History of Science in Ecuador

By: Amanda Finnen Waters

This summer the University of Oklahoma had a special opportunity to send students and faculty to Ecuador to study the history of the theory of evolution and tropical ecology.  Dr. Piers Hale of the HSCI department and Dr. Ingo Schlupp of the ZOO department teamed up for two four-week classes of intense lecturing, reading, and exploring.

Based in a town called Cumbaya outside of Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, students attended the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito.  Through USFQ the group was able to visit a cloud forest, the rainforest at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station and the Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences, or GAIAS.

USFQ’s beautiful campus

To get to the remote rainforest station, students and faculty flew from Quito to Coca, took a two hour boat ride on the Napa River, followed by a two hour bus ride through Block 16 of oil land, and another two hour boat ride on the Tiputini River.

The rainforest was amazing!  Observed wildlife included countless species of plants, from the beautiful to the bizarre, like walking plants and bromeliads; birds (the group made a species list from their own observations), including macaws, oropendolas, roadside hawks, tanagers, and tyrants, among many others; a capybara was spotted, as well as caiman, piranha, various insects, and monkeys.  The experienced guides not only were able to navigate through the rainforest, but they were very knowledgeable and willing to answer the many questions the students and faculty had.

The adventurer-scholars explored the rainforest from the canopy to the river, climbing around 120 feet above the ground and swimming in the Tiputini.

The GAIAS campus is on San Cristobal Island.  Other Galapagos Islands visited included Floreana, Isabela, and Santa Cruz.  Professors held a class at the bay in which the HMS Beagle first arrived, and iconic wildlife was spotted on land and in the ocean.  The wildlife included sea lions, land and marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, sharks, equatorial penguins, and tortoises.  The landscapes were fascinating, as well; calderas, volcanoes, and beaches were visited.

Dr. Piers Hale on San Cristobal Island

One of the professors’ goals for this trip was to integrate the history of science with science in college education (check out the focus section in Isis Vol. 99 No. 2), and Dr. Hale, Dr. Schlupp, and the College of Arts & Sciences are hopeful that the success of their cooperative Ecuador courses will become a regular program at OU.

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