Maderas Rainforest COnservancy

Below are some of the courses we are currently offering at our field sites. For even more detailed descriptions please download our MRC CAT.pdf. Click on the course title to request detailed information on the course & correspond with the professor.

Art classes
Specialty Courses and programs

Primate Communication

Short Term and Long Term classes alternate.

(Long term description) Primate communication is an extended exploration into the means in which primates transmit information to each other. We will study the principles which govern zoosemiotics (animal communication) and take these principles into the field where we will observe the phenomena of primate communication in the wild. What we will observe will include visual communication, tactile communication, chemical communication, and auditory communication. We will learn the techniques in recording calls as well as analyzing calls through spectral readings. We will examine biological features which allow for such complex communication systems including key brain areas.

We begin the course at La Suerte where we will explore the trails of a rainforest basin and examine the communication systems of the primates of that area. We will then take an extended boat trip up the San Juan River into Lake Nicaragua. On the way, we will see other ecosystems along the rive and how the primate communication systems in these various ecosystems may differ. We will end up at Ometepe, Nicaragua where the bulk of our course will be held. At this point, each student will embark on their own primate communication research project which will incorporate techniques and theory learned in class.

Primate Behavior & Ecology

This course is designed to be an extensive look at how primates adapt to their

ecosystems both by physical characteristics and by various means of behavior. This course will also give students experience and training doing primate ethology in the field.  We have the unique ability in this course to experience the ecosystem these animals live in. Through this, was can better understand both the structural and behavioral adaptations made by the primates we study. We will learn rain forest ecology and see how the ecosystem is delicately balanced with each species carving out a special niche. In this course, we will be covering the basic tenants of primatology in lectures and combining this with field research. Students will learn field research techniques as they relate to studying primates in the wild. Students will also create their own research projects which they will complete by the end of class.

Advanced Primate Behavior & Ecology

Intended for advanced students of primate behavior who wish to delve deeper into specific field techniques and primate research. A great emphasis is placed on individual research projects, their execution, and their presentation. Topics may include: methods of vegetation sampling in tropical rainforests, methods of collecting information on temporal changes in resource availability in the rainforest, mapping a field site, and methods of collecting data on the behavior and ecology of free-ranging nonhuman primates.

Field Studies in Tropical Rainforest Ecology

Field Studies in Tropical Rainforest Ecology is a hands-on, field experience to familiarize students with the diversity of life in the rainforests of the Meso- American Biological Corridor while developing a deeper understanding of tropical forest ecology and conservation. The focus of this course will be on the differences between the cloud forest environments in Nicaragua and the lowland, coastal rainforests of northeastern Costa Rica. With a combination of lectures and fieldwork, time is spent on studying the diverse fauna in a tropical forest through various ecological sampling methods. Through on-site research projects students will build a foundation of skills and knowledge that are applicable to field research of any taxa. Although much of the emphasis in this course will be on insect ecology, this course will be appropriate for students interested in any organism, plant or animal, as the content of the course can be adapted to any taxa of interest. Student projects will focus on ecological research, quantitative natural history, and behavior of organisms that are of most interest to the students.

Click here for syllabus

Rainforest Ecology

The course is a hands-on field experience to familiarize students with the diversity of life in the rainforest while developing a deeper understanding of tropical forest ecology and conservation.   With a combination of lectures and fieldwork, time is spent on studying the diverse fauna in a tropical forest through various ecological sampling methods.  Through on-site research projects students will build a foundation of skills and knowledge that are applicable to more specialized coursework or field research in primates, botany, herpetology, entomology, etc. We will focus on ecological research, behavior, and quantitative natural history of the more commonly encountered organisms.

Click here for syllabus.

Tropical Herpetology

Tropical Herpetology is a course that is designed to introduce students to the study of reptiles and amphibians, with emphasis on field biology, ethology and other topics that are relevant to the tropics. The species of Costa Rica will be examined in detail as representative of a tropical herpetofauna, but many of the principles discussed are broadly applicable. This course that assumes some familiarity with vertebrate biology. It is intended to complement, and not replace, a course in general herpetology; however, a general herpetology course is not a prerequisite for the present course.

