WEC Alumni in the World - Santiago Espinosa

Dr. Santiago Espinosa (WEC M.S. 2004, WEC PhD 2012) has always been interested in applied ecology, but he didn't always plan specifically to become an academic. He was given the opportunity to direct a master's program in Conservation Biology at his alma mater, Catholic University in Ecuador, after completing his PhD in WEC. As his career progresses, he hopes to "combine academia with more applied work."

"I did my undergraduate [degree] in Biology at Catholic University in Quito, Ecuador, where I graduated in 2010," says Santiago. He moved to Gainesville two years later to complete his graduate education, first under the advisement of Dr. Susan Jacobson for his M.S. research, then under Dr. Lyn Branch for his PhD. "My interests are focused in ecology and conservation of vertebrates, and I am particularly interested in large carnivores. I am also interested in the relations between people and wildlife and how human actions affect wildlife habitats and natural landscapes. I hope to make significant contributions to the conservation of tropical landscapes, particularly in Latin America."

Though it is a relatively small country, Ecuador is "mega-diverse," Santiago reports. It is home to more than 1,600 species of birds and more tree species than in all of North America. "Ecosystems in Ecuador range from the cold and humid paramos in the highlands (above 9,800 feet) to the warm humid tropical forest east and west of the Andes," he explains. "That range includes dry tropical forest in southwestern Ecuador, mountain and cloud forests in the Andean slopes and dry forests in the interandean valleys. We also have to include Galapagos Islands, which have a unique ecosystem and marine ecosystems."

"We have numerous species that are very important for conservation. Ecuador's red book of mammals includes 105 species that are considered threatened with extinction. Also, constantly new species are discovered, some of them with limited distributional ranges that make them more sensitive to extinction."

Dr. Espinosa acknowledges that working in higher education definitely has its advantages. "Academia gives you the opportunity to work in what you really like and love," says Santiago. "In my case, I love animals and I can work with them and for them. Also, when working in academia you are constantly learning new things and you get challenged while you are in that learning process, which I like. Another thing I like is to be surrounded by people with similar interests and life objectives, and I cannot see a better place than academia to find that. Finally, I enjoy having the opportunity to form future conservation biologists that can do all the work that needs to be done."

When asked about his graduate education at UF, Dr. Espinosa describes it as "the greatest experience of [his] life." He explains that his time in WEC "impacted my life in many ways. The obvious part is all the academic-related gain I had from participating at UF programs. But there were more things, such as the opportunity to meet great people and also the experience and learning associated with living within a different culture (or mix of cultures). UF continues to influence my life and I think it always will. For instance, I am still working on papers with my advisor!"