Evolution, Conservation, and Education 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 become central to the study of conservation.  The fascinating adaptations of organisms to the unique ecosystems of the archipelago have left them particularly vulnerable to human-induced changes underway in the islands today. But did you know that Galápagos is also an important proving ground for new approaches to environmental education, both for the people who live in the islands as well as for those who visit them? 

Drawing on lessons learned in Galapagos from Darwin's time to the present, this seminar explores evolution, conservation, and education in the Galápagos Archipelago.  Using case-study material on tortoises, iguanas, finches, endemic 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 impact of human activity in the archipelago.  Relatedly, we will consider case studies of environmental education in the islands, involving residents as well as tourists, asking what can be done to make these efforts more effective?

This course includes, at no additional cost to students, an intensive eleven-day expedition to Galápagos to observe firsthand many of the issues and outcomes 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 about the Galápagos related to key themes of the class. The final assignment for the seminar is to complete a seven- to ten-page paper on an approved topic of your choice related to one or more of the areas of evolution, conservation and education in Galapagos today, 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 on Saturday afternoon, September 21.

IMPORTANT: The Galápagos course will have its first required class meeting at 3:30 on Monday/Labor Day, so Galápagos students must arrive in time to check into housing before attending the 3:30pm-5:00pm class.  Please make a note of this requirement.


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 AmericaThe Social Causes of Environmental Destruction in Latin America(co-editor), Ecotourism and Conservation in the Americas (co-editor), and Exuberant Life: Evolution and Conservation in Galápagos (forthcoming). He served sixteen years as editor of the Annual Review of Anthropology and was Co-founder/ 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

Nicole Ardoin

Director, E-IPER, Associate Professor of Education and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment

Nicole Ardoin is an associate professor with a joint appointment in the Graduate School of Education and Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. She is the Faculty Director of the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources in the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences, and the inaugural Emmett Family Faculty Scholar. Nicole’s Social Ecology Lab group includes interdisciplinary social scientists studying the nexus of environmental learning, environmental behavior, and connection to place within the context of complex social-ecological systems. She has been conducting community-engaged research and working with nonprofit conservation organizations in domestic and international locations, including the Galapagos, for more than two decades. She has a PhD in Social Ecology from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Among other professional affiliations, Nicole is a trustee of the George B. Storer Foundation, chairs the education advisory council for NatureBridge, and advises the Student Conservation Association and Teton Science Schools. She is associate editor of the journal Environmental Education Research.