Tropical Plant Systematics Print
OTS & Universidad de Costa Rica
June 11 - July 13, 2014 (arrive June 10, depart July 15, 2014)
Flyer Version for printing ( PDF document 1.73 Mb )

Mauricio Bonifacino
Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay.

Amanda Grusz
Duke University, North Carolina.

Early application deadline: November 10, 2013.
Final application deadline:
February 10, 2014 followed by Open Enrollment/rolling admission until course is full.

OTS Member Institutions

Assembly of Delegates

Application Form

Organization for Tropical Studies

North American Office
Box 90630
Durham, NC 27708-0630
Phone. (919) 684-5774
Fax (919) 684-5661
ots @ duke.edu

Central American Office
Box 676-2050,
San Pedro, Costa Rica
Phone. (506) 2524-0607
Fax (506) 2524-0608
guiselle.castro @ tropicalstudies.org

Tropical Plant Systematics is an intensive, five-week field introduction to the identification, inventory, classification, and phylogenetic analysis of tropical vascular plants. This course is primarily for plant systematists but will also interest ecologists, zoologists, and conservation biologists – anyone whose research requires a broad knowledge of plant relationships and classification.

Course Content

The Course is designed to build the diverse skills needed for floristic, taxonomic and phylogenetic research on tropical plants. Using a complementary mixture of theory and practice, the course alternates lectures on vascular plant evolution and phylogenetic reconstruction with training in field identification, ecological inventory methods, and specialized workshops on topics such as botanical illustration and specimen preparation. A main goal on this course is to learn the major families and genera of tropical plants in a phylogenetic context. Thus, lectures and discussion of phylogenetic theory and methodology complement a broad evolutionary survey of the major clades of ferns and seed plants. The principal assignments of the course, a monograph and cladistic analysis of a small group of species, is based on original observations of morphological characters of both living plants and herbarium specimens.


The Faculty includes two full-time coordinators who will be joined by five to ten guest faculty from major universities and research institutions in the U.S. and Latin America. Guest faculty join the course for periods as short as a single lecture or up to two weeks. Together, the faculty will cover a wealth of topics in:

  • Identification of tropical plant families and genera
  • Comparative morphology and anatomy
  • Phylogenetic relationships of the major clades of flowering plants and ferns
  • Introduction to the theory and practice of phylogenetic systematics
  • Preparation of monographs, floristic treatments, and species descriptions
  • Methods of field collection and specimen preparation
  • Application of the rules of botanical nomenclature
  • Botanical illustration
  • Composition and structure of major tropical vegetation types * Methods of systematic biodiversity inventories in tropical forests

Sites Visited

The Sites Visited during the highly mobile Tropical Plant Systematics course are reached by bus, four-wheel drive vehicle, and occasionally on foot. The field sites throughout Costa Rica have been selected to represent the major tropical habitat types in Costa Rica: lowland and premontane rainforest, cloud forest, montane oak forest, páramo, tropical dry forest, fresh-water wetlands, and mangroves. Sites include:

  • Las Cruces Biological Station, a mid-elevation location with an associated 216 hectare tract of old-growth premontane rainforest surrounded by younger forests, and the Robert and Catherine Wilson Botanical Garden which houses a world-class collection of tropical plants. These living resources are at our disposal as students build their knowledge of morphological and anatomical characteristics of tropical plant families. While at Las Cruces, students will give a short presentation on their research interests. Here, they will also form research teams organized around particular monophyletic groups of species. For the remainder of the course, the teams will carry out an investigation of phylogenetic relationships within this group of species. After this initial week of classroom-intensive training at Las Cruces, we will spend the majority of our time in the field at each of the following sites.
  • Palo Verde National Park. Located in Costa Rica's northwest Pacific lowlands, Palo Verde protects an extensive area of tropical dry forest on limestone outcrops as well as the freshwater wetlands of the upper Río Tempisque basin.
  • La Selva Biological Station. Situated in wet lowland rainforest on the Atlantic slope, La Selva is not only OTS's largest and longest-running station, but also one of the world's premiere centers of tropical forest research. Over 1500 hectares of old- and second-growth rainforest is readily accessible via an extensive trail system. Besides its impressive forest and excellent laboratory and classroom facilities, one of La Selva's great assets is the opportunity to interact with researchers from around the world.
  • San José Herbaria. For two days, we return to San José to spend time at the herbaria of the National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) and the National Museum. This enables the students to observe additional taxa and characters needed to complete their phylogenetic analysis.
  • Cuerici. Cuericí biological station, near Cerro de la Muerte, is a high elevation site containing stunning tropical oak forest.  The forest itself is protected as a private reserve and the station is also a sustainable development project and trout farm.

Post-Course Grant Opportunities

Course participants are eligible to apply for small grants to support post-course research.  Successful applicants can spend a few days to two weeks beginning no earlier than three months after the course at an OTS field station conducting a field project. Instructions for application will be given during the course.

Enrollment and Eligibility

Course enrollment is limited to 22 students. Applicants must be enrolled in, or accepted for, a Ph.D. or Masters level graduate degree program. Selection of participants is highly competitive. Qualified students from OTS member schools will have first priority, and any number of applications will be considered from each OTS institution. Priority will be given to applicants who have completed at least one university-level plant taxonomy course. Applications from non-OTS institutions are welcome. The course is taught in English; however, Spanish is useful, and participants are urged to develop basic Spanish skills.

Costs and Application Information

Course costs exceed $6,500 per student. Students from non-OTS institutions are charged $6,500 for tuition, whereas students from OTS-member institutions are charged $4,000 (less a $2,500 OTS scholarship). Additional scholarships (up to $1,500 additional tuition aid) may be available for students with demonstrated financial need. Prospective applicants from member institutions must consult with one of the two representatives to the OTS Assembly of Delegates at their institution. Advice and endorsement by the local representative are a necessary part of the application process. There are two Delegates at each OTS member institution and their names can be found on the Assembly of Delegates page or by contacting OTS Costa Rica Education Program at guiselle.castro @ tropicalstudies.org.

Applicants from non-member institutions should forward their application directly to OTS.

Download application form

  1. Application fee: $25
    A processing fee of $25 must accompany the completed application (please make out a check to Organization for Tropical Studies, North American Office, Box 90630, Durham, NC 27708 0630)
  2. Course tuition
    The course fee, which covers instruction, room, board, and field travel, must be paid prior to the course.
    OTS member student: $4,000
    Non-member student: $6,500
    Additional tuition scholarships of up to $1,500 may be available with priority given to OTS member students
    Graduate students from non-member institutions are eligible and welcome to apply to the course
  3. Personal expenses are additional
    Personal expenses such as laundry, mail, entertainment, international travel, insurance, medical expenses, etc. are not covered. Also, students planning additional time in Costa Rica before or after the course should allow $30-40 per day.
  4. Students are expected to make their own travel arrangements to Costa Rica. The cost of airfare varies tremendously (from $350-$950); consult your local travel agent. Advance purchase discounts are substantial.
  5. Students must have health insurance that is valid in Costa Rica.

Applications should be submitted simultaneously to OTS (guiselle.castro @ tropicalstudies.org) and to one of your OTS Delegates a few days before the deadline. Check with your Delegate regarding their timetable.

See member institutions list

Orientation Material

Organization for Tropical Studies
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