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date: 22 June 2021

The Study of Ecology in Latin America and the Caribbeanfree

The Study of Ecology in Latin America and the Caribbeanfree

  • Megan RabyMegan RabyDepartment of History, The University of Texas at Austin


Fieldwork in Latin America and the Caribbean has played a major role in the development of the modern science of ecology––the study of organisms’ relationships with one another and the physical environment. Since the colonial era, natural historical knowledge had grown and circulated through expeditions and naturalists’ encounters with indigenous and enslaved people’s environmental knowledge. Observations of the life histories, behavior, and geographical distribution of the regions’ species laid the groundwork for the emergence of ecology as a self-conscious discipline during the late 19th century. Major figures in the foundation of ecology were inspired by travel throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and especially by the large number and variety of species found in rainforests and other tropical areas. The growth of colonial and independent national scientific institutions––including botanical gardens, museums, and geographical surveys––also created important foundations for ecological research, although these were primarily oriented toward agricultural and economic improvement. As field stations specifically devoted to ecological research emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, long-term, place-based studies of living organisms became possible for the first time. Research at such institutions helped to shape key ecological concepts––including the ecological community, ecosystems, and species diversity––and contributed directly to the rise of the biodiversity ideal in conservation. Despite their historic importance, field studies in Latin America and the Caribbean remain significantly underrepresented in ecology in the early 21st century.


  • Environmental History
  • Science, Technology, and Health

Ecological Science in Latin America and the Caribbean

Among non-specialists, ecology is often used interchangeably with environmentalism or as a synonym for the natural world itself. As a scientific term, however, ecology refers more specifically to the study of organisms’ relationships with one another and with the physical environment. The German zoologist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) coined the term Oecologie (ecology) in 1866. Drawing from the Greek root oikos, for household, Haeckel envisioned a science devoted to understanding the economy of nature.1 As a Darwinian, he advocated closer attention to the complex mutual interactions of organisms, which formed an important and little-studied aspect of the conditions of existence that shaped evolutionary processes.

Noting these etymological origins, historians have usually traced the beginnings of ecology back to Europe. While the first scientists to take up Haeckel’s term and research agenda in the late 19th century were from Denmark and Germany, research in Latin America and the Caribbean nevertheless played a major role in the development of ecology. Indeed, long before its emergence as a self-conscious scientific discipline, naturalists’ observations of the life histories, behavior, and geographical distribution of the regions’ species laid the groundwork for the core questions and ideas of ecology. Ecology emerged in part out of the broad field of natural history––a tradition that was not only European but was also shaped through encounters with indigenous and African traditions of natural knowledge. Moreover, major figures in the foundation of ecology, including Eugenius Warming and Andreas Schimper, were directly inspired by travel throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and especially by the large number and variety of species found in rainforests and other tropical environments. By the early 20th century, field stations specifically devoted to ecological research began to emerge throughout the region. These enabled long-term, place-based studies that helped to shape key ecological concepts––including the ecological community, ecosystems, and species diversity.

While the earliest self-described ecologists to work in the region were largely foreigners (often US or European scientists working in colonial and neocolonial contexts), homegrown communities of ecologists began to form as the field expanded rapidly after World War II. Fieldwork in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially in tropical regions, often challenged the assumptions of ecologists whose training and previous experience had been in temperate North America and Europe. Such fieldwork contributed directly to the rise of the concept of “biodiversity” and helped make the preservation of biodiversity a central tenet of international conservation. Thus, the history of ecology within Latin America and the Caribbean is fundamental to understanding the global history of this science as well as related fields like conservation biology.

Naturalist Traditions as Antecedents to Ecology

Ecology is in part an offshoot of the much older tradition of natural history, which had roots in the ancient Mediterranean world. During the 16th through 19th centuries, the colonization of the Americas and the Atlantic slave trade brought European naturalists into contact with people from a variety of different natural knowledge traditions––people who not only had experience with different local communities of plants and animals but also distinct ways of conceptualizing and categorizing the natural world. Encounters among indigenous people, people of African descent, and Europeans in the Americas fostered the development of a variety of new ways of thinking about the relationships among living things and their environments. Some of these can be seen as antecedents to the science of ecology.2

One illuminating example is the work of the naturalist and painter Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717), with her daughter and assistant, Dorothea Maria, in the Dutch colony of Suriname at the turn of the 18th century. Merian was perhaps unique in her era as a European woman traveling in South America with her own scientific fieldwork as her primary pursuit. Her perspective on natural history was also distinctive. Rather than concentrate on amassing collections and naming new (to Europeans) species like most naturalists, Merian was concerned with documenting and understanding the life cycles, behaviors, and interactions of animals and plants. Her richly illustrated Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium depicted plants, not as isolated specimens, but as part of a living community––together with the insects, arachnids, reptiles, and birds that lived and fed upon them and one another.3 Her detailed, extended observations of insect life stages, in particular, advanced a modern understanding of the process of metamorphosis.

Figure 1. Spiders, ants, and hummingbird on a guava branch,” hand-colored engraving. From Maria Sibylla Merian, Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium (Amsterdam: G. Valck, 1705), plate 18. Scanned by Smithsonian Libraries. Public domain. Available from Biodiversity Heritage Library.

If it would be anachronistic to call Merian the “first ecologist,” her investigations were certainly “proto-ecological.”4 Merian’s ideas, however, were not produced simply through her direct contemplation of tropical nature; they took shape within the social milieu of colonial Suriname. Although she criticized Dutch colonists for their obsession with expanding sugar cane cultivation––ignoring the bounty and variety of nature in the forests beyond their plantations––she also relied on planters for access to land and slave labor. Like other European naturalists, her ability to physically and intellectually navigate an unfamiliar environment was dependent upon the assistance of enslaved Afro-Surinamese and indigenous people. She frequently cited “information from the Indians” and “my slaves,” who knew the places where particular plants grew and how to use them as food, medicine, and material.5 In this way, multiple traditions of natural knowledge came together in Merian’s writings about the complex relationships among plants, animals, and people.

While Merian’s contributions to the foundations of ecological thought have only recently begun to be recognized, the Prussian geographer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) has long been celebrated as a founding figure. Humboldt’s accounts of his travels throughout Spanish America from 1799 to 1804 directly inspired Charles Darwin (1809–1882) and Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913), the co-discoverers of evolution by natural selection. Humboldt’s writings were also a major influence on the first generation of self-described ecologists. For example, Humboldt contributed to the idea of an ecological community by showing how the distribution of vegetation types, or plant assemblages, obeyed certain natural laws. He correlated the geographical distribution of plant communities with physical environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, elevation, and atmospheric pressure. Humboldt and his traveling companion, botanist Aimé Bonpland (1773–1858), published a highly influential visualization of this relationship––a profile map based on observations and measurements recorded during their 1802 ascent of Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest mountain.6 It depicted the vertical distribution of vegetation from lush lowland forests to a sparse region of lichens approaching the snowy peak. The map made a general analogy between altitude and latitude; an ascent from the coast to the mountain’s peak was ecologically similar to traversing from the equator to the poles.

Figure 2. Geography of plants in tropical countries,” hand-colored engraving. From Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland, Ideen Zu Einer Geographie der Pflanzen Nebst Einem Naturgemälde der Tropenländer (Tübingen, Germany: Bey F. G. Cotta, 1807), plate 1. Scanned by Zentralbibliothek Zürich. Public domain. Available from Zentralbibliothek Zürich.

This method of diagramming plant-environment relationships was a major breakthrough in plant geography, a natural historical field closely related to ecology.7 It is important to recognize, however, that Humboldt’s understanding of the vertical relationships between plants and place was deeply shaped by existing Andean traditions of natural history writing and mapping. Humboldt did not encounter an empty wilderness during his travels in South America. In the urban centers of Bogotá, Popayán, and Quito, he took part in the active and dynamic intellectual community of the Spanish American Enlightenment. Within this community, there was an already long-standing understanding of the Andes as a microcosm, a place where montane elevations furnished “almost all the climates of the globe.”8 This conception grew out of a complex mixture of indigenous Peruvian conceptions of space, colonial boosterism, and Christian ideas about the biblical Garden of Eden. Humboldt was directly influenced by this tradition as he met and worked with Spanish and Creole botanists, including José Celestino Mutis (1732–1808) and Francisco José de Caldas (1768–1816), and read the works of the 16th- and 17th-century naturalists and chroniclers of the region.9 Indeed, Caldas produced profile maps strikingly comparable to what Humboldt and Bonpland would publish.10 It was largely through Humboldt’s writings, however, that such ideas about the relationship between living things and the physical factors of the environment would catalyze the emergence of ecology as a distinct scientific discipline.

