Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet spring semester

The Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet semester abroad program ended in early May. Students from 8 different institutions participated in the course that took place at 6 different stations in Costa Rica and Panama, as well as in San Pedro for Spanish language and homestay experiences.

The course started at Las Cruces Research Station with an overview of plant and insect diversity and an introduction to Costa Rica's social, economic, and conservation history in a global context. Because the area is an important coffee producing region we worked on local plantations to monitor coffee borer infestations and link that to weather and potential biotic controls. A short stay at the Cuerici Biological Station introduced students to tropical oak forest and paramo- very unique ecosystems. The station owner talked with students about trout farming and sustainable use of resources.  The owner also talked about the difficulties small land owners face because of government regulations requiring the need to balance land usage with conservation.  One student commented that this was the first time she had met someone directly affected by conservation policies. We finished the first half of the semester with a trip to Palo Verde Research Station, where students explored the dry forest and completed their first independent project. Invited faculty led the students to conduct research projects on mistletoe infestation and tradeoffs in biotic and abiotic defenses in acacia trees. Then it was off to San Pedro and homestays.

After a week-long semester break in which students traveled in Costa Rica as well as Nicaragua and Panama, the course headed for the field again - this time to Children’s Eternal Rain Forest in Monteverde. While living at a remote field station, students were treated to frog-walks at night with local conservationist Mark Wainwright. They also toured the main town with an eye to how ecotourism plays out in this community. Then it was on to Bocas del Toro Panama to explore sea grass beds and reef ecosystems. Our long-term project at this site involved investigating what is maintaining reef stability on the local reef and the surprising role that sea urchins seem to be playing. While snorkeling and working on the reef students not only had fun in the water, but also learned how challenging aquatic projects can be! Our course finished the semester at La Selva and a traditional wet forest teaming with plants and animals. We visited a nearby Dole plantation, and discussed the pros and cons of multinational corporations in the context of conservation. Invited faculty led projects on habitat choice and leaf litter in anoles, and on parasites, immunology and performance in cane toads. The latter is an ongoing long-term project and both projects speak to climate change effects on amphibians. The students also conducted their second set of independent projects. The course finished with a poster session in which the students presented their findings to the La Selva staff/researcher community, and also to students invited from the local university (UNA and UNED) campuses. With approximately 50 people participating, the poster session was a great success.

To learn more about what students saw and thought visit us at our course blog.

Last Updated ( 06/30/17 )