Click here for syllabus.

Cloud Forest Ecology

This course offers a world class opportunity to study the unique elfin forest in Nicaragua. This forest is part of the famous Cloud Forests, which  are fascinating habitats that are globally endangered. These mountain forests are inherently cool and rainy, representing unique ‘sky islands’ with a high proportion of endemic species, many not even described to science, yet. The course objectives are to document and quantitatively inventory, for the first time, the existing biodiversity of this habitat located at app. 1000m altitude. The Maderas volcano offers a unique altitudinal gradient and mountain top to assess this tropical mountain wilderness, but also human impacts including climate change and invasive species. This course teaches expedition skills, and makes use of the nearby Ometepe field station as our base. The sophisticated field work is based on well-planned individual student research projects, and includes two steep hikes to the Elfin Forest that are physically demanding and require to be in a good health condition (similar to mid-distance running) and being able to sustain two sessions of 2-3 days of continuous  field work on the volcano; basic data skills and a good team spirit are essential.

Neotropical Bat Ecology

This course is designed to provide a detailed knowledge of Neotropical bats within an ecological framework. Extensive capturing of bats during nightly field excursions will supplement lecture material; provide opportunity for gaining extensive experience in capture techniques and identification of bats in hand, and lay the groundwork for individual research problems and projects. The class will take place on Ometepe Island, a volcanic island in Lake Nicaragua. As a class we will camp in the cloud forest and survey bats at higher elevations for at least one night.The end of the class will include a visit to Masaya Volcano National Park where we will observe a large nightly emergence of bats from a cave and we will explore the local culture of the historic city of Granada.

Click here for syllabus.

Tropical Ecology

This 2 week seminar-style and field-based course explores the ecological processes that influence terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of the neotropics.  We’ll discuss differences between coral reefs, mangroves, and savannas, as well as between montane, dry, and lowland tropical rain forests.  In addition we will focus in particular on understanding the dynamics and diversity of the lowland rain forests that surround La Suerte Biological Field Station.  Questions we will address will include: why is diversity so high in the tropics?  Are species interactions stronger in the tropics?  And, how important are individual species in influencing ecosystems?  Finally, we will explore issues of conservation, sustainable development and resource use, and the human impact on these fragile ecosystems.  The course will include daily field excursions to identify plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects, and we will cover a variety of ecological field methods.  Graduates of this course will be able to understand and explain the role of species identity, interactions, and geography in influencing species abundances and distribution in the neotropics.

Climate Change in Tropical Systems

Climate Change makes for a major topic worldwide. While melting ice caps are front news for years, impacts in tropical ecosystems are less known but widely documented by now. The tropics are known for their high biodiversity and complex ecology. However, the actual biodiversity and climate change impacts have not been fully assessed. It is not well mapped and the overall ecology and adaptation is not well understood. Climate change and man-made pressures create so many additional risks which must be prioritized. Accurate inventories, surveying and mapping of the abundance of tropical wildlife and plant species to address issues of climate change and affected changes in distribution, diversity and population demography can be very demanding. But it contributes to the sustainable management of these precious resources while ecological services decline. This course will be centered around the exploration of selected biodiversity components and how they react to man-made climate change. This course will develop methods  how components of tropical biodiversity and ecology could be described, surveyed, mapped, analyzed and managed efficiently in times of an ecological crisis. While climate change is the overall scheme, this course content is driven by the participants and deals primarily with mammals, birds, insects, amphibians & reptiles, plants and their habitats. Social aspects are also implemented, and when possible. The field component of this course attempts to expolore, describe, and map relevant infrastructure. It uses GPS (Global Position Systems) and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software (ArcGIS 9.3, Google Earth and open source mapping software). In lecture, tropical ecology subjects related to climate change will be presented and investigated while addressing habitat & landscape aspects as well as ecological niche questions. This course is part of a long-term research project by the instructor, and it is designed for undergraduate and graduate students as an introduction into detailed climate change related wildlife distribution and habitat studies. A background in basic biogeography, atmospheric sciences, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing, databases and software is advantageous but not required. The course will allow for a solid overview of climate change in the tropics, wildlife ecology, distribution shifts, existing survey, spatial statistics and monitoring methods, tropical weather, and wildlife-habitat links. Hands-on fieldwork, surveys, mapping, temperature and humidity measures, as well as selected species identification and social science interview applications are a crucial component of this field course.