Ecology Emerges as a Scientific Discipline

Studies of the distribution and interrelationships of animals and plants had thus long been an important component of natural history, and many influential field studies took place within Latin America. By the mid-19th century, however, the rise of evolutionary theory brought more urgency to the question of how species adapted to diverse environments. Darwin’s and Wallace’s insights into the role of competition and environmental conditions in the process of speciation––views that had been shaped by their own South American expeditions, especially in Patagonia, the Galapagos Islands, and Amazonia––suggested the need to study these phenomena in a more rigorous way. It was for this reason that Haeckel argued for a new science of ecology, focused specifically on the study of organisms’ relationships with one another and their physical surroundings.

The first researchers to take up Haeckel’s call were from Europe and the United States, but fieldwork throughout Latin America and the Caribbean played a formative (although still often unappreciated) role for the founders of this new field. Interest in the evolutionary phenomena of adaptation encouraged botanists to seek out “extreme” environments, where plants’ adaptations to the physical conditions of heat, cold, moisture, or aridity might be more easily recognized and observed. This, along with a widespread assumption that the plant kingdom must have first evolved within the frost-free equatorial regions, encouraged many of the first generation of plant ecologists to conduct fieldwork in the tropics. While a greater number of European plant ecologists carried out research in the Dutch and British colonies of tropical Asia and Africa, some of the most important founders of ecology were inspired by fieldwork in Latin America and the Caribbean.11 These included Eugenius Warming (1841–1924) and Andreas Franz Wilhelm Schimper (1856–1901). Both took part in the existing scientific networks of the region and were aided in their travels by connections with European immigrant and expatriate communities.

Eugenius Warming, a Dane, began his career in Brazil in the 1860s. While still a student, he worked for three years as assistant to the Danish-Brazilian paleontologist Peter Wilhelm Lund near the village of Lagoa Santa, in the state of Minas Gerais. During this time, he explored the plant life of the Cerrado, Brazil’s vast and diverse tropical savannah.12 While he collected more than three hundred previously undescribed species, his interest went far beyond taxonomy. Along with his reading of Humboldt’s work, his experience with the unique life forms and unforgiving physical conditions of this region led him to focus on how plants adapted to their environment not simply as individual species but as members of a mutually benefiting community.13 Warming emphasized the role of climate, in particular alternating seasonal extremes of drought and rain, to understanding plant adaptations. He also suggested the importance of soil chemistry and explored how cycles of fire were responsible for shaping the Cerrado’s distinctive plant communities. Above all, Warming was concerned with understanding the causes that led plants to associate together in communities, and he looked for answers through the close examination of local environmental conditions.

Figure 3. “A burned field at Lagoa Santa (August 1865). (Sketch by Eug. Warming.).” From Eugenius Warming, Lagoa Santa (Copenhagen: B. Luno, 1892), plate 1. Digitized by Google, original from Harvard University. Public domain. Available from Hathi Trust Digital Library.

Warming finally published his detailed account of the region’s plant communities, Lagoa Santa, in 1892.14 He soon followed up with a more general textbook that explained his new “ecological” approach, Plantesamfund: Grundtræk af den økologiske Plantegeografi (Plant communities: Fundamentals of ecological plant geography).15 This book formalized the ecological concept of a plant community and explored processes, such as plant succession, which would continue to be central to ecologists’ research for decades to come. Moreover, it persuaded readers with its use of concrete examples drawn from Warming’s geographically wide-ranging fieldwork, including his observations in Brazil and subsequent travels throughout the West Indies and Venezuela.16

Travels in the Caribbean and Latin America likewise led Andreas Schimper to become interested in ecological phenomena. Originally trained in plant physiology, Schimper visited the tropics for the first time in 1881 after a brief fellowship at the recently opened Johns Hopkins University in the United States. Traveling through Florida and the West Indies, he became intrigued by his encounters with epiphytic vegetation––plants that lived on other plants. He soon returned to the Caribbean to study epiphytes in more depth, bringing his physiological perspective to questions of plant geography. His work in Barbados, Trinidad, Dominica, and Venezuela led him to see adaptation to local variations in light and moisture as the most important environmental factors necessary to explain the morphology, distribution, and great diversity of these plants.

Figure 4. “Tree trunk with epiphytes, Blumenau, Brazil.” From Andreas F. W. Schimper, Pflanzen-Geographie Auf Physiologischer Grundlage (Jena, Germany: G. Fischer, 1898), figure 159. Scanned by Smithsonian Libraries. Public domain. Available from Biodiversity Heritage Library.

In 1886, he again returned to the tropics, this time to Brazil. There, he and other early ecologists sought out Fritz Müller, a naturalist and correspondent with Darwin who had lived in the German immigrant colony of Blumenau, Santa Catarina, since the 1850s, and who was affiliated with Brazil’s Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro.17 With Müller’s encouragement, Schimper studied another example of ecological mutualism––the symbiotic relationship between certain species of ants and Cecropia trees. Schimper’s tropical fieldwork and Müller’s Darwinian influence played a formative role in the development of his ecological perspective. In his widely read Pflanzen-Geographie auf physiologischer Grundlage (Plant geography upon a physiological basis), Schimper set out his approach to studying the relationship between environmental conditions and physiological adaptations. He also gave more precise climatological definitions to ecological units of vegetation, such as the “tropical rainforest.”18

The writings of Warming and Schimper helped to define ecology as a distinct scientific field. Largely through their German and English translations, they sparked international interest in an ecological approach among a new generation of researchers at the turn of the 20th century.19

Institutions and Ideas in Ecology

The development of the field of ecology in the Caribbean and Latin America was greatly shaped by the emergence of institutions for scientific research, beginning during the Colonial Period. By the 20th century, institutions explicitly focused on ecology began to be established.

Early Colonial and National Scientific Institutions

The growth of colonial and independent national scientific institutions––including botanical gardens, museums, geographical surveys, nature reserves, and field or experiment stations––created important foundations for ecological research in the region. Often, these institutions were established under the auspices of government agencies (such as departments of agriculture or forestry), or sometimes by private businesses or universities. Very few such institutions had an explicitly ecological focus during the early years of the field’s existence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most were oriented toward natural history, agricultural improvement, or forestry, and largely sought to meet the economic and societal goals of colonial administrators, national governments, or other local elites.20 Yet, through their role in efforts to catalog the natural productions of the land and understand how human activities might shape natural landscapes, they helped to establish an essential empirical basis of knowledge about the region’s plants, animals, and environments that ecologists would later rely on. These institutions were important not only for the data that they generated and maintained, however. They were also the intellectual homes of the local and national scientific communities where ecology would begin to take root.

US Field Stations and “Tropical Ecology”

The earliest institutions explicitly devoted to ecology were field stations founded by researchers who had been inspired by the emergence of ecology in Europe. The influence of Schimper and Warming on botanists and (initially to a lesser extent) zoologists in the United States was particularly strong. While the Midwest has usually been seen as the birthplace of ecology in the United States, the founding ecologists’ call to study organisms’ adaptations to environmental conditions in the tropics encouraged US scientists to conduct fieldwork in the Caribbean and Latin America. Growing US political, military, and economic involvement in the circum-Caribbean leading up to the 1898 Spanish-Cuban-American War also fostered US scientists’ interest in the region. At the same time, US ecologists often built upon existing botanical and agricultural institutions, including drawing on connections with British scientists, planters, and colonial officials.

