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BIOL 4750 1In 2020, the USU Biology Department and the USU Center for Global Engagement offered the first Tropical Ecology and Sustainability Course (BIOL 4750/6750). This course aimed to expand students’ knowledge and appreciation of the importance of tropical ecosystems and the challenges those ecosystems are facing.

BIOL 4750 2The course was led by Dr. Samuel Rivera and Jessica Murray, a PhD Candidate in the Biology Department. Students had the opportunity to take a float trip down the Puerto Viejo river, guided by local naturalist experts where they saw sloths, roosting bats, and a sunbittern, among many other animals.

They stayed at EARTH University, where they met students from 49 countries of Latin America and the African continent who were training at EARTH to be innovators in balancing food production and conservation and sustainability. Then, students had the opportunity to develop their research skills by proposing and conducting small research projects in the lowland rainforest of the famous La Selva Biological Station, where 240 scientific papers on tropical ecology are published annually. Student research projects fell within three topics: water quality, under the mentorship of Dr. Rivera; epiphytic plant ecology, mentored by Jessica Murray; and avian ecology under the mentorship of Dr. Kim Sullivan, who joined the trip.

Students also had the opportunity to learn about the cultivation of valuable tropical crops such as cacao, coffee, and bananas. They also had the opportunity venture into the canopy of a giant Surá tree at La Selva with Jessica, who conducts her PhD research in the forest canopy. Besides the natural knowledge gained, the trip also provided a good sense of culture: history, food, and Spanish. One of the course participants, Elleke Kofford, made a video about the course experience for her honors project. Check out BIOL 4750 3the video here to get a peek at the students’ experience and their thoughts on the course. Click here to see a poster a couple of the students presented at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. If you now find yourself wanting to learn more about tropical ecology and visiting Costa Rica, keep reading…


         See What You Could do in Costa Rica


Tropical regions influence our global climate, host the vast majority of the world’s biodiversity, and produce some of our most delicious food cultivars (like chocolate!). From a research perspective, the tropics offer a thrilling opportunity to explore fundamental theories of ecology and evolution, study potential feedbacks to climate change, and even contribute to medicine through the discover of botanically-derived pharmaceuticals. Despite their importance, tropical regions face threats such as economic inequality, armed conflict, deforestation, and climate change. The Biology Department is offering two opportunities in 2021 to broaden your understanding of the importance of tropical regions with an emphasis on tropical forest ecology.

BIOL 4750 4In Spring 2021, the department will be offering the 2-credit BIOL 4750/6750 Tropical Ecology course. The course will be delivered in a blended format, with the majority of the course taking place online with some optional in-person hands-on activities using the tropical plant collection in our beautiful teaching greenhouse. The course will focus on providing the basics to understand the diversity of tropical rain forests and associated natural resources, and the different ways that they are viewed, studied, and affected by the humans, including extinction of species and climate change implications. *Due to the COVID-19 global crisis, the Spring 2021 course will not involve a trip to Costa Rica.

BIOL 4750 5In Summer 2021, together with the Office of Global Engagement, the Biology Department will offer the 3-credit BIOL 4750/6750 Field Ecology-Costa Rica. This course will also be in a blended format, with a series of lectures and reading activities followed by a 10-day trip to Costa Rica from May 20th to 30th, 2021. During the trip, students will have the opportunity to conduct research at the renowned La Selva Biological Station and go on a variety of excursions to learn about riparian ecology, the cultivation and environmental impact of important tropical crops, the role of sustainable agriculture in shaping the landscape, and many other fascinating topics. Research results will be presented at the Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Fall semester.

Both courses could be used as a substitute of a field class in the Biology Emphasis -which includes substitution for BIOL 3220 Field Ecology (QI)-. It also serves as a substitute for the classes in the ‘Plant Biology cluster’ in the Ecology/Evolutionary Emphasis. It can also work as a Biology Elective credit in any Emphasis in the Biology and Biochemistry majors. The BIOL 6750 course is designed for graduate students where a high level of participation -regarding scientific reading and writing- is expected.


Dr. Samuel Rivera, Biology Dept. E-mail:

Jessica Murray, PhD cand. Biology Dept. E-mail: