Master's in Tropical Ecology & Conservation

College of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Master's in Tropical Ecology & Conservation

4 semesters and 1 summer session

Subjects: 14

Total credits: 58

Teaching Mode
Face to face learning
The program is conducted in English

The number of daily hours may vary, depending on the timetable of each day. Field trips may include weekends.

Start of Classes
August, 2025

RPC-SO-19-No.411-2020, August 26, 2020

Total Cost

Fees: $1.339
Tuition: $13.390

Value with scholarship for Ecuadorians and residents*: $11,500.

* Students may apply for additional scholarships, depending on the student's economic and geographic background.

Applies for new cohorts: academic year 2023-2025.

Application Dates

November, 2024 to May, 2025

Priority for scholarships will be given to applicants who complete the admission process until March, 2025


This master's program aims to educate professionals who can enhance our understanding of the ecological processes that govern tropical populations, communities, and ecosystems in an evolutionary context. It also aims to prepare professionals who can design conservation strategies based on rigorous scientific research. The program is primarily focused on providing the necessary theoretical, practical, and methodological tools so that graduates can work effectively in interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary research teams.

The program is conducted in English with the opportunity to take an elective class in Spanish.

Our students

Sebastián Arostegui

Sebastián Arostegui: Interactions between top predators (such as pumas) and mesopredators (such as ocelots and ocelots) influence community structure, prey availability and habitat use. Human activities, such as hunting and agriculture, can alter felid populations and have the potential to change ecosystem function. Using data collected from camera traps in the Cordillera del Condor in southern Ecuador, Sebastian Arostegui analyzes interactions between felids in this landscape and how these may differ between study areas and areas of human influence. This project is supervised by Dr. Becky Zug and is a collaboration between USFQ and the Zoological Foundation of Ecuador.

Carla Villamarín

Carla Villamarín is interested in microbial ecology and works mainly in freshwater ecosystems. In her thesis work she characterizes the microbial communities of river sediments from the Cube basin, an intermittent system in the Ecuadorian portion of the Chocó bioregion. Through environmental DNA metabarcoding she identifies the microbial groups present in the study area and the differences in community composition between dry and wet seasons. Understanding the effects of drought on microbial communities will allow inferring fluctuations in riverbed metabolism in response to seasonal changes and extrapolating these findings to water resource management in the context of climate change. His project is supervised by Dr. Andrea Encalada and is part of the DRYvER Project, which studies intermittent river systems in Europe and South America with the aim of proposing strategies for their adaptive management.

Jordan Andrés Cruz

Jordan Andrés Cruz is investigating the effect of trampling by large domestic mammals on carbon dioxide and methane emissions in the high Andean peatlands of Ecuador. These ecosystems are poorly understood in the Andean region, despite the fact that they are the terrestrial ecosystems that store the most carbon in their subsoil. Therefore, understanding their biogeochemical flows and their conservation represents a great opportunity to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. Her work is carried out under the supervision and mentorship of Dr. Esteban Suarez as part of the High Mountain Ecology Research Group (GEAM) under the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP). This research is funded by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and is being conducted in the buffer zone of the Antisana Ecological Reserve in the Chakana Reserve (Hacienda Antisanilla) owned by the Jocotoco Foundation.

David Brito: One of the most interesting and little explored fields within the biological sciences in Ecuador is reptile ecology. David Brito's thesis research focuses on studying patterns of body measurements and size in lizards of the genus Stenocercus known as "Guagsas", considering their altitudinal distribution and ecology. This research is being conducted under the supervision of Carolina Reyes-Puig and Diego Cisneros-Heredia, from the Museum of Zoology and the IBIOTROP institute of the USFQ, with the collaboration of other universities and national research institutions.

David Brito
Jacquelin Montoya

Jacquelin Montoya: The peatlands are ecosystems that offer us services such as water provision and regulation, and carbon storage. In fact, high Andean peatlands constitute the largest carbon reservoir in relation to peatlands in other regions. Therefore, their study and conservation are essential to mitigate climate change. In this context, Jacquelin Montoya is studying carbon dynamics in different types of peatlands, through the analysis of primary productivity and carbon accumulation rates. This research is developed under the supervision of Dr. Esteban Suarez, in the framework of the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP) of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the United States Forest Service (USFS).

