July 30 – August 12, 2020

Amazonian ABCs: Fundamentals of rainforest ecology in the Peruvian Amazon

Discover the intricacies of tropical ecology and the techniques it takes to study them with our Amazonian ABCs course. During this course we will explore the incredible biodiversity of the Peruvian Amazon, learn tropical ecology research techniques and visit some incredible sites, such as macaw clay licks in the Tambopata reserve or the giant river otters that live in ox bow lakes. All of this is led by two tropical ecology experts who combined have 30+ years of experience working their fields.

DATES: July 30th – August 12th, 2020


LOCATION: Peru, Madre de Dios region.

WEBSITE: www.sustainableamazon.org/amazonian-abcs-2020

What can you expect?

The course runs for two weeks, across to two different locations and covers an extensive academically vigorous itinerary. Throughout the course there are a variety of hands on learning opportunities for practical skills, including:

  • Plant biology and field botany techniques, including identification of plant stem, leaf, and bark characters
  • Insect identification to order and family & field collecting techniques
  • Camera trapping for medium to large rainforest vertebrates
  • Collecting and preparing botanical vouchers
  • Bird survey and identification skills
  • Application of field techniques learned to ongoing research projects
  • Use of tech platforms and citizen science to document biodiversity (iNaturalist)

Along with a variety of places and experiences:

  • Amazonian habitats, including terra firme & floodplain rainforest, rivers, oxbow lakes, and palm swamps
  • Visit to a macaw & parrot clay lick in Tambopata National Reserve
  • Visit an active concession for the sustainable harvest of Brazil nuts

All of which is supported by expert-led lectures, key readings and discussion groups covering a variety of topics key topics such as:

  •  Amazonian ecosystem functioning
  • Origins of Amazonian diversity
  • Neotropical plant taxonomy and systematics
  • Challenges in conservation in the Amazonian regions

For a full syllabus and itinerary visit: https://www.sustainableamazon.org/amazonian-abcs-2020

Who is running it?

The course is led by experts Varun Swamy PhD and Geoff Gallice PhD, who combined have 30+ years of experience working in tropical ecology.

Varun’s background is in tropical forest ecology with over 16 years of experience conducing ecological research in the lowland rainforest of the Madre de Dios River Basin in the Peruvian Amazon.  His research examines the long-term influence of plant-animal interactions on the composition, diversity, and structure of the plant community in lowland Amazon forests, particularly the role of large native vertebrates such as spider monkeys, tapirs, and white-lipped peccaries. The overall goal of his research is to provide a rigorous ecological evaluation of the long-term impacts of anthropogenic influences on the composition and structure of Amazonian forests, which will benefit conservation, restoration, and management efforts directed towards these ecosystems. He is also an experienced educator, having led a variety of courses in tropical ecology the Madre De Dios region where this course will take place.

Geoff’s background is in studying lepidoptera, the focus of work for his PhD and he has continued this work along with being a founding member of the Peruvian NGO Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon where he runs a major effort to document the butterfly diversity, distribution and biology of species in the South Eastern Peruvian Amazon.  At ASA he also oversees a variety of other programmes and projects, including some ASAs other education programmes. Outside of this, he has been running tropical ecology research in the Amazonian research for several years, along with being a lecturer at the Potifical Catholic University in Lima.

This course is organised by the Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon a Non-Profit Organisation working in conservation and research in the Peruvian Amazon, in collaboration with the Peruvian National Park Service (SERNAMP) and Asociación para la Investigación y el Desarrollo Integral (AIDEER).

Where is the course?

The course takes place in two different locations in the Madre De Dios region of south eastern Peru, where the Amazonian rainforest stretches for miles and crosses the borders with both Brazil and Bolivia.

Malinowski Biological Station (Tambopata National Reserve)

This station is located within Peru’s Tambopata National Reserve, on the Tambopata River at the mouth of the Malinowski River. The site is home to the Malinowski guard post, which is staffed by SERNANP (the Peruvian park service) and co-organisers of this course, which protects the world-famous reserve representing 275,000 hectares of almost completely pristine lowland Amazonian Rainforest. This is where incredible biodiversity can be seen and where course members will get to visit a macaw and parrot clay lick and is an excellent location to learn about tropical ecology research techniques.

Finca Las Piedras Research Station 

This is the research station of Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon (ASA), the organisation running the course. The station is located at the edge of the agricultural frontier and bordered by extensive concessions for Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) harvest. This site offers an excellent opportunity to see and hear first-hand about the some of the challenges facing tropical rainforests outside of conservation areas and some of the work being done to save it. Surrounding the site is hectares of brazil nut concessions, areas of rainforest protected for the purpose of brazil nut extraction, which form around 1 million hectares of partially protected rainforest in the Madre De Dios region.

Visiting these two research stations offers an excellent combination of perspectives in this course, where you can learn not only about the pristine nature of the Tambopata nature reserve, but also the areas of conflict outside of protected areas where conservation faces its biggest challenges.

Who can join?

Most importantly, prospective students should have a healthy curiosity for tropical nature, a positive attitude in the face of challenging field conditions, and a willingness to work with people from a variety of backgrounds to achieve common learning goals. There are no formal academic requirements for entry onto this course, however experience of an introductory level of biology, ecology or a related field is a plus.

Along with this, prospective students must:

  1. be at least 18 years old (unless accompanied by a parent or guardian)
  2. have proof of medical and travel insurance
  3. be in good physical condition
  4. have a valid passport or ability to travel to/within Peru.

Accommodation and Facilities

Both field sites offer rustic, but comfortable accommodations. For both sites this involves either shared rooms or dormitories with bunk beds (which will always have mosquito nets). Bathrooms are composting (to reduce ecological impact) and running water and cold showers are available at both sites. Meals are prepared by the field station staff and are always healthy and filling for a full day’s work. Special dietary requirements can be met if we are informed in advance (vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerant etc). As both sites are in areas of relatively remote rainforest, access to cell signal and wifi is not guaranteed. At Finca las Piedras there is limited access to electricity from a solar panel system and intermittent access to wifif. At Malinowski there is electricity, but no phone signal or wifi. The final night of the course will be spent at a mid-range hotel in Puerto Maldonado with all the normal commodities (access to electricity, wifi etc.).

Course fees: $1,800

Registration & payment deadline: July 3, 2020

What’s included?

The course fee covers all course-related local transportation and all accommodations, including transfer to and from the airport (or bus terminal) in Puerto Maldonado, all overland and river travel in Tambopata, all lodging (Finca Las Piedras, Malinowski Biological Station, and hotel in Pto. Maldonado), and all food (3 meals per day) except meals in Pto. Maldonado. All field equipment related to course activities are also provided.

What’s not included?

The course fee does not include meals in Puerto Maldonado, international or domestic airfare (i.e., from your home country to Lima, and then on to Pto. Maldonado), or personal expenses in Peru (e.g., souvenirs, alcoholic beverages, etc.). Personal gear and equipment, binoculars, field notebooks, field gear such as headlamp/torches, etc., are not provided.

To sign up go to:


For any questions contact us at:  [email protected]

About Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon

The Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon (ASA) is a U.S.-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that is active in the southeastern Peruvian Amazon. Our directors and local partners are experienced biologists and conservation professionals. Our work aims to promote the conservation of natural resources in the Amazon through sustainable agriculture, biological research and monitoring, and community engagement and education.