Biodiversity & Development in the Andes-Amazon


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Location Pillcopata,  Madre de Dios
Language English instruction with 2-credit Spanish Language & Culture course

Fall 2015: September 7 – December 16

Spring 2016: February 15 – May 25

Fall 2016: August 29 – December 7
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
I looked down at the blue outlines of cascading ridges, and for the hundredth time… I was stunned by where I was: in the cloud forest on the edge of the Peruvian Andes, at the very beginning of the Amazon rainforest.        

— Annika Min, University of California, Berkeley, Fall '14



This program seeks to understand the conflicts and synergies of conservation and development in western Amazonia and the adjacent Andean highlands. 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 people’s 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 rural 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.


  • Explore the lowland rainforest on a multi-day excursion, visiting oxbow lakes and flooded rainforests to understand differences in forest types and species composition
  • Visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas on a multiday expedition, investigating highland tropical forests, historical and modern methods of natural resource management, and the interface between society and the environment
  • 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 that of tropical rainforests



  • Explore a variety of biomes—from lowland tropical rainforest to palm swamps and upland forest—in the Andes-Amazon region
  • Study salt licks and mammal ecology
  • Investigate the concept of ecosystem management in national parks
  • Conduct a socioeconomic and environmental impact assessment of development initiatives in Pillcopata
  • Examine urban development and tourism in the Sacred Valley and Cusco city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its meeting of two distinct cultures—Inca and Hispanic
  • Use planning tools to design conservation strategies for a local issue or an existing development project
  • Learn and practice a series of field techniques to collect data on biodiversity and habitat: looking at tree fern diversity along elevation gradients, soil macro-fauna across soil types, or measuring temperature and humidity along a vegetation cover gradient
  • Consider the impacts of elevation, slope, and aspect on species distributions during an excursion to the Andean highlands
  • 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.



  • Studying effects of agricultural and extractive practices on plant community structure and composition
  • Investigating and mapping fauna (e.g., jaguar and primate) habitat preferences
  • Examining vulnerability of understory herbaceous species to a changing climate in a transitional forest
  • Surveying livelihood strategies of residents of Andean migrant communities in the rainforest
  • Assessing knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of conservation efforts in the region among multiple social groups and organizations
  • Studying food security and farmer innovation in Kosñipata Valley, where migration has impacted the transfer of knowledge and demand on resources
  • Examining perceptions by local people of land use and land cover change in the Kosñipata District
  • Examining urban development and tourism in rapidly-growing Amazonian towns



Peruvians are proud of their diverse cultures and have a very strong national identity. Appreciation of food, civility, and hard work 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 in the nearby town of Pillcopata, with its large population of Andean migrants, as well as with two rainforest indigenous communities, Huacaria and Queros. 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.


Villa Carmen Biological Station and Wayqecha Cloud Forest Biological Station—both operated by the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) and its sister organization, Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica—are the primary field stations for the SFS Center for Andes-Amazon Studies program. Villa Carmen, a seven-hour drive northeast of Cusco at an elevation of 1,600 to 4,000 feet above sea level, is part of the Manú Biosphere Reserve and a short distance from the small town of Pillcopata. Wayqecha, at 10,000 feet above sea level, is situated in one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. At both field stations, students are housed in shared accommodations in the station’s dormitory. The field stations’ infrastructure includes classrooms, labs, gardens, and many miles of trails.