FIELD COURSE:
NEOTROPICAL RAINFOREST ECOLOGY
IN SOUTHEASTERN BRAZIL

PBIO 369, PBIO 693

Fall-Winter Intersession
(26 Nov. - 18 Dec.), 2001

Brazil is the one of the largest countries in the world, and unquestionably the second largest in the New World, being over half the size of the contiguous United States.  It harbors some of the largest remaining tracts of tropical rainforest in the world, comprising the Amazon basin.  Unfortunately, this region suffers on average around 200,000 fires of various sizes each year, with countless hectares of pristine and secondary rainforest going up in smoke every day.  The Atlantic rainforest in particular has been severely decimated in this century, making it one of the most imperiled natural communities on the South American continent.

The field course will focus on three ecosystems of southeastern Brazil.  The first third of the course will be devoted to studies of terrestrial and stream ecology of the dry savanna/scrub and pantanal grassland on a low plateau jutting into the Amazon Basin in the state of Minas Gerais, around Tiradentes and nearby Sao Joao del Rei.  The second portion will be devoted to the rich Araucaria forests and rushing streams of the near-coastal Serra da Mantiqueria mountains, especially in and near the Parque Nacional da Itatiaia, around Penedo and Maringa.  The last portion of the course will be spent in the coastal Atlantic whitecedar rainforest, especially in and near the Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina, around Paraty.

The Brazilian people are friendly, courteous and helpful, but very few (especially those outside the major cities) speak English.  During our travels, we will use Portuguese constantly--which we will have learned during the language workshops in the Fall quarter.  The field course will truly exemplify a "Study Abroad" experience, with a new language, new customs and cultural traditions, new foods and a new environment for all of us.

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Quick Links to Sections Below:
The Field Course--Purpose of the Course;   Format;   A Typical Day;   Field Activities;   Course Demands;   Travel Issues;   Field Course Itinerary and Content;  

Details of the Course--Enrollment/Credits;   Eligibility;   Prerequisites;   Texts and Other Resources;   Exams and Course Products;   Expenses for the Field Course

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The Field Course

Purpose of the Course: To teach students about the vegetational ecology, flora, evolutionary processes and adaptations of plants, and human-environment interactions in Neotropical rainforest and related communities, exploring aspects covered in the Fall quarter introductory seminar. Field studies will cover both terrestrial and aquatic systems. Stress will be placed on identification of common genera and families of flowering plants and algae, observations of vegetation structure, characteristic life forms and recurrent adaptations, and climatic and ecological influences maintaining aquatic systems and vegetation.

Format: This intensive field course spans three weeks (26 November-18 December, 2001) of the Fall-Winter Intersession, excluding flight time.  We will fly from Columbus to Sao Paulo and travel from there in a circle through southeastern Brazil, studying three ecologically and floristically quite different ecosystems that comprise the broad classification of South American "rainforest" and are typical of near-coastal Brazil.  The course will utilize four villages as "base camps" for several days each, making day trips into nearby natural areas--including two national parks. We will start at the interior of Brazil on a low, dry plateau surrounding Tiradentes and end our field studies at the spectacular island-studded, mountain-fringed coast at Paraty.  

At each village, we will take some of the remainder of the first day following our drive to the site, to do an orientation hike through town to acquaint students with the location of markets and restaurants, post offices, medical facilities, and cultural and recreational opportunities for spare time pursuits.  We will stay in safe and conveniently located local hotels (identified in a previous reconnaissance visit as the most suitable for the our group), in comfortable double or triple rooms, eat the hotel breakfast provided, buy market foods for "sack" lunches on the road, and take supper in the village restaurants in the evening, following our review/discussion session.  Our ground transportation to daily study sites and between base camps will consist of rental cars; our within-study site and within-village transportation will be our own feet.  

A Typical Day:  Day trips will depart at 8:00am immediately following breakfast, with short drives to nearby natural areas for the day's field studies (except where the lodgings are near a natural area), and then intensive in-the-field studies of the local stream or terrestrial biota (which may necessitate a mile or a few miles of intermittent hiking to reach different areas), stopping in the middle of the day to eat our "sack" lunch.  We will return to our lodgings usually around 5:00-6:00pm and immediately following a brief break to clean up and grab an in-room snack, will conduct our 1-2 hour review/discussion session.  Representative plants and algae will be observed further during the review/discussion session immediately following the day's field trip. We will review and share observations and events among the two teams, and pass around the algae and plants encountered, using field microscope and hand lens, and our identification manuals to review identifying features. At the end of the review session, we will press plants or prepare algal samples for voucher preservation, and preserve tissue samples for future genetic analysis.  After the day's review/discussion session, we will disperse independently to hunt for supper in local restaurants (most restaurants don't open until 7-8pm anyway--Brazilians eat late!). Students will be encouraged to use evening time beyond meals to record significant field observations and personal reflections in their daily journal, and to purchase food for the next day's lunch "on the road".