Click here for a complete syllabus.

Rainforest Ecology: Entomology

The course is a hands-on field experience to familiarize students with the diversity of life in the rainforest while developing a deeper understanding of tropical forest ecology and conservation. With a combination of lectures and fieldwork, time is spent on studying the diverse fauna in a tropical forest through various ecological sampling methods. Through on-site research projects students will build a foundation of skills and knowledge that are applicable to more specialized coursework or field research in primates, botany, herpetology, entomology, etc. We will focus on ecological research, behavior, and quantitative natural history of the more commonly encountered organisms

Click here for syllabus.

Rainforest Ecology: Ornithology

This course is designed to familiarize students in neotropical ecology, especially as it pertains to neotropical birds and the conservation of neotropical birds.  Students will become familiar with basic concepts of ecology and avian biology.  They will also be instructed on aspects of biogeography and neotropical avian ecology and behavioral ecology.  All students will develop, design, and conduct an independent research project.  Projects will be written up and presented to the class.  To this end, all students will be introduced to ecological sampling techniques and simple data analyses. 

Neotropical Ethnobotany

This course will focus on ethnoecology -- how people interact with ecosystems, and medical ethnobotany -- how people interact with medicinal plants.   Students will learn from a combination of classroom-style lectures and hands-on activities.  Students may also have the opportunity to conduct original ethnobotanical research. Major topics include the following:

Overview of the science of ethnobotany

  1. Natural history, volcanism, botany, and ecology of Ometepe, a world heritage site

  2. Comparison of natural history and ecology of the “old” and “new” world tropics

  3. Land management, the environment, and health

  4. Ethnobotanical research ethics, methods/techniques, and project design

  5. Different perspectives from which to explore the relationship between people and plants

  6. Botanical history of medicine

  7. How plant medicines work in the body

  8. Herbal medicine making and medicinal specimen collecting workshops

  9. The food-medicine-poison continuum and food/herb-drug interactions

  10. Conduct original ethnobotanical research in a unique cultural and ecological environment

Click here for a complete syllabus.

Social/Community Aid Workshops

Comparative skeletal anatomy and function

The two week course is on skeletal anatomy of human and non-human skeletons, including monkeys. A significant portion of the course will be hands-on and students will learn the structure of various mammalian, bird, and reptilian skeletons, and observe the relationship between the bone structure and function. The course includes relevant activities such as observing monkeys and domesticated animals living in Ometepe. Comparative skeletal anatomy has numerous applications in veterinary medicine, bioarchaeology, paleoanthropology, forensic anthropology, primatology, and functional anatomy.

Social Entreprenuership

Social Entrepreneurship. Business and liberal arts majors – an opportunity to make a difference. Join us on an economic stimulant mission to Ometepe Island. A two week internship or independent study  opportunity that will allow you to play a role in the development of  a long term sustainable island enterprise that will create jobs and serve as an economic stimulus to the impoverished villagers. You will work alongside  art majors who will be assisting the village artisans in preparing their handicrafts and jewelry for commercial distribution. Students will prepare a business plan, determine a distribution plan and create the organization that will produce and market a product line of quality products made from the organic resources of the island. Students will create packaging and labeling that will spread the conservancy mission of saving the rain forest. The final goal will be to leave behind a network of domestic vendors selling to tourists, an active retail internet website and an exporting plan to sell these products through your college or university for fund raising projects. Science, art, business and liberal arts major join together to make a better world. area.