Indeed, the first station in the region organized expressly for ecological research was established by US ecologists at the Cinchona Botanical Station. High in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, the station was located on the site of a British colonial garden that had originally been devoted to projects of plant introduction and acclimatization. It became a base for a variety of early ecological studies. For example, the ecologist Forrest Shreve (1878–1950) used the station as a launching point for his research for A Montane Rain-Forest: A Contribution to the Physiological Plant Geography of Jamaica. Shreve took Schimper’s work as a direct model for this project, which was among the first detailed studies of a rainforest to apply an ecological approach.21

Figure 5. Forrest Shreve observed plants in the field and experimented with them in the laboratory at Cinchona, Jamaica, in order to understand their physiological adaptations to the highly variable conditions of a montane rainforest. From Forrest Shreve, A Montane Rain-Forest: A Contribution to the Physiological Plant Geography of Jamaica (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1914), plate 22. Scanned by New York Botanical Garden, LuEsther T. Mertz Library. Public domain. Available from Biodiversity Heritage Library.

US colonial and neocolonial expansion increased US scientists’ ability to travel and work throughout the Caribbean and Central America during the early 20th century. US scientists established biological field stations in Cuba, Panama, British Guiana (present-day Guyana), and more (see Table 1). These stations were usually located on land owned by US corporations or administered by US government agencies or the military, where scientists from the United States found it easiest to obtain access and patronage.

Table 1. Timeline of Field Stations in Latin America and the Caribbean

Year established



Atkins Garden and Research Laboratory/Jardín Botánico de Cienfuegos, Cuba*


Cinchona Botanical Station, Jamaica*


Alto da Serra, Brazil*


“Kalacoon” Tropical Research Station, Guyana*


“Kartabo” Tropical Research Station, Guyana*


Barro Colorado Island, Panama


Lancetilla Biological Station and Garden, Honduras


El Verde Field Station, Puerto Rico


Estación de Biología Tropical Roberto Franco, Colombia*


William Beebe Tropical Research Station, Trinidad and Tobago


Estación Biologica Dr. Alberto Fernández Yépez (Rancho Grande), Venezuela


Bellairs Research Institute, Barbados

Estação Biológica de Boracéia, Brazil

Isla Magueyes Laboratories, Puerto Rico*

La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica


Caribbean Marine Biological Institute Research Station, Brazil

John H. Phipps Biological Field Station, Costa Rica


Estación de Investigationes Marines, Venezuela


Charles Darwin Research Station, Ecuador


Port Royal Marine Laboratory, Jamaica


Las Cruces Biological Station, Costa Rica


Marine Biology Station on Dos Mosquises Island, Venezuela


Galeta Marine Laboratory, Panama*

Naos Island Laboratories, Panama*

Rancho del Cielo Biological Station, Mexico


Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station, US Virgin Islands


Los Tuxtlas Field Station, Mexico


Forfar Field Station, Bahamas

Panguana Biological Field Station, Peru


Palo Verde Biological Station, Costa Rica*

Cocha Cashu Biological Station, Peru


Blue Creek Rainforest Lodge, Belize

Estación Ecológica Siboney-Juticí, Cuba

Estación Experimental Caparo, Venezuela


Chamela Biological Station, Mexico

Gerace Research Centre, Bahamas


Carrie Bow Caye Field Station, Belize

Cloud Forest Reserve Monteverde Field Station, Costa Rica


Estación del Mar Cortéz, Mexico


Estação Ecológica do Tapacurá, Brazil

Vermilion Sea Field Station, Mexico

Fortuna Station, Panama


Estación Experimental La Iguana, Venezuela

Santa Marta Station, Guatemala


Anavilhanas Ecological Station (ESEC), Brazil


Altamira Biological Station, Costa Rica

Barbilla Biological Station, Costa Rica

Estación Biológica del Beni, Bolivia

La Esperanza de El Guarco Biological Station, Costa Rica

La Planada Nature Reserve, Colombia


Núcleo de Pesquisas em Limnologia, Ictiologia e Aquicultura (NUPELIA), Brazil

Rancho el Cielito, Mexico


Chajul Tropical Biology Station, Mexico

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Mexican Field Station, Mexico

Ostional Private Wildlife Reserve, Costa Rica

Estación Biológica Quebrada Blanco (EBQB), Peru

Punta Rasa Biological Station, Argentina


Achotines Laboratory, Panama

Centro de Ecología Aplicada del Litoral, Argentina

Cuyabeno Biological Station, Ecuador

Estación Biologica Jatun Sacha, Ecuador


Amazon Biological Station, Ecuador

Nouragues Station-Inselberg Site, French Guiana

Quetzal Education Research Complex, Costa Rica


Estación de Investigaciones Forestales El Merey, Venezuela

Las Alturas Biological Station, Costa Rica

Maritza Biological Station, Costa Rica

Wee Wee Caye Marine Lab, Belize


Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center, Dominica


Bimini Biological Field Station, Bahamas

Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

Possum Point Biological Station, Belize

Campanario Biological Station, Costa Rica


Cano Palma Biological Field Station, Costa Rica

Center for Sustainable Development Studies, Costa Rica

Estación Septiembre, Colombia

Kino Bay Center for Cultural & Ecological Studies, Mexico


Tropical Dry Forest Research Center, Costa Rica


Ferreira Penna Scientific Station, Brazil

Alberto Manuel Brenes Biological Reserve, San Ramon, Costa Rica

Amazon Conservatory of Tropical Studies Field Station, Peru

Canudos Biological Station, Brazil

Center for Ecological Studies, Macae, Brazil

Estación Cientifica Parupa, Venezuela

La Gamba Tropical Field Station, Costa Rica

La Suerte Biological Field Station, Costa Rica

Macaé Ecological Research Center, Brazil


Bilsa Biological Station, Ecuador

Estacao Ecologica de Itirapina, Brazil

Estación Biologica Guandera, Ecuador

Madre Selva Biological Station, Peru

Yasuní Scientific Research Station, Ecuador


Bahamas Environmental Research Center, Bahamas

Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), Belize

Calabash Caye Field Station (CCFS), Belize

Estación Biológica San Luis, Costa Rica

Hill Bank Field Station, Belize

Las Cuevas Biological Station, Belize

Nouragues Station-Saut-Pararé/COPAS Site, French Guiana

Tirimbina Rainforest Center and Field Station, Costa Rica

Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Ecuador


Estación Biológica las Guacamayas, Guatemala

Reserva Biológica Cachalú, Colombia


Cana Field Station, Panama

Estación Biológica Arboretum, Venezuela

Estación Científica San Francisco, Ecuador

Glover’s Reef Marine Research Station, Belize

Marine Biology Station, Costa Rica

Ometepe Biological Field Station, Nicaragua


Ayacara Biological Monitoring Station, Chile

Estación Biológica Mosiro Itajura, Colombia

Huinay Scientific Field Station, Chile

Little Cayman Research Centre, Cayman Islands

Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu, Brazil


Ecological Station OMÉ, Colombia

Iracambi Atlantic Rainforest Research and Conservation Center, Brazil

Yanayacu Biological Station and Center for Creative Studies, Ecuador


Centro de Investigacion y Capacitacion Rios Los Amigos (CICRA), Peru

Coiba Biological Station, Panama

Congal Biological Station, Ecuador

Sabalillo Station, Peru

Volcán Mombacho Biological Center, Nicaragua


Centro de Educación Ambiental “Lisan Yacu,” Ecuador

El Toro Station, Guatemala

Estación Biológica Corrientes (EBCo), Argentina

La Pahuma Orchid Reserve, Ecuador

Las Piedras Biodiversity Station, Peru

Reserva Ecológica Bijagual, Costa Rica


Estación de Investigaciones Ecológicas Mediterráneas, Chile

Institute for Tropical Marine Ecology (ITME) Field Station Roseau, Dominica


San Christobal Biological Station, Ecuador


Biological Research Station in Yaxhá Private Natural Reserve, Guatemala

Estación Biológica Marcio Ayres, Argentina

Lalo Loor Dry Forest Biological Station, Ecuador


Centro de Investigatión Científica de las Huastecas Aguazarca, Mexico

Puerto Blest Biological Station, Argentina

Wayqecha Cloud Forest Research Center, Peru


Estación Biológica Samohú, Argentina


Reserva Biologicá Encenillo, Colombia


Guyra Paraguay Three Giants Lodge, Paraguay

Santa Cruz Biological Station, Peru


Biological Station “un Poco del Chocó,” Ecuador

Estación Ecológica Chiquitos, Bolivia

La MICA Biological Station, Panama


Tamandua Biological Station, Costa Rica

Villa Carmen Biological Station, Peru


Santa Lucia Research Station, Ecuador


Hamgel Field Station, Trinidad and Tobago

Wildsumaco Biological Station, Ecuador

Notes: Information on most extant stations comes from the Global Database on Biological Field Stations.22 Information on additional pre-1970 stations (*) comes from American Tropics.23 This list is not complete.

