Evolution and Conservation in Galápagos

The tiny remote islands of Galápagos have played a large and central role in the study of evolution.  Not surprisingly, they have also been central to the study of conservation.  The fascinating adaptations of organisms to the unique ecosystems of the archipelago have left them particularly vulnerable to outside introductions.  Drawing on lessons learned in Galapagos from Darwin's time to the present, this seminar explores evolution, conservation, and their connection in the Galapagos.  Using case-study material on finches, iguanas, tortoises, cacti, Scalesia plants, and more, we will explore current theory and debate about adaptation, sexual selection, speciation, adaptive radiation, and other topics in evolution. Similarly, we will explore the special challenges Galápagos poses today for conservation, owing to both its unusual biota and the increasing human impact on the archipelago.  This course includes an intensive eleven-day expedition to Galápagos to observe firsthand the evolutionary phenomena and conservation issues discussed in class. A chartered ship will serve as our floating classroom, dormitory, and dining hall as we work our way around the archipelago to visit as many as ten islands. For this portion of the class, undergraduates will be joined by a group of Stanford alumni and friends in a format called a Stanford "Field Seminar." Because our class time on campus is limited to one week before travel, students will be required to complete all course readings over the summer. Both on campus and in South America, the course emphasizes student contributions and presentations. Students will be asked to lead discussions and carry out literature research on the evolutionary and conservation biology of particular Galápagos species. The final assignment for the seminar is to complete a seven- to ten-page paper on the evolutionary biology and conservation challenges of a particular organism or adaptation and to present the main findings of that paper in a joint seminar of undergrads and alumni as we travel in Galápagos. 

Important Logistics

Students will arrive on campus on Labor Day and will be housed at Stanford until we leave for Galápagos. Travel to Galápagos will be provided and paid by Sophomore College (except incidentals and personal expenses) and is made possible by the support of the Stanford Alumni Association Travel/Study Program and generous donors. Students will return to campus late afternoon or evening on Saturday, September 22.

IMPORTANT: The Galapagos course will have the first class meeting at 3:30 on Monday/Labor Day, so Galapagos students must arrive in time to check into housing before attending the 3:30pm-5:00pm meeting.


Meet the Instructor(s)

William Durham

Bing Professor in Human Biology, Emeritus

Bill Durham received his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Michigan before joining the Stanford faculty in Human Biology and Anthropology. His current research focuses on conservation and development issues and on the evolutionary interactions of genes and culture in human populations. Winner of the MacArthur Prize and other awards for research and teaching, Professor Durham's books include Scarcity and Survival in Central America, The Social Causes of Environmental Destruction in Latin America (co-editor), and Ecotourism and Conservation in the Americas (co-editor). He served sixteen years as editor of the Annual Review of Anthropology and was Co-founder and Co-director of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) for a decade. He is currently Co-Director of the Osa and Golfito Initiative (INOGO) in Costa Rica for the Woods Institute for the Environment.

More information at the Department Faculty Profile