Evolution and Ecology Across Latitudes


Fall 2015, Winter 2016 and Spring 2016 quarters

Taught by

evolution, biology, anthropology
Spanish language


one year of college-level biology, and demonstrated skill in college-level writing, both scientific and narrative.

Why are there so many species on the planet? Why are there more species nearer the equator than at the poles? This program seeks robust, meaningful explanations for these complex phenomena. In parallel, it approaches human cultural variation in a biotic context, addressing the questions: Where have humans traditionally fit in relation to biological nature, and how has our unparalleled within-species diversity been shaped by nonhuman forces? This program will introduce students to a unique and broadly applicable set of analytical tools, and apply them across a range of settings and scales that would be impossible in a traditional academic context.

We will study patterns across space and time, revealing the selective forces that shaped the distribution, form, behavior, and interaction of organisms from all extant branches of the tree of life. From mycorrhizal fungi that live in the roots of trees to bats collecting fruit high in the moonlit canopy, organisms are best understood embedded in the context of the forces that gave rise to them.

Though all sciences share a method of inquiry, the theoretical toolkit necessary to understand complex biological systems is different from the more familiar tools of the fundamental sciences, such as chemistry and physics. When an insect extracts nutrients from a leaf by detoxifying compounds built to deter herbivory, both the insect, and the plant whose leaf is consumed, have invested resources in an objective, and their gains and losses can be evaluated in terms similar to those in economics and engineering. We will apply concepts such as sunk costs, zero-sum game, and adaptive landscapes across systems and taxa.

We will compare Pacific Northwest rainforest to the Ecuadorian Amazon, witnessing ecology’s most extreme, ubiquitous, and mysterious species-diversity pattern: the latitudinal diversity gradient. We will compare the Amazon at Earth’s most species-rich location—Yasuní—with equatorial montane, cloud forest, and altiplano habitats, revealing dramatic predictable reductions in species diversity that occur at a given latitude, with increases in elevation. And we will compare the high-diversity Amazonian habitat in the humid lowland east to the comparatively low-diversity habitats of the arid Andean rainshadow to the west.

In tandem with our study of habitats, we will seek to understand indigenous cultures that have historically inhabited these biomes. We will consider the impact of glaciation and the role it played in initiating the diaspora of New World populations which diversified across the entirety of the Americas before Europeans arrived in the 15th century. Where there is archaeological evidence, we will interpret it in the context of the precolonial world.

In fall, we will focus on logical tools, concepts, and language needed to understand evolutionary patterns. We will investigate levels of selection, and grapple with the relationship between genes, cultural memes, and epigenetic markers. We will take several field trips within Washington to experience relevant phenomena (e.g., Hoh rainforest, indigenous fishing on the Klickitat River, the channeled scablands). In winter and spring, we will travel to Ecuador, visit several sites, and spend extended field time investigating patterns across a tropical landscape of unparalleled diversity.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

biology and environmental or health-related fields.

Academic Website

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day

Advertised schedule: First spring class meeting: Tuesday, March 29 at 9am (Lib 4300)


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning (FS), No Required Online Learning (W):

Required Fees

$230 in fall for overnight field trips.

Special Expenses

Not included in the study abroad fee: approximately $1,000 for international airfare to Ecuador and approximately $500 for costs associated with remote travel (e.g, passports, vaccinations, and gear).

Research Possibilities

Spring quarter will include a six-week field biology research project, to be conducted in the neotropics or in the Pacific Northwest.

Study Abroad

Winter quarter: Ecuador, 8 - 10 weeks, approximately $6,500 (not including international airfare) Spring quarter: Ecuador (or elsewhere in the neotropics), 6 - 8 weeks, variable expense (approximately $2000) For details on study abroad, visit http://www.evergreen.edu/studyabroad or contact Michael Clifthorne at clifthom@evergreen.edu .

Upper Division Science Credit

Up to 32 upper division science credits will be awarded in evolution and ecology upon successful completion of all aspects of the program.

May be offered again in



Date Revision
September 14th, 2015 Fall fees reduced (from $400 to $230).
April 24th, 2015 Fall field trip fees have decreased (from $600 to $400).
March 24th, 2015 Study Abroad fees have increased.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall); 16 (Winter); 16 (Spring)

Class standing: Sophomore–Senior

Maximum enrollment: 50


Signature Required

Interested students must apply for the program in the Spring of 2015; applications will be available on a WordPress site by February 2015. Decisions will be made before registration for Fall quarter begins. Decisions will be based on academic background, and preparedness for field work and travel in the Pacific Northwest and abroad. Among students admitted in Fall, those students who are ready for upper-division work and field work and travel in tropical ecosystems will be allowed and encouraged to continue in Winter and Spring.

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16 credits): 10164
(1-16 credits): 10511

Go to my.evergreen.edu to register for this program.


Enrollment Closed

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16 credits): 20090
(16 credits): 20246

Go to my.evergreen.edu to register for this program.


Enrollment Closed

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16 credits): 30057
(1-16 credits): 30209

Go to my.evergreen.edu to register for this program.

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