Tropical Rainforest Ecology is an upper-level, two-term course taught by Professor Mark McKone. The program is offered in alternate years, and includes a fall term course (Biology 361), a winter term course (Biology 362), and a two-week research trip to Costa Rica over winter break.
Fall term is spent on campus, reviewing and discussing contemporary published research on tropical rainforests. The readings focus on evolutionary ecology, interactions between species, and species diversity. In addition to whole-class discussions of primary literature, smaller groups of students design research projects of their own. After extensive literature review, each group submits a research proposal in the form of an NSF grant. These proposals are then reviewed by the other members of the class and by Carleton alumni who have previously taken the course. The groups then can modify their designs in response to the reviews by the end of fall term.
In December, during Carleton's winter break, the class travels to Costa Rica to carry out their field research. The class stays at the La Selva Biological Station, operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies. Over the course of two weeks, students complete both their group projects and separate individual projects. Upon return to campus in January, students spend the following ten week term analyzing and presenting their results.