The most successful and long-lived of these stations was on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal Zone, founded in 1923 and operated as part of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute since 1966. Hundreds of researchers––from around the world, but most of all from the United States––visited Barro Colorado Island and completed short or longer-term research projects there. This contributed to a detailed understanding of the small island’s ecological community, including the life histories, behavior, interactions, and population dynamics of its animal species. It became a favorite field site for members of the “Chicago school” of ecology, for example, including the animal ecologist Warder Clyde Allee (1885–1955).24 In this way, the establishment of field stations played a central role in the formation of a community of self-described “tropical ecologists” in the United States by the middle of the 20th century.

Figure 6. Photograph of a tarantula and a tarantula hawk (a species of parasitoid wasp) on Barro Colorado Island. From Warder Clyde Allee and Marjorie Hill Allee, Jungle Island (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1925), figure 41. Scanned by Marine Biological Laboratory/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Library. Public domain. Available from Biodiversity Heritage Library.

As field stations specifically devoted to ecological research became established in the region during the early to mid-20th century, long-term, place-based studies of living organisms became possible for the first time. Working in situ allowed ecologists to intensively study living tropical plants and animals within their natural environments, rather than under the artificial conditions of a laboratory, zoo, or garden. Working at a station also allowed researchers to combine measurements made in controlled indoor conditions with observations of organisms living in their native habitats outdoors. More than just integrating laboratory and field research, however, stations also enabled the emergence of new field methods in ecology. Researchers developed new, intensive monitoring and censusing practices to understand changes in populations and species composition over time. Such research helped to overturn long-standing assumptions that tropical forests were ancient, stable, and unchanging.25

Station-based fieldwork also shaped ecological ideas in more subtle and pervasive ways. The researchers who visited US-run tropical stations were, overwhelmingly, foreigners who traveled from the comparatively species-poor north temperate zone. This often led them to focus on what appeared to be the differences between ecological communities in the temperate zones and the tropics, in particular the region’s comparatively great diversity of species. By the mid-20th century, tropical ecologists would become increasingly interested in understanding the ecological and evolutionary causes of species diversity. Working at stations in Costa Rica, Panama, and Puerto Rico, the ecologists Robert H. MacArthur and Howard T. Odum, for example, measured and modeled species diversity in relation to variables such as foliage height, island size, and solar radiation. Their work contributed to new conceptualizations of ecosystems, island biogeography, and the latitudinal biodiversity gradient. Although initially a theoretical abstraction, indexes of “species diversity” or “biodiversity” would find ready application in conservation by the 1970s and 1980s––offering an apparently objective tool for making conservation priorities anywhere in the world.26

Ecology within Latin American and Caribbean Scientific Communities

The post–World War II period saw enormous growth in the field of ecology internationally, including throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Many new institutions were founded and national communities of ecologists began to take shape within several Latin American and Caribbean countries for the first time.

Because they largely catered to foreign researchers, the stations founded during the early 20th century did relatively little to foster the development of ecology as a distinct field of study among scientists within Latin America and the Caribbean. A variety of factors, including language barriers and the exclusive cultures and policies of most early stations, largely kept US and Latin American scientists from significant collaboration in ecology during the first half of the 20th century. There was also a widespread failure to disseminate ecological publications locally. This occurred even in Brazil, where immigrant researchers like Fritz Müller (1821–1897) and Hermann von Ihering (1850–1930) contributed to early ecological thought, but, despite their affiliations with the Museu Nacional, published their most important work in Europe.27 Finally, there were also significant differences in research priorities and the location of US field stations far from the urban centers where Latin American scientific institutions were located. In countries with well-established museums and universities, such as Cuba or Peru, biological research largely focused on plant or animal taxonomy, physiology, medicine, or, by the mid-20th century, genetics and molecular biology.28

The development of scientific communities and formal research programs in ecology occurred mostly between the 1950s and the 1980s in Latin America and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, Latin American and Caribbean scientists did undertake applied field research with significant ecological dimensions before this time. Scientists at government agencies and in private organizations worked on a variety of problems in the fields of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and public health with great relevance to ecological questions. In Argentina, for example, the physician Carlos Alberto Alvarado (1904–1986) developed an “ecological perspective” on mosquito distribution and its relationship to plant succession through his field experiences in malaria control efforts and training with the Rockefeller Foundation.29 Likewise, in coastal Peru, population ecology had great bearing upon efforts to manage both economically important fisheries and populations of guano-producing birds.30

While these “applied” fields often remained disconnected from theoretical and methodological developments in ecology, and vice versa, there were important exceptions. For example, the collaboration among Brazilian foresters and agronomists––including the Amazonian plant expert João Murça Pires (1917–1994) and Felisberto de Camargo (1896–1943), director of the Instituto Agronômico do Norte at Belém do Pará––with the Ukrainian American geneticist and evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900–1975) brought tree census methods from forestry to bear on the ecological problem of tropical tree diversity. Ideas and methods also flowed between forestry and ecology through the teaching and conservation work of expatriate US forester Leslie Holdridge (1907–1999) in Puerto Rico, Haiti, Guatemala, Colombia, and Costa Rica, as well as through his “life zone” classification scheme.31 In Puerto Rico, this tradition of confluence between ecology and forestry continues in the work of Ariel Lugo (1943–). An ecologist and director of the USDA International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Lugo has pioneered the concept of “novel ecosystems” as adaptive responses to environmental change in the Anthropocene.

Throughout Latin America, communities of ecologists often developed in conjunction with funding for major projects in applied field research. Perhaps the most significant example of this is the role of the Comisión de Estudios sobre la Ecología de Dioscoreas (Commission for the study of the ecology of Dioscoreas [CEED]) in Mexico. In 1959, Mexican biologists Faustino Miranda (1905–1964), Efraím Hernández Xolocotzi (1913–1991), and Arturo Gómez-Pompa (1934–) created CEED under the auspices of the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales. Its primary purpose was the study of steroid production in Dioscorea composite, but CEED also sponsored vegetation surveys, especially in tropical Mexico. These activities helped to spark the development of ecology in Mexico. CEED trained a generation of ecologists who rose to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s.32 Gómez-Pompa and his collaborators made major contributions to understanding tropical forest regeneration and agroforestry, for example. This work is particularly notable for its critique of wilderness ideology and ecologists’ neglect of indigenous and rural perspectives.33

Whereas ecologists from the North privileged the study of unpeopled landscapes, Mexican ecologists were often centrally concerned with landscapes shaped by human activities. Rather than try to exclude human impacts from ecological studies as extraneous variables, people were more likely to be accepted as important members of ecological communities. The development of the field of agroecology is a case in point. Inspired by Mexican indigenous agricultural systems, Hernández Xolocotzi and the field’s other major proponents emphasized the application of both ecological and traditional knowledge to agricultural practices. More than a subdiscipline of ecology, agroecology has drawn on the fields of ethnobotany and peasant studies as well as freely mixing academic approaches with social and political activism.34 Such interdisciplinarity and concern with practical applications and social relevancy is in many ways a feature of ecological thought as it has developed in Latin America more generally. The strength of scholarship in political ecology in the region likewise exemplifies this social orientation. While drawing on insights from academic ecology and the environmental sciences, political ecology is a social science field that emphasizes the intersection of political economy and the environment. Indeed, political ecologists often contrast their work to “apolitical” approaches to studying ecology.35

The timing and forms ecological institutions took in different national contexts have varied considerably. For example, while the Ecological Society of America was founded in 1915 and the largely US-led but international Association for Tropical Biology was founded in 1963, most national scientific societies for ecology did not appear until the late 20th or early 21st century. The Asociación Argentina de Ecología was founded in 1972, for example, and the Sociedad Científica Mexicana de Ecología was not founded until 2005, despite the considerable strengths of the ecological communities in both countries.36

Ecology also made its way into the formal curricula of Latin American universities sporadically––a history reflective of broader trends in the development of universities in the region.37 Some of the earliest ecology courses offered in Latin America appear to have been taught in Puerto Rico. Botanist and ecologist Ismael Vélez taught ecology as early as 1935 at what was then the Polytechnic Institute of Puerto Rico (now Interamerican University) and the University of Puerto Rico began offering courses in ecology in the mid-1950s.38 The University of Costa Rica offered its first ecology course in 1961, just five years after the establishment of its Department of Biology, through the significant efforts of Rafael L. Rodríguez.39 In Brazil, undergraduate curricula in ecology began in the late 1960s and 1970s, and the first generation of Brazilian ecologists trained within Brazilian institutions began to graduate by the early 1980s.40

While the first ecological stations in the region were largely operated by foreign scientists, there has been an explosion of new field stations since the 1960s operating as nationally supported institutions or on a collaborative basis. The Organization for Tropical Studies, founded in 1963, with its several stations in Costa Rica was the first such international collaboration between the University of Costa Rica and several US universities. This new generation of ecological field stations, including sites like the Estación Científica Yasuní in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, are much more closely linked to efforts in both conservation and education than many of the stations of the early 20th century.