Diego Urquía seeks to use molecular tools  to describe rarely seen ecological phenomena. In his thesis, he is employing DNA-metabarcoding to find what Galapagos sea lions are eating in five different colonies in the southeastern Galapagos. This method will make it possible to find new prey for these animals, which have never before been described for science. This project is led by Dr. Diego Paez-Rosas in collaboration with the Technical University of Brunswick-Germany.

Diego Urquía
Alisson Fierro-Minda

Alisson Fierro-Minda seeks to characterize the plant communities of the moorland wetlands of Ecuador. Her thesis aims to know how different are the plant communities, depending on the type of wetland and geological substrate in which they settle, and also seeks to compare the percentage of species found exclusively in these ecosystems with the total number of moorland species. This project is led by Dr. Esteban Suarez in collaboration with The United States Forest Service.

Francisco Velásquez-Espín is researching one of the least understood strata of the forest, the canopy. At this level of the cloud forest, Francisco studies the diversity of amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. His work is carried out in collaboration with researchers from Texas State University (Rodriguez Lab.) and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (McCracken Lab), with the support of Fundación Futuro, Third Millennium Alliance and Mashpi Lodge, under the tutelage of Dr. Juan Manuel Guayasamín (USFQ) and Dr. Shawn McCracken (TAMU-CC). To access his sampling sites, located up to 30 meters above sea level, Francisco implements tree climbing and climbing techniques.

Francisco Velásquez-Espín
Andrés Moreira

Andrés Moreira is investigating the incidence of microplastics in the top predator food web of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Microplastics are present in all oceans and are a major threat to biodiversity. For this reason, excreta from different colonies of the Galapagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) from the southeast of the archipelago are being analyzed to identify this type of particulate matter by chemical digestion of organic matter and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy. This project is developed through an inter-institutional collaboration between the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the Universitat de Barcelona (UB), under the supervision of Dr. Diego Páez-Rosas (USFQ-GSC) and Dr. Odei García-Garín (UB).

Emilia Peñaherrera is developing her thesis through a comprehensive assessment of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the tropical Andes. She uses biodiversity, conservation and governance data. IBAs, whose main focus is the conservation of bird species and their habitats, have become one of the strongest conservation prioritization strategies globally. This project is developed thanks to a collaboration between BirdLife International and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, through its institutes of Applied Ecology ECOLAP-USFQ and Tropical Biodiversity IBIOTROP-USFQ, under the mentorship of Drs. Susana Cardenas and Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia.

Emilia Peñaherrera
María José Arias

María José Arias is studying the distribution of passerine birds along an elevational gradient in the northwestern Ecuadorian Andes. She is working in collaboration with Abhimanyu Lele and Jacob Drucker, doctoral candidates at the University of Chicago and researchers at the Field Museum, and under the mentorship of Dr. Elisa Bonaccorso (USFQ) and Abhimanyu Lele. Field methods included mist net sampling and point counts at various locations along the gradient, thus covering an approximate elevation range between 500 and 4000 m.

Aplicant's profile

This program is designed for professionals with degrees in Biology, Genetics, Biodiversity and Genetic Resources, Ecology, and related disciplines. In case of degrees obtained outside of Ecuador, the title will have to be apostilled or certified via the country’s consular office in Ecuador. The USFQ will verify the validity of the degree, following the Ecuadorian legislation. Once accepted, the applicant will have to register the degree at SENESCYT (the National Secretariat for Superior Education, Science, and Technology) before the program's start date.


Our graduates will be prepared to do independent research and work as part of inter and multidisciplinary groups in educational, research or conservation institutions, governmental or non-governmental organizations dedicated to areas related to ecology and conservation, or continue their path towards an academic career.


The Master’s in Tropical Ecology and Conservation at USFQ conjugates a great diversity of advantages that allow our graduate students to:

  • Obtain a solid theoretical and practical education based on research, offered and supervised by the best faculty in Tropical Ecology and Conservation in Ecuador.
  • Have access to excellent research laboratories in Marine Ecology (Galapagos Islands), Aquatic Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Biotecnology, and Environmental Engineering, among others.
  • Take advantage of research opportunities in our biological stations in the Galapagos Islands, Tiputini (Yasuní National Park), Tandayapa (Andean Choco Biosphere Reserve), and the network of nature reserves managed by our strategic partners.
  • Be part of the team of the research institutes and centers of the USFQ: Instituto Biósfera, iBIOTROP, Instituto de Geografía, Instituto de Ecología Aplicada, Instituto de Microbiología, and Galapagos Science Center.
  • Learn in a program taught in English, with international invited professors, and a modern perspective towards basic and applied research, which will offer opportunities to connect with researchers and research labs in Ecuador and countries around the world.

