation

Studying the interconnected nature of organisms to each other and their environment is crucial for understanding the structure of that ecosystem, and why organisms have evolved as they have. Within the extremely broad field of ecology, we make sure to touch on the following during the program:
– Population ecology
– Community ecology
– Niche ecology
– Trophic ecology
– Behavioral ecology
– Biogeography

Even high up in the cloudforest, human environmental impacts are a huge concern. The majority of our field work will take place in small pockets of forest protected to conserve the biodiversity of the region. Even still, human environmental impacts can still be easily found on the mountain ecosystems. (Amphibian diversity is a major point in this discussion.) Students will participate in lessons and discussions about the importance of habitat and biodiversity conservation, including how to approach these topics in the 21st century.

A majority of our wildlife surveys will require half-day hikes through the forest, at relatively high altitude. In order to stay safe and healthy, students will receive instruction on loading and fitting a backpack, optimal attire, hydration, footwear, self-awareness and group safety. Weather in the cloudforest is quite variable, from warm and sunny at midday to afternoon thunder-showers, to evening and nighttime temperatures down into the 40s F. Preparation is key, and we will make sure your student has the information to be prepared.

Students will be lead through a lesson on keeping quality, detailed field notes before starting wildlife surveys. (Guidance will continue during the field portion.) During our hikes through the cloud forest, we will be documenting wildlife we come across. We will be doing this using hand-written field notes, photographs, video, and audio recordings of vocalizations. All locations visited will be recorded on GPS units, with coordinates, time spent surveying, and distance traveled all included in notes. Students will be instructed in the use of the following equipment:
– Super-telephoto digital camera setup
– Macro photography
– Use of motion detecting camera traps
– Binoculars
– Spotting scope
– Parabolic microphone with digital recorder
– Use of regionally specific wildlife field guides

The best way to get comfortable with international travel is experience. For students interested in pursuing advanced degrees and careers in the earth and life sciences, international travel may become a necessary reality to attend meeting and conduct their own fieldwork. Our goal is to guide students through the process of arranging pre-travel logistics, setting up flights, packing strategies, potential vaccinations, and going through customs. We will provide pre-program materials introducing these topics, and will discuss them at greater length during the program itself.

While some of these components will have to be done by the student’s parent(s) or guardian(s), we strongly recommend involving the student as much as possible in the process. Having even a small amount of familiarity is immensely more useful than having none!

Taking initiative, staying organized, and effectively communicating are all important skills for working with a team in the field. Over the course of the program, students are coached on developing these areas. With guided opportunities to lead portions of field work, students are encouraged to develop their voices, organize team efforts, and build confidence in their abilities.

From staying hydrated to dealing with bad weather, students are introduced to the hazards of field work and how to effectively, safely deal with them. Staff provide lessons on safety through discussion, making sure students have a clear understanding of problems that can arise and how to effectively avoid them, or mitigate their effects afterwards.

Smartphones and GPS units can lose their signals, and have batteries that die. It is important for students learning to do field work to understand how to read and orient a map. Students are trained in use of aerial photos and compasses to navigate field areas and locate established field sites using cardinal directions and landmarks.

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