Figure 7. Estacion Cientifica Yasuni, July 20, 2016. Photo by Lauren Whitehurst. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Credit: Lauren Whitehurst, CC BY-SA 4.0.

In the early 21st century, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru, and Puerto Rico are the top ten Latin American countries that produce publications in the field of ecology.41 Despite the emergence and growth of robust communities of ecologists in several countries, field studies in Latin America and the Caribbean remain significantly underrepresented within ecology as a whole.42 This continued imbalance is particularly unfortunate given the great importance of the region to the historical development of ecology.

Discussion of the Literature

The historiography of ecology as a whole is relatively small, and the history of ecology in Latin America and the Caribbean has only rarely been the primary focus of historical attention. General histories of ecology written by historians and ecologists since the 1970s have often included passing references to field sites in the region or discussed researchers who worked there. However, these works largely trace the emergence of ecology as a scientific discipline, emphasizing intellectual history without explicitly situating developments within Latin American or Caribbean contexts.43 Since the 1990s, historians of ecology have followed broader trends in the history of science that underscore the situated nature of scientific knowledge. Works published since then are thus more attentive to the local institutional, political, cultural, and environmental contexts of ecological research, and a few have included or focused on ecological research in Latin America and the Caribbean.44 Several authors have examined, for example, the history of ecological research on and conservation of rainforests and marine environments, as well as the role of research at tropical field stations in shaping ideas about biodiversity.45 Very little research has been done on the history of Latin American research on ecology in temperate areas or Antarctica, despite the increasing role of scientists from Argentina, Chile, and Brazil in the latter category.46

Beyond the very small literature that centers directly on the history of ecology in Latin America and the Caribbean, several other literatures intersect with and are highly relevant to this topic. The broad field of the history of natural history provides essential background to understanding the emergence of ecology by the end of the 19th century. A significant portion of this literature centers on Latin America and the Caribbean, ranging from early celebratory accounts of European explorers and itinerant naturalists to more recent critical examinations of science, empire, and ideas about tropical nature.47 Several historians have explored the relationship between colonial ideologies and the role of European botanists and foresters in exploiting, and sometimes conserving, natural environments, especially in the Caribbean.48 Of particular note is the large and growing historiography of natural history within the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, which challenges an otherwise Anglo- and Eurocentric field.49 A growing literature also examines the environmental knowledge of indigenous people and people of African descent in the Americas, and the historical interchange of this knowledge with scientists working in the European naturalist tradition.50 Finally, there are many biographies of naturalists—some famous, some lesser-known––whose work in the region laid foundations for modern ecology.51

The history of ecological science, broadly speaking, intersects with many topics of interest to Latin Americanists, Caribbeanists, historians of science, and environmental historians. Within the rapidly expanding field of Latin American and Caribbean environmental history are a variety of studies on the history of national parks, conservation, and environmental management that may include ecologists as historical actors.52 Likewise, national projects in agriculture, forestry, and medicine have often involved ecological ideas, and sometimes professional ecologists; more work is needed to explore these connections.53 More research is also needed to flesh out connections between the history of ecology and histories of environmentalism, ethnobotany, bioprospecting and the commodification of nature, the Green Revolution, human population control, pan-Americanism, and the role of state and international experts in conservation and development in the region.

Existing work on the history of ecology largely centers on the US and European scientists who established the first explicitly ecological field stations and related organizations in the region. The emergence of national and locally led institutions for ecological training and research is a much more recent, mid- to late-20th-century phenomenon in most Latin American and Caribbean countries, which has not yet received much scholarly attention. General histories of the development of scientific institutions can provide some important context for understanding ecology in an array of distinct national and colonial scientific contexts.54 However, much more work is needed to understand the development of local and national communities of ecologists and their contribution to the history of ecological ideas.55 This would include important themes such as connections to regional and international networks as well as relationships with local residents at or near field sites, with national institutions, and with nongovernmental organizations. How the history of ecology impinges on the history of ideas about nature and nation, environmental education, tourism, land use, and land rights within different Latin American and Caribbean nations all deserve much further investigation.

Reference works and scientific literature reviews by ecologists (in multiple languages) are useful resources for identifying the many significant primary sources, individuals, and institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean that have not yet been deeply examined by historians. Such works include overviews of prior research in a particular country or locale, directories of research institutions, obituaries, textbooks, and edited collections of classic research papers.56 The Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography is also a high-quality reference work, but has significant gaps in coverage of scientists from the Caribbean and Latin America.

Primary Sources

Primary sources for the history of ecology in Latin America and the Caribbean range from published scientific writings to the unpublished archival records of research institutions and individual ecologists. Much historical research remains to be done using such records.


Scientific publications––journal articles, monographs, and textbooks––are important sources for the intellectual history of ecology. Ecological research accomplished throughout Latin America and the Caribbean appears in multiple languages in a variety of international journals of ecology and allied fields. It may also appear in the publications of sponsoring institutions, such as the Smithsonian Institution or New York Zoological Society. The oldest scientific journals devoted specifically to tropical biology and focusing on the Americas are Revista de Biología Tropical, founded in 1953 at the Universidad de Costa Rica; Biotropica, founded in 1969 by the Association for Tropical Biology (a continuation of its Bulletin published since 1964); and the Journal of Tropical Ecology, founded in 1985. Scientific monographs focusing on specific geographical regions, ecological communities, or taxonomic groups are also important resources. Examples drawn from Latin American and Caribbean environments have long been underrepresented in general textbooks on ecology, but these can nevertheless provide insight into the state of ecological ideas about the region during particular historical periods. Specialized textbooks and guides are also useful for this purpose.57

Many naturalists and ecologists have published accounts of fieldwork and travel throughout the region. These range from the classic narratives of 19th-century “proto-ecologists” (discussed in the section “Naturalist Traditions as Antecedents to Ecology”) to the prolific writings of several 20th-century ecologists who became nature writers––including William Beebe, Marston Bates, Archie Carr, and Alexander Skutch. Some biologists have also written personal memoirs that include discussion of ecological research in Latin America or the Caribbean.58 Travel narratives and autobiographies are especially rich sources for understanding the cultural and social context of ecological research. Latin American ecologists, notably Arturo Gómez-Pompa, Efraím Hernández Xolocotzi, and Ariel Lugo, have also published books and articles in which they explain how their field experiences have shaped their vision of the science of ecology and its role in society.59

A variety of reference works list and describe field stations, nature reserves, museums, botanical gardens, and university and government facilities for ecological research.60 The annual reports of such institutions are also indispensable. Such sources provide insight into the changing institutional landscape of ecology as well as the perspectives and priorities of scientists.


Within Latin America and the Caribbean, national archives and the archives of academic institutions offer the best prospects for locating primary sources on the history of ecology. Because the disciplinary boundaries of ecology are porous and the field has emerged only recently as a distinct area of study in most Latin American and Caribbean countries, researchers should consider the potential relevance of archival material in adjacent fields. Governmental departments of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, natural resources, and public health have often employed or interacted with ecologists. The work of botanists, zoologists, and specialists in other areas of biology employed at universities, museums, botanical gardens, or nongovernmental conservation organizations may be ecological in nature. Therefore, the archives of institutions such as the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, Belém, Brazil, may be of particular importance. While it may be possible to locate some resources on-site at field stations in the region, historical documents are more likely to be housed at a metropolitan sponsoring organization. For current or former British, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and US colonies and territories, the archives of such agencies and organizations may be located abroad.

