Harvard University  Follow

Harvard Summer Program - Biodiversity of Hispaniola, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Publish Date: Sep 29, 2015

Deadline: Jan 28, 2016

This program offers you the opportunity to explore the basic principles of ecology, evolution, and island biogeography in the context of the diversity of habitats and organisms on the island of Hispaniola. The approach in lecture is to balance broad conceptual areas—such as population biology, speciation, or island biogeography—with the diversity and natural history of the main groups of organisms and habitats we see.

You develop a general understanding of the causes and consequences of the adaptive radiation of species on this Caribbean island, as you also explore habitats of lowland and montane forest, as well as estuary and reef. You strengthen your understanding of principles of community structure and diversity through direct observation of nature, using binoculars and hand lenses. You also learn to use your ears as well as your eyes in identifying animals such as insects, frogs, birds, and bats by their sounds, and learn to use digital audio and video equipment to document some of the organisms you encounter.

The settings for lectures is the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) and the Pontificial University Madre y Maestra (PUCMM) in Santiago. The program begins with three weeks in coastal Santo Domingo, with day trips to the National Botanical Gardens and nearby coastal and inland sites. Here, you will learn the general principles of ecology and evolutionary biology as they are relevant to the origins of the diversity of organisms on this island and learn to formulate hypotheses about what we see on the island. On day trips, you learn to identify birds and other common animals, the major plants, and how to trap insects at night.

You also learn about the role of natural history collections in documenting biodiversity and how to analyze the sounds and images we capture in a laboratory and biodiversity institute at the UASD that is co-sponsored by Harvard.

In the first half of the course, we spend at least two nights away from the city near the southeast coast close to Bahia de las Aguilas, in a national park known for nesting sea turtles, endemic land iguanas, and cacti in a beautiful desert.

The second three weeks are based at the PUCMM in Santiago, at higher elevation, affording easy access to montane habitats and the north coast, and applying our growing knowledge of the diversity of organisms to a variety of ecosystems. Lectures cover the natural history of the principal groups or organisms and habitats on the island.

We spend at least two nights at a campsite near the highest road on the island (about 7,000 feet elevation), in a place called Valle Nuevo where pine forests are home to organisms—such as siskins, crossbills, blueberries, and various mushrooms—that one would usually expect in northern climates, such as New England. However, Valle Nuevo is also home to deep cloud forest with tree ferns, bromeliads, orchids, and many endemic birds found nowhere else. Here, you explore the causes and consequences of the origins and diversity of these adjacent habitats and their biota.

You are exposed to the rich cultures and history of Hispaniola with visits to the colonial district of Santo Domingo, founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus. This is where Europeans first settled the Americas, and is home to the first cathedral, roads, and hospitals in the western hemisphere. Against this colonial backdrop, you explore the contemporary mix of art and music in the vibrant crossroads of world cultures in present day Santo Domingo. In Santiago, you visit the Centro Leon, an amazing museum of Taino artifacts and other historical elements representative of Hispaniola.

Watch a video from a student that shows her experiences while studying abroad in Dominican Republic.

Course of study

BIOS S-158 Study Abroad in the Dominican Republic: Biodiversity of the Dominican Republic (32943)

Brian D. Farrell
(8 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

Students study the biota of the Dominican Republic on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola as a microcosm of the evolution of biodiversity on Earth. This course explores the interplay of ecological niches and evolutionary diversification in the organisms and habitats of a tropical island that is large enough to harbor many remarkable kinds of animals and plants and yet small enough to be understood. Lectures consist of morning presentations on the classification and biology of the major groups of vertebrates and invertebrates of Hispaniola for comparing the ecology and diversity of different animal/plant communities on the island. The skills required for field identification of major groups (e.g., species of birds or lizards, orders of insects and other invertebrates) are emphasized through construction of a field journal used on a series of overnight excursions to biomes such as deserts, rainforests, pine forests, and coral reefs.


Brian D. Farrell, PhD, Professor of Biology, Harvard University


Before applying, review the Admission and Policies and FAQs pages.

You must be at least 18 years old and have completed at least one year of college or be a first-year student in good academic standing to apply.

The application materials, outlined below, are due January 28, 2016:

  • A completed online application (available in early December) that includes:
    • A $50 nonrefundable application fee
    • A statement of interest in the program, including information on relevant coursework and travel experience abroad (previous travel is not a prerequisite)
    • Transcripts (student record accepted for Harvard students)

Program directors may ask for interviews.

You will be notified of admission decisions by mid-February.


There is a nonrefundable $50 application fee. The cost includes the following:

  • Tuition
  • Room
  • Course materials
  • Excursions (including meals when appropriate)

In addition to the program fee, you are responsible for:

  • A health insurance fee (waived if you have US insurance that provides coverage outside the United States)
  • Transportation to and from Dominican Republic
  • The cost of passports and visas (if the latter is needed)
  • Any immunizations

How to pay and funding options

See Payment and Funding for payment deadlines, deposit amounts, and more information, including funding options for Harvard College students.


You share double-occupancy hotel rooms.

Additional information

Contact Brian Farrell, bfarrell@oeb.harvard.edu.

A student from the 2013 Dominican Republic session made a video documenting her experiences abroad.

This opportunity has expired. It was originally published here:


Similar Opportunities

Eligible Countries


Host Countries

Dominican Republic