Field Activities:  At each study area students will be broken into an aquatic ("Stream") Team to study and sample local stream reaches, and a terrestrial ("Scream") Team to study and sample terrestrial sites.  The Stream Team will take water chemistry measurements of important water quality indicators for suitable freshwater streams, evaluate the local biotic and human influences determining the ecology of the stream and its algae, and study the genera of freshwater algae in the region. Where red algae of the Batrachospermum group are encountered, the team will do quadrat-based population sampling for future laboratory genetic investigations.  The "Scream" Team will make observations on community structure and life forms of vegetation present, discuss evolutionary adaptations to the local environment, and study characteristic woody and herbaceous genera and important Neotropical families.  Where members of the Violaceae (violet family) are encountered, the team will take light availability measures, sample soils, describe the habitat, record associated genera near the violets, and do quadrat-based population sampling for future genetic studies.  Global positioning systems (GPS units) will be used to obtain latitude, longitude and elevation for all collection sites.

Course Demands:  The field course is designed as an intensive immersion experience, and demands stamina, endurance, social skills and patience.  We will study the algal and terrestrial plant life of the region for 12 or more hours per day and approximately 6 days per week, for 3 weeks.  If you simply want a vacation, you will be very disappointed--don't bother to register for this course.  But, if you want an intensive "Study Abroad" experience where you are a "foreigner", studying the terrestrial and aquatic life of a rich Neotropical area rarely visited by biologists, in a rigorous and hardcore group environment, this course is for you--to paraphrase someone else's motto, "it's the hardest course you'll ever love"!  Eating well and properly, getting plenty of sleep, and generally taking good care of ourselves is essential, both for the benefit of the individuals and for the group as a whole.

Travel Issues:  We all must approach the travel experience with an open mind and a willingness to assimilate as much as possible into the local culture while we are in Brazil.  We should dress and act appropriately for the region--not for a "casual" day at the beach in northern Ohio, or for a weekend vacation.  Both the instructors and the students will represent Ohio University to the people of Brazil, and we are called upon to behave in ways appropriate to "ambassadors" from another country.  Piercing jewelry and very scanty clothing (including halter tops) are discouraged and may invoke considerable attention of the undesired kind (think "assimilation").  Sandals and short pants are fine for days off, but will not be suitable or safe for field work.

The national language is Portuguese, and although a few people in the largest cities speak some English, almost nobody will speak English in the smaller towns we will use as base camps; we will get alot of use out of our conversational Portuguese.  If you know some Spanish, you will be at least partly understood, although it may be difficult for you to understand a person speaking Portuguese with a strong local accent.

Main meals such as lunches or suppers are partly traditional "Latin American" fare (some rice or a potato-substitute, meat, salad or vegetable) but with more seafood available; Asian and Italian cuisine is pretty common in larger towns, too.  If you are vegan or more strictly vegetarian, you will have an extremely difficult time obtaining adequate nutrition, and we urge you to consider "relaxing" your strict diet to include at least some poultry, seafood or dairy products in order to gain adequate nutrition.

The climate will be moderate to very warm, as the time of year will be southeastern Brazil's spring/summer (they're nearly as far south of the Equator as Athens is to the north!).  You will be most comfortable most of the time in light clothing, but long-sleeved shirts and long-legged pants are best for field work, to keep off insects and strong sun.  You will be grateful for a rain poncho, portable umbrella or rain suit during frequent late afternoon showers.  Finally, one or two sweatshirts or sweaters plus a windbreaker or light jacket are essential, as it gets surprisingly chilly in the mountains (the middle third of the trip) during evenings and, especially, in the early mornings.