Requirements to apply

Basic requirements (requested by the USFQ Graduate School)

  • To have an undergraduate degree in Biology, Genetics, Biodiversity and Genetic Resources, Ecology, and related disciplines. The diploma must have Apostille or be certified via the consular office of the issuing country in Ecuador. Once accepted, the applicant will have to register the degree at SENESCYT (the National Secretariat for Superior Education, Science, and Technology) before the program's start date.
  • Proof of English proficiency, equivalent to B1 level of the Common European Framework. Proficiency may be proved by taking the USFQ English exam or providing certification for taking the TOEFL, IELTS, or Cambridge exams within the last 2 years.
  • Copy of identification document (passport or Ecuadorian cédula).
  • Official transcripts.
  • Degree registered at SENESCYT (once accepted).
  • To approve the USFQ Graduate School exam. To take this exam (in Spanish), please go to /en/admissions/postgraduate

Specific Requirements of the Master’s Program

  • To approve the Program-specific Knowledge Test (questions will have a "short essay" approach). The exam will be offered online using the USFQ D2L system. Applicants must demonstrate their capability in the integration of knowledge and analysis of case studies on basic tenants of Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Genetics, and Experimental Design. The exam will be developed in English to evaluate the student 's writing skills and synthesis ability in this language. For the exam, check the list of subjects here:

If you need access to books to prepare for the exam, please contact Irina Muñoz at

  • Complete Application Form for the Master's Program. In this form, the applicants will select their preferred date to take the Program-specific Knowledge Test. Also, they will have to select the scholarship to which they would like to apply (maximum two). Finally, they will have to attach the following documents in PDF format:
  • Curriculum Vitae.
  • Letter of intent, in English, explaining the student’s interest in becoming part of the Master's Program.
  • Two academic/professional references, including full names, email, and institutional affiliation. The program Director will request the referees to fill out the Reference Form (in English or Spanish) to complete the application process.
  • If this were the case, upload additional requirements for each scholarship (see FUNDING section).
  • Once the Application Form is validated, the aspirant will be contacted for an interview face-to-face at USFQ Cumbayá campus or online if the aspirant is not in Quito, with the Admissions Committee.

Application Form:


Scholarships are available only for Ecuadorian citizens and residents. Applicants must indicate the scholarship of interest (maximum two) in the Application Form (see the Requirements to Apply section) and, if applicable, upload the additional requirements requested for each scholarship.

Scholarships are not additive, and the decision on their allocation will be made by the Admissions Committee once the applicants have been accepted into the program.

The number of scholarhips and the amounts they cover change from cohort to cohort, depending on available funds from USFQ and specific research projects developed by our professors. Available Scholarships:

4 scholarships of 50% of the tuition of the Master's Program.

  • Two scholarships from the USFQ Dean of Research to applicants who demonstrate excellent academic training (assessed through their application) and research experience (demonstrated through publications).
  • Two scholarships from the Master's Program to applicants who demonstrate excellent academic training (assessed through their application) and research experience (demonstrated through publications). To maintain this scholarship, the student must obtain a Grade Point Average (GPA) equal to or greater than 3.5/4.00 during their training process.


  • The total cost of the program can be paid in four installments that correspond to the number of ordinary academic periods of the program. Each installment can be paid in cash, check, student loan or credit card.

    Credit or debit card: you can make your payment through our Online Payment System, accessing the link:

  • We accept all national and international credit cards.
  • You can defer your payments with cards issued by: Diners, Discover, Visa Titanium, Banco Guayaquil, Banco Pichincha, Banco Bolivariano, Produbanco, and Banco del Austro.
  • Payments for years: up to 12 months without interest.
  • Payments for the entire race: the same duration of the race without interest.
  • Deferred payments of up to 36 months with interest are enabled for all options if a longer term is required.

Transfer, deposit: you can make your deposit or transfer with the following information and load the receipt in the Online Payment System at the link:

Online Payment


Universidad San Francisco de Quito - USFQ RUC: 1791836154001
Banco Pichincha: Cuenta corriente No. 3407330004
Banco Bolivariano: Cuenta corriente No. 5075003350

For more information, you can write to:
Methods of payment: Oscar Castañeda,, (+593) 2 297-1700 ext. 1816
Direct financing plan:

Program Application Form




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