Biology 295: Philippine Tropical Organisms and Ecosystems


Note: For Intersession travel courses, you are only charged for ONE credit of tuition instead of THREE.

Sample syllabus from Intersession 2011

This course fulfills the requirements for the Organismal (O) and Population (P) areas of the Biology major/minor, as well as a Cultural Diversity (D) requirement.


Dr. George Gomez

Loyola 118 x. 6355

Target students: This course is designed for Biology majors, minors and advanced non-majors (by instructor approval).  The course will fulfill requirements for the Organismal (O) and Population (P) group in the course curriculum for Biology majors, and the Cultural Diversity (D) requirements for all majors

Course Overview
Over a third of the earth’s terrestrial surface is located in the tropics, with a wide range of different environments.  Among the different tropical countries, the Philippines is unique because it is geologically comprised of five different tectonic plates and microplates, creating an archipelago of 7,109 islands that has several different types of ecosystems in close proximity to one another.  This unique geological composition enabled the evolution of some of the most biologically diverse collection of species on the planet; this is especially true for the marine ecosystems.  This course will focus on field observations and study of the physical factors, the flora and fauna, the interrelationships that exist in different tropical ecosystems, and the interaction between the environment and the cultural minorities that inhabit these regions.  The course involves a three week trip to the Philippines over Intersession.  Local trips in the Philippines will focus on tropical rainforests, coral reefs, mangroves, and sites of recent and old volcanic activity.  The course will entail additional costs of about $3000 (including plane fare) to the students.


Goals and Objectives
Upon completion of the course, students will be expected to:

  • Discuss the physical characteristics of tropical environments, such as climate, temperature, rainfall, and demonstrate an understanding of the geological principles underlying these characteristics
  • Describe the features of tropical ecosystems, focusing on volcanic regions, rainforests, reefs, and mangroves.
  • Outline the flow of nutrients in tropical ecosystems and identify the various limiting factors in each environment based on field observations and experience
  • Identify the various adaptations that plants and animals must employ in order to deal with physical factors that exist in different tropical ecosystems.
  • Describe the lifestyle of select Philippine cultural minorities and how they interact with the local environment.
  • Discuss the ethnic cultural background and rationale behind problems and employed strategies of solutions for rainforest and reef conservation based on first-hand observation, and suggest possible and possible improvements on these strategies within the existing cultural framework of the Philippines.


Biology 142; Physical requirements: students must be able to swim, be physically fit enough to hike for several hours, have no fear of flying or ocean travel, and be able to tolerate insects and other tropical creatures.


Tropical Ecosystems and Ecological Concepts.
Author: Patrick L. Osborne
Publication. Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0 521 642523 9 (paperback)
In addition, pertinent journal articles or resources will be made available.

Class Format
Book chapter readings will be assigned for the plane flight to Manila.
Preliminary lectures (2-3 hours each) will be given in Manila during the first few days while students recover from jet lag.  During the trip itself, time will be set aside for 6 to 8 lectures of about 1-2 hours each.  In addition, students will be briefed (about 30 to 45 min) prior to each field activity and each activity will be followed by a group discussion (about 1 hour).



1. Grading

Course grades will be determined by performance on the following:
            Essay Exams:                                   45%
            Participation, discussion, “recitation”:          25%
            Field Notebook:                                    30%

The grading scale is as follows:
Percentage                      Grade earned                      Percentage                     Grade earned

95-100                                      A                                 73-76.99                          C
91-94.99                                   A-                                70-72.99                          C-
88-90.99                                   B+                               67-69.99                          D+
84-87.99                                   B                                 60-66.99                          D
80-83.99                                   B-                                <60                                 F
77-79.99                                   C+

2. Exam Format and Policies
      All exams will be in essay format and will cover material from the textbook and field observations/field notebooks.  Essay questions will be designed based on observations in the field in relation to material in the textbook.  Questions will be distributed at specific points during the trip, and the students will have one hour to complete their answers.  There will be three or four exams spread throughout the trip

3. Field Notebook

Students will be required to keep a field notebook, which doubles as a daily journal. Instructions will be given separately

4. Participation
Students will be expected to participate in every field activity (unless they are physically unable to do so).  Students are also expected to actively engage in discussions, briefings and debriefings.  Students will be subjectively graded on their input to the class discussions, questions that they ask, observations that they make, etc.


Sample travel plan from 2011

Jan 5-27, 2011
Day Date Night in: Activities
5-Jan Wed Depart from USA - 9 am, JFK    
6-Jan Thu Arrival in Manila Makati
7-Jan Fri recover in Manila Makati morning: Ayala Museum (primer on Philippine history); afternoon - Old Manila walking Tour; dinner 
8-Jan Sat Subic Subic transit by car to Subic;  afternoon- orientation to the rainforest at JEST
9-Jan Sun Pamulaklakin Makati morning & lunch: Aeta Trek; later afternoon- transit back to Manila
10-Jan Mon Alona Beach Bohol early morning flight - late morning/early afternoon- intro to snorkeling
11-Jan Tue Balicasag Bohol Balicasag Island -snorkeling, optional diving
12-Jan Wed Panglao Bohol Land Tour
13-Jan Thu Dolphin watching/Pamilacan Bohol Pamilacan
14-Jan Fri Siquijor Siquijor transit to Siquijor by boat or ferry (am); pm: snorkeling in the house reef
15-Jan Sat Siquijor Siquijor all day in the island
16-Jan Sun Siquijor Dumaguete all day on the island, evening ferry to Dumaguete
17-Jan Mon Return to MNL Tagaytay fly from Dumaguete in the morning (Cebu Pac), go to Tagaytay and take a hike up to the volcano ridge
18-Jan Tue Taal Tagaytay all day hike in Taal, to the crater lake
19-Jan Wed Anilao Anilao diving, snorkeling
20-Jan Thu Anilao Anilao morning: diving, snorkeling. Afternoon:back to Manila
21-Jan Fri Coron Coral Bay morning: fly to Coron (Cebu Pac); transit to Coral Bay
22-Jan Sat Coron Coral Bay all day at Coral Bay
23-Jan Sun Coron Coron Island hopping on the way to Coron
24-Jan Mon Coron Manila Coron Island - Kayangan Lake, Siete Pecados, Twin Lagoons, etc.
25-Jan Tue Manila Manila morning: fly back from Coron (Cebu Pac); afternoon in Manila
26-Jan Wed free day in Manila MNL free day in Manila
27-Jan Thu Return Flights out of MNL   our flight leaves at 6:30 am, so we have to be at the airport by 4:30 am

What do eat when we are there?

As part of your Cultural Diversity experience, you will be eating mostly Filipino food. Filipino food is an ethnic mix of Chinese, Spanish, American, and Southeast Asian cuisine. Rice is the staple. For more information, check out the numerous websites on Filipino cuisine, such as:

Will I need shots/vaccinations?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website has a list of recommended vaccines/ inoculations. However, I have found that travelers generally do not need them. But you may get them if you wish.

If you have any additional questions, please feel free to email me at