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Ecuador, 6 foreign nationalities & 23 participants… The International thematic school ‘Historical Ecology in Amazonia’ !

The first edition of the International Thematic School ‘Historical Ecology in Amazonia’ took place from 19 to 27 August 2019 in the Yasuni research station (PUCE) of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador (PUCE) in Ecuador. It was attended by 23 participants from various countries and scientific institutions/universities, and it consisted in about 50 hours of courses, field trips and activities distributed over nine days.

13 students from 6 nationalities (Brazil,Netherland, Ecuador, Colombia, USA, UK & Canada) participated to the thematic school. Additionally to the students, 10 lecturers from 3 nationalities (Ecuador, France, Brazil) were present :

  • – Dr. André Braga Junqueira, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, España
  • – Dr. Louise Brousseau, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), France
  • – Dr. Rommel Montúfar, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE), Ecuador
  • – Dr. Guillaume Odonne, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France
  • – Dr. Gabriela Prestes Carneiro, Universidade Federal do Oeste do Para, Brazil
  • – Dr. Montserrat Rios, Universidad Regional Amazonica Ikiam, Ecuador
  • – Dr. Stéphen Rostain, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France
  • – Dr. Myrtle Shock, Universidade Federal do Oeste do Para, Brazil
  • – M.Sc. Santiago Silva Lachard, Fondo de Inversión Ambiental Sostenible (FIAS), Ecuador
  • – Dr. Renato Valencia, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE), Ecuador

Lectures, active learning activity and field work

After a bus and canoa trip of 15 hours from Quito, the participants finally reached the Yasuni Research Station. The Yasuni scientific station was a perfect place to host this event, because of the availability of scientific facilities (experimental devices, labs, conference room), the proximity of Waorani villages, and the commodities it offers.

View of the Yasuni station

The first course started on 22 August to 50 hours of lectures and the general feedback was very positive. The wide interdisciplinarity represented in the thematic school resulted in the fact that everyone (including lecturers) learned new things or adopted new points of view regarding the historical ecology of Amazonia.

L. Brousseau developed for the thematic School a modelling card game (DomestiX) that aims at facilitating the understanding of the complex mechanisms driving plant evolution and domestication. Through this game, the participants had to domesticate new populations from the wild, by improving functional traits (fruits, wood or chemical characteristics) and dealing with a variety of natural evolutionary processes, such as drift, migration and adaptation to the environmental constraints of different habitats (terra-firme forests, flooded forests or savannah).

In addition to courses and activities, five field courses were organized: a visit of the Yasuni oxbow lakes (cochas), an ethnobotanical walk in Terra firme forest with Waorani collaborators, a visit of the 50 Ha tree inventory plot, a visit of a Waorani slash and mold field and a trip on the Tiputini River. All these field trips provided the opportunity to discover the surroundings of the station, the different ecosystems, the straight interactions between Waorani people and the forest, and the scientific experimental devices of the station. The help of Alvaro J. Perez, tree taxonomist and assistant professor at the PUCE, made field trips true naturalist delights. It also allowed foreign participants to gain insight into the conflicts between oil extraction by petroleum companies and native territories. This illustrated how modern people still interact with their environment, and how reconciling local economic development and the protection of wild areas from an ecological point of view remain challenging in most parts of the Amazonian region.

Some extra trips and visits

The location of this thematic school in Ecuador also offered the possibility of participants to deepen the issues raised through this summer school and visit the region.
For example, present-day tensions between economy and environment were put in the light by the temporary exhibition organized at the Pre-Columbian Art Museum Casa del Alabado for the celebrations for the 250th anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt’s birth, and by the ‘Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana’.

Thanks to the high interest of students and scholars for the field and the success of this thematic school, this event was highly valuable in terms of regional networking, interdisciplinary training of students and mind opening in general!