The SFS Center for

Amazon Studies




The greater Iquitos region, with its numerous towns and villages, forms an island of human development surrounded by a vast sea of Amazon rainforest. Iquitos is the largest city in the world not reachable by automobile, accessible only by boat or airplane.

Our Center is located along the only road leaving the city, which runs 100km to the port town of Nauta. From the Center, we have access to large tracts of primary and secondary forest, as well as the amenities and unique culture of the city of Iquitos and surrounding communities. And, of course, the mighty Amazon River is ever-present.

Issues we focus on


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Semester Program

Biodiversity & Development in the Amazon

Investigate the conflicts and synergies of conservation and development in the north Peruvian Amazon region. Explore biodiversity conservation, ecology, and the value of ecosystem services. Study the effects of climate change and land use on biodiversity and human well-being. Learn More
Fall 2018


August 27 - December 5

Spring 2019


January 28 - May 8

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Who We Are

The diverse, interdisciplinary team of professionals at the Center for Amazon Studies carries a wide range of expertise and international experience. The diverse backgrounds and interests of our staff foster a comprehensive understanding of the landscapes, the abiotic and biotic processes that influence the biological diversity of the Amazon, the cultures that have developed and persist here, and the threats facing this, the most biodiverse place on Earth.

Featured Staff

Katie MacDonald, Ph.D.

Resident Lecturer, Political Ecology

One of the key objectives of the political ecology course is to prepare students for their final, independent Directed Research projects.

The course teaches them the skills required to create, organize, and execute a field work project using qualitative research methods, applied through Indigenous principles, paradigms, and practices.

Read More
Katie MacDonald

Our Research

As development encroaches into the Amazon, buffer zones of protected areas become increasingly critical for ensuring the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services of these rich forests. Therefore, understanding the dynamics of conservation buffer zones is critical to determine how they function and to inform policymakers on their design and management.

Can protected areas adequately mitigate the impacts of development and climate change on the biodiversity, ecosystem services, and traditional livelihoods of the region? We address this broad question through a number of perspectives, informed by faculty expertise. Recent lenses include: primate conservation, sustainable use of medicinal plants, and environmental health perceptions and attitudes among the local community. Every semester, with the contribution of student interests, creativity, and ingenuity, we ask new questions, explore new approaches, refine research methods, and expand our ever-growing databases.

Key Research Examples
  • Tropical terrestrial ecology and forest dynamics in changing gradients
  • Primate behavior and ecology including diet and effects on forest regeneration
  • Response of plant populations to climate change
  • Effect of abiotic factors (soil, moisture, light) on the diversity of medicinal plants
  • Community solutions to water and waste management
  • Identification of community environmental concerns through participatory photography
Select Publications

Tejedor, A. and Calatayud, G. (2017). The tree ferns of Andean Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. Field Museum Guides 876:1-19

Helenbrook, W., Susan E. Wade, W. Shields, Stephen V. Stehman, and C. Whipps (In Press). Gastrointestinal parasites of Ecuadorian mantled howler monkeys, Alouatta palliata aequatorialis, based on fecal analysis. Journal of Parasitology.

Helenbrook, W., W. Shields, and C. Whipps (In Press). Molecular phylogenetic analysis of Blastocystis in sympatric human and nonhuman primate populations. Parasitology Research.

MacDonald, K. (Accepted) My Experiences with Indigenist Methodologies. Geographical Research.

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Nothing I’ve ever done can compare to the feeling of looking out over the green sea of tree canopy.

You can learn about the layers of the rainforest, watch nature documentaries, or look at pictures all you want, but nothing I’ve ever done can compare to the feeling of looking out over the green sea of tree canopy, or standing under 100 foot tall trees while monkeys leap from branch to branch over your head.

Lexi Donahue
Franklin & Marshall College, Peru Fall '16
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Community Collaboration

Collaborating with those who live and work in the greater Iquitos region is imperative to the success of this program. One of our greatest strengths is offering students the opportunity to interact with local people, researchers, and conservation organizations in the area. It is widely known that the Amazon is facing various threats, but it is not until we have a more complete understanding of the reality on the ground, that we can begin to develop successful conservation initiatives.

Outside of academics, relationships with communities are strengthened through soccer games, visits to local towns, and running environmental education programs for local students.

Local Community Partners

  • Amazon Conservation Association (ACA)
  • Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP)
  • Peruvian academic and research institutions
  • Local agricultural producers associations
  • Local NGOs
  • Community associations

Contributing to the Community

  • Education programs with young students to help build a culture of environmental awareness
  • Community forums to share knowledge and perspectives to an international audience
  • Developing research initiatives that account for the needs of the community
  • Presentation of research findings and community conversations that help to direct future research.

Life at the Center


The Center is located along the Iquitos-Nauta highway. Upon entering the Center, you pass our soccer and volleyball areas set amidst short coconut palms before arriving to the dining area, kitchen, classroom, and swimming pool. The dorms and staff housing are set back from the pool area. Continuing behind the housing areas, you can enter a circuit of trails through the forest.

Field Station

  • Students live in dorm style housing with communal bathrooms
  • Meals are served in a large dining hall
  • Large kitchen where students will help to prepare meals
  • Study and Lounging areas
  • Open air classroom space
  • Internet Stations with Ethernet connections
  • Soccer Field and Volleyball Court
  • Hiking Trails