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Biodiversity & Development in the Andes-Amazon


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Location Urubamba
Language English instruction with 2-credit Spanish Language & Culture course

Spring 2018: January 29 - May 9

Deadline Rolling admissions. Early submissions encouraged for acceptance into program of choice.

Program Cost

Click here for program costs. Program cost includes all tuition, room, board, local travel. Excludes airfare.
Financial Aid Click here for more information about need-based scholarships, loans, and travel grants.
Prerequisites One semester of college-level ecology, biology, or environmental studies/science; 18 years of age
Credits 18 credits
In the Sacred Valley, valleys give way to rolling mountains and snowcapped peaks. Brilliant blue sky gives way to powerful thunderclouds. The experience of learning and growing beneath these sky-scraping glacial mountains and star-strewn skies will stay with me for the rest of my life.        

— Samuel Eller, University of San Diego, Spring '16



This program seeks to understand the conflicts and synergies of conservation and development in the Andean highlands and western Amazonia. Students learn firsthand about the ecological patterns and processes that underpin the extraordinary biodiversity of the Andes-Amazon region along the eastern slope of the Peruvian Andes. Students explore the concepts of ecological resilience, dispersal and divergence of species, and the value of ecosystem services, as well as the effects of climate change and land use on regional and global biodiversity and human well-being.

Through coursework, field exercises, and Directed Research, students experience the richness of the Andes-Amazon region, study community dependence on the environment, examine threats to the environment and to social networks, and explore the tools and strategies that both mitigate threats and promote well-being among different communities. Our research projects are geared towards identifying the range of socio-ecological issues, as well as basic questions about biodiversity, that help us guide and inform the program’s research agenda.


  • Including Machu Picchu, explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas, investigating highland tropical forests, historical and modern methods of natural resource management, and the interface between society and the environment
  • Spend time in the Amazonian rainforest, visiting the Villa Carmen biological station in the town of Pillcopata, to gain an understanding of research being conducted in the rainforest and the livelihoods of a community inextricably linked to the rainforest
  • Visit floodplain rainforests in the Manu Biosphere Reserve to understand the different forest types and species composition of one of the most biodiverse areas in the world
  • Experience a cloud forest ecosystem at Wayqecha Biological Station, studying long-term impacts of climate change in the area and comparing the flora and fauna with those of other tropical rainforests



  • Explore a variety of biomes—lowland tropical rainforest, upland forests and grasslands—in the Andes-Amazon region
  • Study salt licks and mammal ecology
  • Investigate the concept of ecosystem management in national parks
  • Examine resource management and tourism in the Sacred Valley, renowned for its meeting of two distinct cultures—Inca and Spanish
  • Learn and practice a series of field techniques to collect data on biodiversity and habitats: looking at tree fern diversity along elevation gradients, assessing the functional morphology of butterflies and bats, or measuring forest composition along a vegetation cover gradient
  • Interview and interact with local stakeholders to understand perceptions and dependence on local resources such as rubber trees, coca, cacao, potatoes, or even llamas
  • Track how traditional ecological knowledge is transmitted or used in different parts of Peru
  • Learn about and see the impacts of different conservation policies on local species distributions
  • Consider the impacts of elevation, slope, and aspect on species distributions
  • Develop field research skills including species identification, biodiversity assessment, survey design and interviewing techniques, environmental impact and protected-areas assessment, GIS or remote sensing, habitat assessment and mapping species distributions, scientific writing and oral presentation


Note: The program operates in rugged and rural environments and within dynamic climatic zones. Students live and study at high altitude (at times over 10,000 feet elevation) for portions of the program; excursions and field work require participants to be in excellent physical condition. Our facilities and other local infrastructure are rustic. Additionally, tropical weather patterns demand flexibility in program planning, so some shifts in itinerary may be necessary, especially during the wet season.



  • Study the effects of agricultural and extractive practices on plant community structure and composition
  • Investige and map charismatic megafauna (e.g., jaguar and primate) habitat preferences
  • Examine the vulnerability of species (e.g., tree ferns) to a changing climate
  • Survey the livelihood strategies of residents of Andean and Amazonian migrant communities
  • Assess local knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of conservation efforts in the region among multiple social groups and organizations
  • Examine perceptions by local people of land use and land cover change
  • Observe and document development and tourism in rapidly growing Amazonian towns
  • Explore the properties of locally used medicinal plants



Peruvians are proud of their diverse cultures and have a very strong national identity. Appreciation of food, civility, and hard work all feature strongly in the local ethics. Student engagement with the local residents is supported by studies of Spanish language and a focus on understanding and observing the cultural norms and social mores in the region.

Students have opportunities to interact with our neighbors as well as indigenous communities in the rainforest and the highlands. SFS facilitates community volunteer projects and social activities such as local environmental education, recycling and waste management, and teaching English.

As in all SFS programs, with the results of our research we offer data and recommendations that inform decision makers and build relationships between SFS and local stakeholders involved in biodiversity conservation and resource management.


Envisioning a sustainable world, an environmentally educated and responsible human population, and thriving, healthy ecosystems, SFS and Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA) have joined together in an academic and research partnership which aims to strengthen the local scientific community and inform conservation decisions. Environmental research, reciprocity with the surrounding community, and education are at the core of the SFS and ACCA collaboration.


As the program explores biodiversity across the elevational gradient of the Andes-Amazon region, students spend time in several locations along that gradient. The program spends a significant part of the semester in the Sacred Valley. There, our primary field station and campus are a guest house in the Andean highlands with access to a classroom, dining area, gardens, and nearby recreational areas. During an extended expedition into the Amazonian cloud, premontane, and lowland forests, students stay at the Villa Carmen Biological Station and Wayqecha Cloud Forest Biological Station—both operated by our partner the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) and its sister organization, Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica. The field stations' infrastructure includes classrooms, labs, gardens, and many miles of trails.