Because US-run organizations have played such a major role in ecology in the region since the turn of the 20th century, many archival primary source collections can be found within the United States. The records of the Organization for Tropical Studies, for example, are housed at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, and the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. US research institutions that sponsored major field stations and expeditions relevant to the history of ecology in the region include the Smithsonian Institution, the New York Zoological Society, the American Museum of Natural History, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and Harvard University, and the archives of these institutions offer plentiful material for research on the history of ecology. The archives of government agencies (including the US National Science Foundation, the US Atomic Energy Commission, or the US Department of Agriculture) and private philanthropic organizations (such as the Rockefeller Foundation) that have historically funded ecological research may also have relevant material.

In addition to institutional records, researchers should also seek out the papers of individual ecologists in the archives of the universities or other organizations where the individual was employed. Such collections may also be held privately by individuals or their families. The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, also collects and preserves the papers of numerous plant ecologists who worked throughout the Americas. Personal collections may include relevant correspondence, field notes and journals, manuscripts, or oral histories that can shed light on the broader social and biographical context of ecological ideas and fieldwork.

Links to Digital Materials

Relevant digital materials for the history of ecology in Latin America and the Caribbean can be found in a variety of online collections and databases, as well as through the websites of archives holding the records of institutions that sponsored ecological research in the region.

Digital Collections and Databases

Further Reading

  • Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge. Nature, Empire, and Nation: Explorations of the History of Science in the Iberian World. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.
  • Chazdon, Robin Lee, and T. C. Whitmore, eds. Foundations of Tropical Forest Biology: Classic Papers with Commentaries. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
  • Cushman, Gregory T. Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Dean, Warren. With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995.
  • Drayton, Richard Harry. Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the “Improvement” of the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.
  • Duarte, Regina Horta. Activist Biology: The National Museum, Politics, and Nation Building in Brazil. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016.
  • Evans, Sterling. The Green Republic: A Conservation History of Costa Rica. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999.
  • Fernández Prieto, Leida. “Islands of Knowledge: Science and Agriculture in the History of Latin America and the Caribbean.” Isis 104, no. 4 (2013): 788–797.
  • Grove, Richard. Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens, and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Hagen, Joel B. An Entangled Bank: The Origins of Ecosystem Ecology. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992.
  • Hennessy, Elizabeth A. On the Backs of Tortoises: Conserving Evolution in the Galápagos Islands. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019.
  • Henson, Pamela M. “Invading Arcadia: Women Scientists in the Field in Latin America, 1900–1950.” Americas 58 (2002): 577–600.
  • Kingsland, Sharon. The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.
  • Kormondy, Edward John, and J. Frank McCormick. Handbook of Contemporary Developments in World Ecology. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1981.
  • Lewinsohn, Thomas M. “Primórdios da Ciência Ecológica no Brasil Colonial e Imperial.” Filosofia e História da Biologia 11, no. 2 (2016): 347–381.
  • McIntosh, Robert P. The Background of Ecology: Concept and Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
  • Pruna Goodgall, Pedro M. Historia de la Ciencia y la Tecnología en Cuba. Havana: Editorial Científico Técnica, 2006.
  • Quintero Toro, Camilo. Birds of Empire, Birds of Nation: A History of Science, Economy, and Conservation in United States-Colombia Relations. Bogotá: Universidad de los Andes, 2012.
  • Raby, Megan. American Tropics: The Caribbean Roots of Biodiversity Science. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
  • Saldaña, Juan José, ed. Science in Latin America: A History. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.
  • Sapp, Jan. What Is Natural? Coral Reef Crisis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Soto Laveaga, Gabriela. Jungle Laboratories: Mexican Peasants, National Projects, and the Making of the Pill. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.
  • Wakild, Emily. Revolutionary Parks: Conservation, Social Justice, and Mexico’s National Parks, 1910–1940. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011.
  • West, David A. Darwin’s Man in Brazil: The Evolving Science of Fritz Müller. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016.
  • Worster, Donald. Nature’s Economy: The Roots of Ecology. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1977.


  • 1. Ernst Haeckel, Generelle Morphologie der Organismen (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1866).

  • 2. Neil Safier, “Global Knowledge on the Move: Itineraries, Amerindian Narratives, and Deep Histories of Science,” Isis 101, no. 1 (2010): 133–145; Iris Montero Sobrevilla, “Indigenous Naturalists,” in Worlds of Natural History, ed. Emma C. Spary et al. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 112–130; Regina Horta Duarte, “Between the National and the Universal: Natural History Networks in Latin America in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” Isis 104, no. 4 (2013): 777–787; and Pablo F. Gómez, The Experiential Caribbean: Creating Knowledge and Healing in the Early Modern Atlantic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

  • 3. Maria Sibylla Merian, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Amsterdam: G. Valck, 1705).

  • 4. Kay Etheridge, “Maria Sibylla Merian: The First Ecologist?,” in Women and Science, 17th Century to Present: Pioneers, Activists and Protagonists, ed. Donna Spalding Andréolle and Veronique Molinari (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011), 35–55.

  • 5. Merian, quoted in Londa Schiebinger, Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 35.

  • 6. Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland, Ideen Zu Einer Geographie der Pflanzen Nebst Einem Naturgemälde der Tropenländer (Tübingen, Germany: Bey F. G. Cotta, 1807).

  • 7. Janet Browne, The Secular Ark: Studies in the History of Biogeography (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983).

  • 8. Pedro Fermín de Vargas, quoted in Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Nature, Empire, and Nation: Explorations of the History of Science in the Iberian World (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006), 123.

  • 9. Karl S. Zimmerer, “Mapping Mountains,” in Mapping Latin America: A Cartographic Reader, ed. Jordana Dym and Karl Offen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 125–130; and Daniela Bleichmar, “Botanical Conquistadors,” in Worlds of Natural History, ed. Emma C. Spary et al. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 236–254.

  • 10. Cañizares-Esguerra, Nature, Empire, and Nation, 113–115.

  • 11. Eugene Cittadino, Nature as the Laboratory: Darwinian Plant Ecology in the German Empire, 1880–1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

  • 12. Maria do Carmo Andrade Gomes, A Canção Das Palmeiras: Eugenius Warming, Um Jovem Botânico No Brasil (Belo Horizonte, Brazil: Fundação João Pinheiro-Centro de Estudos Históricos e Culturais, 2006).

  • 13. Claiton Márcio da Silva, “The Barren Side of Brazil: Science, Water Resources, and the Debate on the (In)fertile Soils of the Brazilian Cerrado, 1892–1942,” Historia Ciencias Saude-Manguinhos 26, no. 2 (2019): 483–500; Peder Anker, “Plant Community, Plantesamfund,” in Ecology Revisited: Reflecting on Concepts, Advancing Science, ed. Astrid Schwarz and Kurt Jax (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Netherlands, 2011), 325–331; William Coleman, “Evolution Into Ecology? The Strategy of Warming’s Ecological Plant Geography,” Journal of the History of Biology 19, no. 2 (1986): 181–196; and R. J. Goodland, “The Tropical Origin of Ecology: Eugen Warming’s Jubilee,” Oikos 26, no. 2 (1975): 240–245.

  • 14. Eugenius Warming, Lagoa Santa: Et Bidrag til den biologiske Plantegeografi (Copenhagen: B. Luno, 1892).

  • 15. Eugenius Warming, Plantesamfund: Grundtræk af den økologiske Plantegeografi (Copenhagen: P.G. Philipsen, 1895). Translated as Eugenius Warming, Lehrbuch der Ökologischen Pflanzengeographie: Eine Einführung in Die Kenntnis der Pflanzenvereine, trans. Emil F. Knoblauch (Berlin: Gebrüder Borntraeger, 1896); and Eugenius Warming and Martin Vahl, Oecology of Plants: An Introduction to the Study of Plant-Communities, trans. Isaac Bayley Balfour and Percy Groom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909).

  • 16. Eugenius Warming, “On the Vegetation of Tropical America,” Botanical Gazette 27, no. 1 (1899): 1–18.