Photography for Field Scientists

This two-week workshop is designed for field scientists as well as beginner and intermediate photographers looking to develop and improve photography skills in a tropical field setting.  Lectures will cover the technical basics of photography, principles of composition, digital post-processing and topics specific to tropical wildlife photography.  Such instruction will be complemented by class slide show presentations and discussions, personalized help and a final presentation project.  Hikes in the forests near the field station,together with organized trips on and off the island of Ometepe, will provide many opportunities for the photography of tropical flora and fauna, as well as landscape and cultural scenery.  A digital camera (SLR or point-and-shoot) is required, and a laptop with image processing software (e.g. Photoshop) is recommended.

Click here for PFFB website

Rainforest Art Workshop

All participants in the class will become the teachers and mentors to selected villagers. The participants will train local villagers to produce sustainable art with found materials.  Techniques and ideas will be presented by each participant to the class. The group will come together to select ideas that result in products that may become sellable in US or tourist markets. This will yield a workshop/class that will offer an array of techniques, lectures and demonstrations that will attract sculptures, painters and architects and designers as well as the non-artist. The class will be hands on and will be conducted informally via lectures and demonstrations. Students choose the focus of the projects as it pertains to their artistic interest and major. The focus will be in helping locals produce sustainable marketable art. The projects and demonstrations will be organized Indoors and outdoors depending on the elements.

We will spend time during the first week familiarizing ourselves with the rain forest and discussing the availability and appropriateness of materials and techniques. The concept of sellable ecologically sensitive art with natural materials and limited resources will be a major consideration.

Presentations and pertinent discussions will follow each of the preliminary exercises. These exercises are designed to encourage each student to examine their relationship to the landscape and the natural world and to gather responses in art that may lead to a marketable product for an urban market base. Each exercise has a group presentation component which will help the students clarify their concepts and to develop effective product ideas. Critiques and discussions will follow each exercise. Upon completion of exercises some of the products may be combined or selected as design models. The last component of the class is the training which involves villagers interested in participating and producing sustainable art.


This "Eco Challenge Trip" is designed for adventurous people who like to participate in challenging physical activities. Some of the planned activities include, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking rough terrain such as extinct volcanoes, swimming, local outdoor market shopping, walking around colonial cities, and going to fresh water beaches.

Katherine Amato, Ph.D. (Primate Behavior & Ecology)
Nancy Barrickman, Ph.D. (Primate Behavior & Ecology)
LaRoy Brant, Ph.D. (Entomology)
Douglas Broadfield, Ph.D. (Anatomy)
Helen Cho, Ph.D. (Comparative Anatomy & Function)
Roberto Delgado, Ph.D. (Advanced Primate Behavior & Ecology)
Giuseppe Donati, Ph.D. (Primate Behavior & Ecology)
Paul Garber, Ph.D. (Primate Behavior & Ecology, Advanced Primate Behavior & Ecology)
Andrew R. Halloran, Ph.D. (Primate Communication)
Falk Huettmann, Ph.D. (Rainforest Ecology, Cloud Forest Ecology, Mapping & GIS, Bioinfamatics)
Susan Lappan, Ph.D. (Primate Behavior & Ecology)
Katherine C. MacKinnon, Ph.D. (Primate Behavior & Ecology)
Thomas Risch, Ph.D. (Neotropical Bat Ecology)
Christopher Schmitt, Ph.D. (Primate Behavior & Ecology)
Amy Schreier, Ph.D. (Primate Behavior & Ecology)
Ruth Steel, Ph.D. (Primate Behavior & Ecology)
Barbara Welker, Ph.D. (Primate Behavior & Ecology)
Matthew A. Wyczalkowski, Ph.D. (Photography)
Download our complete course catalogue (including application and all forms) HERE.Courses_files/MRC%20CAT_1.pdf
Photography by Matthew A. Wyczalkowski
Photography by Matthew A. Wyczalkowski