“Studying the social and ecological complexities of biodiversity conservation in tropical ecosystems”

The Amazon Field School introduces students to the social and ecological complexities of natural resource management, biodiversity conservation and development in tropical ecosystems. It uses a variety of methods from the biological and social sciences to investigate causes, consequences, and solutions pertaining to natural resource management conflicts through the lenses of ecology, culture, and governance.

During the course, participants explore one of the most biodiverse areas on the world—Tambopata National Reserve and adjacent areas in the Department of Madre de Dios, Peru. This area faces a number of threats, including gold mining, slash and burn agriculture, logging, and land speculation associated with the Inter-Oceanic Highway.

In addition to witnessing the biodiversity of terrestrial and freshwater habitats, participants also learn about social conflicts and solutions through discussions and interviews with various actors: people from ecotourism lodges, boomtowns, national reserves, home stays and local communities, as well as development practitioners and scientists. During the program, they even attend a symposium on natural resource management issues with speakers from businesses, local government, NGOs, and other institutions.

Interdisciplinary teams examine multiple angles of complex issues surrounding the region’s natural resource management challenges, including:

  1. What are the threats to biodiversity and human livelihoods in Tambopata? What are the responses from NGOs, businesses, local institutions, and government?
  2. What is the role of scientific inquiry in addressing threats to biodiversity and human livelihoods?
  3. How does science influence development strategies?
  4. What are some innovative solutions we might be able to test in the field which include people governance, and natural resource management while still conserving ecosystems?

In doing so, team members strive to identify key problems and propose novel solutions.

The Amazon Field School (AFS) was created by Drs. Amanda Stronza, Lee Fitzgerald, and Don Brightsmith. AFS is part of the Applied Biodiversity Science Program at Texas A&M University. The trip was led by Dr. Leslie Ruyle from The Center on Conflict and Development (ConDev) and Dr. Don Brightsmith from Texas A&M’s Department of Veterinary Pathobiology.