  • 17. David A. West, Darwin’s Man in Brazil: The Evolving Science of Fritz Müller (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016), 39; and Cittadino, Nature as the Laboratory, 104–105.

  • 18. Andreas F. W. Schimper, Pflanzen-Geographie Auf Physiologischer Grundlage (Jena, Germany: G. Fischer, 1898); and Andreas F. W. Schimper, Plant-Geography upon a Physiological Basis, trans. William Rogers Fisher (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903).

  • 19. Sharon Kingsland, The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 68, 82; and Peder Anker, Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire, 1895–1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 13.

  • 20. On this wide range of institutions and the goals that motivated their founders, see Richard Harry Drayton, Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the “Improvement” of the World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000); Pedro Pruna, Ciencia y Científicos en Cuba Colonial: La Real Academia de Ciencias de la Habana, 1861–1898 (Havana: Editorial Academia, 2001); Regina Horta Duarte, Activist Biology: The National Museum, Politics, and Nation Building in Brazil (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016); Nancy P. Appelbaum, Mapping the Country of Regions: The Chorographic Commission of Nineteenth-Century Colombia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016); Leon I. Yacher, The Role of Geographer and Natural Scientist Henri Francois Pittier (1857–1950) in the Evolution of Geography as a Science in Costa Rica (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004); Emily Wakild, Revolutionary Parks: Conservation, Social Justice, and Mexico’s National Parks, 1910–1940 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011); and Stuart McCook, States of Nature: Science, Agriculture, and Environment in the Spanish Caribbean, 1760–1940 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002).

  • 21. Forrest Shreve, A Montane Rain-Forest: A Contribution to the Physiological Plant Geography of Jamaica (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1914); and Megan Raby, “A Laboratory for Tropical Ecology: Colonial Models and American Science at Cinchona, Jamaica,” in Spatializing the History of Ecology: Sites, Journeys, Mappings, ed. Raf de Bont and Jens Lachmund (New York: Routledge, 2017), 56–78.

  • 22. Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, “Global Database on Biological Field Stations” (2016); and Laura Tydecks et al., “Biological Field Stations: A Global Infrastructure for Research, Education, and Public Engagement,” BioScience 66, no. 2 (2016): 164–171.

  • 23. Raby, American Tropics, 11, 231.

  • 24. Gregg Mitman, The State of Nature: Ecology, Community, and American Social Thought, 1900–1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); and Warder Clyde Allee and Marjorie Hill Allee, Jungle Island (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1925).

  • 25. Megan Raby, “Ark and Archive: Making a Place for Long-Term Research on Barro Colorado Island, Panama,” Isis 106, no. 4 (2015): 798–824.

  • 26. Megan Raby, American Tropics: The Caribbean Roots of Biodiversity Science (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

  • 27. Thomas M. Lewinsohn, “Primórdios da Ciência Ecológica No Brasil Colonial e Imperial,” Filosofia e História da Biologia 11, no. 2 (2016): 365–366; and Mario G. Losano, “Um Precursor da Ecologia No Brasil: Hermann Von Ihering,” Revista USP (Universidade de São Paulo) 13 (1992): 88–99.

  • 28. Pedro Pruna, Historia de la Ciencia y la Tecnología en Cuba (Havana: Editorial Científico Técnica, 2006); Marcos Cueto, Excelencia Científica en la Periferia: Actividades Científicas e Investigación Biomédica en El Perú 1890–1950 (Lima: GRADE, 1989); Thomas F. Glick, “Science and Society in Twentieth-Century Latin America,” in The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 6, 1930 to the Present, ed. Leslie Bethell (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 467–486; and Marcos Cueto, ed., Missionaries of Science: The Rockefeller Foundation and Latin America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).

  • 29. Eric D. Carter, Enemy in the Blood: Malaria, Environment and Development in Argentina (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012), 121–126, 172.

  • 30. Gregory T. Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

  • 31. Raby, American Tropics, 142–143; and Thomas Barbour, “A New Antillean Sphaerodactylus,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 30 (1917): 163–164.

  • 32. José Sarukhán, “Mexico,” in Handbook of Contemporary Developments in World Ecology, ed. Edward John Kormondy and J. Frank McCormick (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1981); and Gabriela Soto Laveaga, Jungle Laboratories: Mexican Peasants, National Projects, and the Making of the Pill (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

  • 33. Arturo Gómez-Pompa, Carlos Vazquez-Yanes, and Sergio Guevara, “The Tropical Rain Forest: A Nonrenewable Resource,” Science New Series 177, no. 4051 (1972): 762–765; and Arturo Gómez-Pompa and Andrea Kaus, “Taming the Wilderness Myth,” BioScience 42, no. 4 (1992): 271–279.

  • 34. Marta Astier Calderón, et al., “Historia de la Agroecología en México,” Agroecología 10, no. 2 (2015): 9–17.

  • 35. Enrique Leff, “La Ecología Política en América Latina: Un Campo en Construcción,” Polis: Revista Latinoamericana 5 (2003): 1–16; and Héctor Alimonda, ed., Ecologia Politica: Naturaleza, Sociedad y Utopia (Buenos Aires: Consejo Latinamericano de Ciencias Sociales, 2002).

  • 36. Carter, Enemy in the Blood, 225n63; and Sociedad Científica Mexicana de Ecología (2019).

  • 37. Hebe M. C. Vessuri, “Academic Science in Twentieth-Century Latin America,” in Science in Latin America: A History, ed. Bernabé Madrigal and Juan José Saldaña (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 197–230.

  • 38. Herminio Lugo Lugo, “Puerto Rico,” in Handbook of Contemporary Developments in World Ecology, ed. Edward John Kormondy and J. Frank McCormick (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1981), 55.

  • 39. Luis A. Fournier-Origgi, “Costa Rica,” in Handbook of Contemporary Developments in World Ecology, ed. Edward John Kormondy and J. Frank McCormick (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1981), 29–30.

  • 40. José G. Tundisi, “Brazil,” in Handbook of Contemporary Developments in World Ecology, ed. Edward John Kormondy and J. Frank McCormick (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1981), 7.

  • 41. Ecology, Latin America, 1996–2018,” Scimago Journal & Country Rank (2019).

  • 42. George Livingston et al., “Perspectives on the Global Disparity in Ecological Science,” BioScience 66, no. 2 (2016): 147–155; Ana C. M. Malhado et al., “Geographic and Temporal Trends in Amazonian Knowledge Production,” Biotropica 46, no. 1 (2014): 6–13; Laura Martin, Bernd Blossey, and Erle Ellis, “Mapping Where Ecologists Work: Biases in the Global Distribution of Terrestrial Ecological Observations,” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 10 (2012): 195–201; and Gabriela Stocks et al., “The Geographical and Institutional Distribution of Ecological Research in the Tropics,” Biotropica 40, no. 4 (2008): 397–404.

  • 43. Donald Worster, Nature’s Economy: The Roots of Ecology (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1977); Frank Egerton, History of American Ecology (New York: Arno Press, 1977); Robert P. McIntosh, The Background of Ecology: Concept and Theory (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Sharon Kingsland, Modeling Nature: Episodes in the History of Population Ecology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); and Joel B. Hagen, An Entangled Bank: The Origins of Ecosystem Ecology (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992).

  • 44. Robert E. Kohler, Landscapes and Labscapes: Exploring the Lab-Field Border in Biology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Kingsland, Evolution of American Ecology; Ian Billick and Mary V. Price, The Ecology of Place: Contributions of Place-Based Research to Ecological Understanding (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010); and Lewinsohn, “Primórdios da Ciência Ecológica No Brasil Colonial e Imperial.”

  • 45. Catherine Christen, “Tropical Field Ecology and Conservation Initiatives on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, 1962–1973,” in Les Sciences Hors D’Occident au XX Siècle, ed. Yvon Chatelin and Christophe Bonneuil (Paris: IRD, 1995); Jan Sapp, What Is Natural? Coral Reef Crisis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Frederick Rowe Davis, The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles: Archie Carr and the Origins of Conservation Biology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Kelly Enright, The Maximum of Wilderness: The Jungle in the American Imagination (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012); Jan Sapp, Coexistence: The Ecology and Evolution of Tropical Biodiversity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); and Raby, American Tropics.