Field Course Itinerary and Content:
Day/Date Location/Lodging Activity/Focus
1 (11/26) Fly to Sao Paulo (overnight flight!)
2 (11/27) Lodging (1 nt) at Best Western Hotel Panamby Acclimate and prepare for next day's driving; change US$, buy food  for next day's lunch
3-6 (11/28-
12/1)
Tiradentes (7 hr drive); lodging (5 nts) at Cadonga da Serra ecolodge; day trips in Tiradentes/Sao Joao del Rei region Field studies: dry savanna/scrub and pantanal grassland, stream systems
7 (12/2) Tiradentes DAY OFF
8-11 (12/3-6) Penedo (4 hr drive); lodging (5 nts) at Hotel Penedo; day trips in Penedo region, west end of Itataia National Park Field studies: montane Araucaria forest, stream systems; EXAM 1: woody terrestrial plants
12-15 (12/7-10) Maringa (2 hr drive); lodging (5 nts) at Chale Monserrat; day trips in Maringa/Maromba/Visconde valley, east end of Itataia National Park Field studies: mesic montane forest, stream systems
16 (12/11) Maringa DAY OFF
17-21 (12/12-16) Paraty (4 hr drive); lodging (6 nts) at Pousada Porto Paraty; day trips in Paraty region, Serra da Bocaina National Park Field studies: lowland Atlantic white cedar forest and beach communities, stream systems; EXAM 2: herbaceous terrestrial plants, EXAM 3: freshwater algae and stream ecology
22 (12/17) Paraty DAY OFF
23 (12/18) Sao Paulo (4 hr drive) Fly to Columbus (overnight flight!)

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Details of the Course

Enrollment/Credits: 10 undergraduate students and up to 2 graduate students; 6 credit hours, with students pre-registered by the Office of Summer Sessions for Winter quarter.

Eligibility: Open to all undergrad natural sciences majors meeting the prerequisites, and PBIO/BIOS/MSES grad students; eligibility must be approved during the first week of Fall quarter by the instructors.

Prerequisites: PBIO 111, PBIO 405/693 (Neotropical Rainforest Ecology Fall quarter seminar), additional mandatory workshops concurrent with the seminar, at least sophomore standing in Spring, and instructor permission through an interview; Plant Systematics (PBIO 309/509) or Plant Ecology (PBIO 425/525) are strongly recommended.  Students lacking lacking PBIO 111 but with other plant biology exposure should contact the instructors.

Texts and Other Resources:

Exams and Course Products:  Three field exams will be administered in Brazil during the field course.  The first one will take place during the middle of the course, covering woody terrestrial plant families; the second one will take place early in the third week, covering herbaceous terrestrial plant families; and the third will be held later in the third week, covering freshwater algae and stream ecology.  Students will turn in their daily journals, and will complete and return course evaluations, during the flight back to Columbus.  Early in the Winter quarter, students will participate in a debriefing session, share slides and pictures during a slide show/dinner, and will meet to draft their own web pages with recollections from their journals and images from their favorite photos or slides.

Activities and Points (500 points possible):

Expenses for the Field Course:  Tuition, 6 undergraduate credit hours; plus domestic and travel expenses itemized below. Financial aid can be applied to field course expenses and tuition, with advance planning. The Summer Sessions Office will bill students for tuition and for the program fee that comprises the airfare, lodging and any additional group events, during approximately the 5th week.

NOTE: Major financial commitments to the Brazil course will be required of all students--no exceptions--during the first several weeks of the Fall quarter.  All students intending to participate in the field course must have cash or check funds available during the first few weeks, in order to pay for the domestic expenses (passport, visa, vaccinations) in the very short time frame we face.  Students who are not prepared to send checks and purchase express postage for passports during the 2nd week passport workshop [if they do not yet have a passport], purchase vaccinations in cash at Hudson Medical Center by the end of the 4th week, and send checks and purchase express postage for visas during the 6th week visa workshop, cannot participate in the field course.  Plane tickets will be purchased by the end of the 2nd week, and the cost of these will be billed to the students by the Summer Sessions Office as part of the course program fee, around the 5th week.  The program fee and the tuition bills sent out during the 5th week must be paid by every student before the end of the 10th week.  In addition, the Brazil field course will be canceled if fewer than 6 undergraduate students make full financial commitment to it by the 2nd week.

Domestic expenses ($342, plus 6 credits of tuition [this is not included in comprehensive fee!]):

Travel expenses ($1970, plus spending):

Prepared by Harvey Ballard and Morgan Vis 12 April, 2001; revised 26 July 2001.

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