International Research Experience for Students: Tropical Research Experience in Ecological Science (TREES): Regeneration dynamics in a hyper-diverse tropical forest

SUMMER RESEARCH OPPORTUNITY 2022: Ecological research in Yasuni National Park, Amazonian Ecuador.
Spend summer 2022 conducting research in one of the most biologically diverse forests on the planet!
 
Starting in 2021-2022, Lewis & Clark College and TRI will lead an intensive 9-week summer research experience for both undergraduate and graduate students in the lowland rain forest of Yasuni National Park, Ecuador. Students will spend the first 2 weeks in cultural and language training at the Amauta Spanish School, Cuenca, following by 7 weeks research in Yasuni Scientific Research Station. 
 
Students: Number: 3–5 undergraduates and 1–3 Masters-level graduates per year, up to a total of 6.  All travel, accommodation, and research expenses are covered and a stipend is available.
 
Weeks per year: 9 weeks in-country including 7 at the field research site; pre-trip training in spring semester; professional development in the following fall semester.
 

About the Program

Tropical aseasonal ever-wet rain forests are characterized by high rainfall and no dry season, as well as high biological diversity and globally significant carbon stocks. However, anthropogenic climate change is predicted to lead to increases in the frequency and severity of droughts in South America. Drought is expected to act synergistically with other abiotic and biotic factors such as the pests and pathogens that drive the negative density-dependence that helps maintain the high diversity found in the tropics. Recent work has focused on the impacts of drought on the tropical seasonal forests, yet virtually nothing is known about how pest and pathogen pressure varies with water availability in the aseasonal ever-wet tropics nor how increasing drying may change the structure and function of these forests. This project will investigate the interaction between climate and natural enemies on the performance of trees in a hyper-diverse, aseasonal tropical rain forest in the northwestern Amazon. Results will also provide key information on how these economically and ecologically valuable, yet largely unknown, forests will change in a future of increasing drought.
 
Yasuni Natural Park and the Forest Dynamics Plot are unique scientific resources. Exposing students to the incredible richness of the most diverse forest in the world is an inspiring and humbling experience. Student research will directly contribute to our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that structure ecosystems and communities. 
 
The prime goal of this project is to build capacity and experience in field and lab techniques among US graduate and undergraduate students. To this end, we will mentor six US students every year during the spring semester before, and fall semester after, they embark on an overseas research experience in Ecuador, working with long-term collaborators of PIs Queenborough and Metz, as well as with Ecuadorian students. Masters and undergraduate students from Yale University will be paired with undergraduates from Lewis & Clark, a primarily undergraduate institution, to develop and conduct ecological research in a remote field station in the Amazon rain forest.
 

Project Investigators

Yale School of the Environment: Dr. Simon Queenborough
 
Lewis & Clark College: Dr. Margaret Metz
 
Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador: Dr. Renato Valencia
 

Eligibility

To be eligible for this award, students must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. They must be undergraduate students or graduate students pursuing a relevant degree and coursework (e.g., Ecology, Plant Biology, Research Methods, Statistics). Ideally, they will demonstrate some language proficiency in Spanish, but instruction will be provided in the IRES experience.
 

Vaccinations

Evidence of yellow fever vaccination and full vaccination against COVID-19 are required to enter Ecuador and Yasuni National Park.  
 

How to Apply

We encourage interested students to discuss the experience with Dr Queenborough before applying.
 
The following will be required to apply.
 
  • Resume or C.V.
  • U.S. citizenship or permanent residency
  • Personal Statement: Describe your academic background, educational goals, post-degree professional goals, and how the IRES experience can help prepare you to achieve those objectives. You may include a section on any personal obstacles you have overcome. Up to 2 pages, Times New Roman, font size 11.
  • Short Essay: 300 words, choose one of these two questions: (i) Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, or a real-world environmental management challenge. Explain its significance and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. (ii) Reflect on a time in the last few years when you felt genuine excitement learning about something. Describe not only what you learned but how you learned it. 
  • Short Takes: 50 words per question, answer all three questions. (i) Who or what is a source of inspiration for you? (ii) What footprint will you leave on your fellow IRES participants (Define “footprint”  however you would like.)  (iii) What quote best describes you? Who said it? 
  • Contact information for 2 referees and their academic relationship to you, ideally in STEM fields.

Please reach out to simon.queenborough@yale.edu with any questions.

Submit your Application

Please submit your application materials as PDF documents to tri@yale.edu
 

Timeline

Dec 01, 2021: All application materials due, including letters of recommendation
 
Dec 15, 2022: Final decisions sent to students
 
Jan 20, 2022: Pre-trip training and project development begins
 
May, 2022: Students travel to Amauta Spanish School, Cuenca, Ecuador
 
June-July, 2022: Field research in Yasuni National Park
 
Aug-Dec, 2022: Professional development, data analysis, writing
 

COVID-19

We hope and expect that this research experience will be possible in 2022. However, applicants should understand that the pandemic situation is constantly evolving and international travel may prove impossible. The Project Investigators are not responsible for such situations beyond our control.