  • 46. Gisela C. Stotz et al., “Trends in Antarctic Ecological Research in Latin America Shown by Publications in International Journals,” Polar Research 32, no. 1 (2013).

  • 47. For example, Victor Wolfgang Von Hagen, South America Called Them: Explorations of the Great Naturalists: La Condamine, Humboldt, Darwin, Spruce (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1945); Carlos E. Chardón, Los Naturalistas en la América Latina (Ciudad Trujillo, Dominican Republic: Editora del Caribe, 1949); Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992); Nancy Stepan, Picturing Tropical Nature (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001); and Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan, eds., Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).

  • 48. Richard Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens, and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996); and Drayton, Nature’s Government.

  • 49. For example, Cañizares-Esguerra, Nature, Empire, and Nation; Daniela Bleichmar, Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); Cameron B. Strang, Frontiers of Science: Imperialism and Natural Knowledge in the Gulf South Borderlands, 1500–1850 (Chapel Hill: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press, 2018); and Hugh Cagle, Assembling the Tropics: Science and Medicine in Portugal’s Empire, 1450–1700 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

  • 50. Schiebinger, Plants and Empire; Hugh Raffles, In Amazonia: A Natural History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014); Londa L. Schiebinger, Secret Cures of Slaves: People, Plants, and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017); and Gómez, Experiential Caribbean.

  • 51. For example, Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: Voyaging (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995); Peter Raby, Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); Carlos Luis Abarca Jiménez, Alexander Skutch: La Voz de la Naturaleza (Santo Domingo de Heredia, Costa Rica: Editorial INBio, 2004); Carol Grant Gould, The Remarkable Life of William Beebe: Explorer and Naturalist (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2004); Yacher, Role of Geographer and Natural Scientist Henri Francois Pittier; Ella Reitsma and Sandrine A. Ulenberg, Maria Sibylla Merian & Daughters: Women of Art and Science (Amsterdam: Rembrandt House Museum, 2008); Susanna B. Hecht, The Scramble for the Amazon and the “Lost Paradise” of Euclides da Cunha (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013); and West, Darwin’s Man in Brazil.

  • 52. Warren Dean, With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Sterling Evans, The Green Republic: A Conservation History of Costa Rica (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999); Richard P. Tucker, Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological Degradation of the Tropical World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); William Allen, Green Phoenix: Restoring the Tropical Forests of Guanacaste, Costa Rica (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Wakild, Revolutionary Parks; Wilko Graf von Hardenberg et al., eds., The Nature State: Rethinking the History of Conservation (New York: Routledge, 2016); Ashley Carse et al., “Panama Canal Forum: From the Conquest of Nature to the Construction of New Ecologies,” Environmental History 21, no. 2 (2016): 206–287; Christine Keiner, “A Two-Ocean Bouillabaisse: Science, Politics, and the Central American Sea-Level Canal Controversy,” Journal of the History of Biology 50 (2017): 835–887; and John Soluri, Claudia Leal, and José Augusto Pádua, A Living Past: Environmental Histories of Modern Latin America (New York: Berghahn Books, 2018).

  • 53. Warren Dean, Brazil and the Struggle for Rubber: A Study in Environmental History (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Julyan G. Peard, Race, Place, and Medicine: The Idea of the Tropics in Nineteenth Century Brazilian Medicine (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999); McCook, States of Nature; Stuart McCook, “‘The World Was My Garden’: Tropical Botany and Cosmopolitanism in American Science, 1898–1935,” in Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American State, ed. Alfred W. McCoy and Francisco A. Scarano (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009); Soto Laveaga, Jungle Laboratories; Seth Garfield, In Search of the Amazon: Brazil, the United States, and the Nature of a Region (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013); and Leida Fernández Prieto, “Islands of Knowledge: Science and Agriculture in the History of Latin America and the Caribbean,” Isis 104, no. 4 (2013): 788–797.

  • 54. Pedro Pruna, “National Science in a Colonial Context: The Royal Academy of Sciences of Havana, 1861–1898,” Isis 85, no. 3 (1994): 412–426; Glick, “Science and Society in Twentieth-Century Latin America”; Toby A. Appel, Shaping Biology: The National Science Foundation and American Biological Research, 1945–1975 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000); Juan José Saldaña, ed., Science in Latin America: A History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006); Pruna, Historia de la Ciencia y la Tecnología; María Portuondo, “Constructing a Narrative: The History of Science and Technology in Latin America,” History Compass 7, no. 2 (2009): 500–522; Stuart McCook, “Global Currents in National Histories of Science: The ‘Global Turn’ and the History of Science in Latin America,” Isis 104, no. 4 (2013): 773–776; Eden Medina et al., Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014); and Duarte, Activist Biology.

  • 55. Lewinsohn, “Primórdios da Ciência Ecológica No Brasil Colonial e Imperial”; and Juliana Wojciechowski et al., “Latin American Scientific Contribution to Ecology,” Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 89, no. 4 (2017): 2663–2674.

  • 56. For example, Edward John Kormondy and J. Frank McCormick, eds., Handbook of Contemporary Developments in World Ecology (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1981); Luis Diego Gómez, Jay Savage, and Daniel Janzen, “Searchers on That Rich Coast: Costa Rican Field Biology, 1400–1980,” in Costa Rican Natural History, ed. Daniel Janzen (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1983), 1–22; Leslie Real and James H. Brown, Foundations of Ecology: Classic Papers With Commentaries (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); Pedro L. B. Lisboa and Samuel Soares de Almeida, “Vida e Obra de João Murça Pires (1917–1994),” Acta Botanica Brasilica 9 (1995): 303–314; Robin Lee Chazdon and T. C. Whitmore, eds., Foundations of Tropical Forest Biology: Classic Papers With Commentaries (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Maria Luisa Martínez et al., “The Evolution of Ecology in Mexico: Facing Challenges and Preparing for the Future,” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4, no. 5 (2006): 259–267; and John C. Kricher, Tropical Ecology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011).

  • 57. For example, John C. Kricher, A Neotropical Companion: An Introduction to the Animals, Plants, and Ecosystems of the New World Tropics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).

  • 58. For example, Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1994); Margaret Lowman, Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999); Peter H. Klopfer, Politics and People in Ethology: Personal Reflections on the Study of Animal Behavior (Cranbury, NJ: Associate University Presses, 1999); Theodore Fleming, A Bat Man in the Tropics: Chasing El Duende (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Margaret Lowman, Edward Burgess, and James Burgess, It’s a Jungle Up There: More Tales From the Treetops (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006); and Arturo Gómez-Pompa, Mi Vida en Las Selvas Tropicales: Memorias de un Botánico (Ciudad de México: Arturo Gómez-Pompa, 2016).

  • 59. For example, Arturo Gómez-Pompa, Carlos Vazquez-Yanes, and Sergio Guevara, “The Tropical Rain Forest: A Nonrenewable Resource,” Science New Series 177, no. 4051 (1972): 762–765; Efraím Hernández Xolocotzi, Agroecosistemas de México: Contribución a la Enseñanza, la Investigación y la Divulgación Agrícola (Chapingo, Mexico: Colegio de Postgraduados, Universidad Autónama Chapingo, 1977); Arturo Gómez-Pompa, “The Role of Biodiversity Scientists in a Troubled World,” BioScience 54, no. 3 (2004): 217–225; Ariel E. Lugo, “Novel Tropical Forests: Nature’s Response to Global Change,” Tropical Conservation Science 6, no. 3 (2013): 325–337; and Grizelle González and Ariel E. Lugo, Tropical Forest Ecology and Management for the Anthropocene (Basel, Switzerland: MDPI, 2019).

  • 60. Victor E. Shelford, Naturalist’s Guide to the Americas (Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1926); Frans Verdoorn, ed., Plants and Plant Science in Latin America (Waltham, MA: Chronica Botanica Company, 1945); Homer Alexander Jack, “Biological Field Stations of the World,” Chronica Botanica 9, no. 1 (1945): 1–73; Walter H. Hodge and David D. Keck, “Biological Research Centres in Tropical America,” Bulletin of the Association for Tropical Biology 1 (1962): 107–120; and the several volumes of the Indice de Proyectos en Desarrollo en Ecologia Tropical of the Instituto de Investigaciones sobre Recursos Bióticos, Mexico.