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Field course

Pipeline Road, PanamaTropical Field Course

Organiser:  Professor Chris Jiggins

Dates:  27 August – 10 September 2018

We are pleased to announce that the Zoology Department will be running a Tropical Field Course for Part II students from summer 2018.

We are currently inviting applications from students from Panama and Colombia to come and join us. We will fund the attendance for five students. You will only need to pay your travel costs to Gamboa, Panama. Application form here:

Key information for applicants

The first course will be run in Panama based in the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, with the intention to run it the following year in Sabah, Borneo. We will benefit from a long history of tropical research that has been carried out in Panama which includes geological studies of the rise of the isthmus and the Great American Biotic Exchange. In addition, many iconic ecological and evolutionary studies have been carried out here. These include sexual selection and predation in Tungara frogs and their bat predators; mutualism between leaf-cutting ants and their fungus gardens; debate over the neutral theory of biodiversity, informed by data from the 50 ha plot; Heliconius butterflies and mimicry; fig wasps and their fig hosts, including tests of local mate competition theory and discovery of cryptic wasp species diversity.

Conservation issues will include the role of the Canal in protecting the watershed forest; encroachment on national parks by farmland and hunting; freshwater invasive species in the canal and Chagres river; carbon balance of tropical forests and likely responses to increased atmospheric carbon.

The location

Gamboa is located ~1 hour from Tocumen International Airport in the centre of the isthmus and alongside the Panama Canal. Approximately one hour’s drive from either coast, Gamboa lies at the centre of a steep rainfall gradient from dry (Pacific) to wet (Carribbean) forest. It is located in the Soberania National Park, lowland primary and secondary rainforest established to protect the canal watershed.

Likely Itinerary (subject to change):

  • Monday 27th August Arrive in Gamboa
  • Tuesday 28th August Walk to Pipeline Road, Gamboa, walking distance from accommodation. Known for the ‘most diverse avian fauna in Central America’
  • Weds 29th - Parque Metropolitano. Seasonally dry lowland forest adjacent to Panama City. Many conservation issues around this highly endangered ecosystem. Forest Canopy Crane for access to canopy research.
  • Weds –Thurs 30th Trip to Barro Colorado and overnight stay. The most intensively studied tropical rainforest site in the world with the long running 50 ha plot. BCI has been the focus of tropical tree ecology studies for 50 years.
  • Friday 31st Proyecto Agua Salud – Visit to large scale reforestation project
  • Sat 1st – Fossil history of the isthmus – visit to fossil excavation site in Canal workings
  • Sunday 2nd – Guided walks in Gamboa and first discussion of project ideas
  • Monday 3rd – Bat evening and project decisions
  • Tuesday-Sunday – Collect project data
  • Monday 10th Leave for UK.

The course will provide the data collection component of a Part II Short project, equivalent to 25% of your total Part II project allocation.


A converted schoolhouse offers dedicated facilities for field trips in Gamboa and includes Wifi access, cooking facilities, a lecture room/lab.

How to apply

The course will be open to students taking Part II Zoology and Plant Sciences, but there will be limited places available. The selection process will take into account student attendance on relevant courses in the earlier part of the Tripos, notably Pt IB Ecology, Pt IB Animal Biology and Part IA Evolution and Behaviour, and biological fieldwork experience from field courses or similar opportunities. The online application form is now live, and can be found at the top of this page - the deadline for applications is Friday 16 February.


We are committed to ensure that no student is deterred from taking the course for financial reasons. We have obtained some limited funding to support the course courtesy of the GCGT Trust. We therefore are aiming for a per student cost of £600 which we hope will be covered in part by your college in most cases. We will be able to provide some additional hardship support for exceptional cases.

Carbon offsetting

Costs would include carbon offsetting of flights. We will use a well-documented offset project which helps protect biodiversity as well as sequester carbon, and take advantage of this to teach the students about the principle involved.     

Old Schoolhouse in Gamboa
Old Schoolhouse in Gamboa