Biology 295: Philippine Tropical Organisms and Ecosystems

Sample syllabus from Intersession 2008


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.


The tentative itinerary is as follows:

Jan 3-25, 2008 Meals
Day Date Night in: Hotel B L D Activities
Th 3 Depart from USA - 9 am, JFK     all your meals will be on board the flight including dinner on Jan 4  
F 4 Arrival in Manila MNL Asian Mansion/ Gomez House  
Sa 5 recover in Manila MNL yes yes yes morning: Ayala Museum (primer on Philippine history); afternoon - Old Manila walking Tour; 
Su 6 Subic Subic Subic Greenhills homes yes     Morning: go to mass, then transit by car to Subic;  afternoon- orientation to the rainforest at JEST
M 7 Subic   Yes   all day trek to Mt. Pinatubo
T 8 Subic Manila Airport Hotel   Yes   morning & lunch: Aeta Trek; later afternoon- transit back to Manila
W 9 Bohol Bohol Alona Kew       early morning flight (5:45 am) - we have to be at the airport at 4:30 am!;  late morning/early afternoon- intro to snorkeling
Th 10 Bohol       Balicasag Island -snorkeling, optional diving
F 11 Bohol Yes Yes   Land tour: Baclayon, Bilar, Corelia
Sa 12 Bohol Yes Yes   Dolphin watch (early am)/ Pamilacan Island
Su 13 Bohol Yes     optional: go to mass in the morning; free day on the beach/optional diving or trip to Balicasag Island
M 14 Dumaguete Dumaguete Bethel Guest House Yes     morning: transit by ferry to Dumaguete; afternoon: City Tour
T 15 Dumaguete   Yes   Mabinay 3-Caves Tour
W 16 Dumaguete       Apo Island - snorkeling
Th 17 Dumaguete       Balinsasayaw Twin Lakes Trek & Kayak
F 18 Back to Manila   overnight on Ferry Yes     morning: fly from Dumaguete to Manila; lunch at the Gomez house, repack bags, transit to Manila Bay;  we will take an overnight ferry boat to Coron (sleep & eat on-board)
Sa 19 Coron Coron Sangat Yes Yes Yes All day at resort, snorkeling at the house reef, possible night snorkeling
Su 20 Coron Yes Yes Yes (sorry, no churches here….) - all day island hopping and snorkeling
M 21 Coron Yes Yes Yes morning: island trek; rest of the day free
T 22 Coron Yes Yes Yes Coron Island - Kayangan Lake, Siete Pecados, Twin Lagoons, etc.
W 23 Coron Manila Asian Mansion/ Gomez House Yes     morning flight back to Manila; free afternoon; optional "night-out" activities
Th 24 Manila MNL Yes     free day in Manila
F 25 Return Flights out of MNL     all your meals will be on board the flight 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