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This blog serves all CIEE Monteverde programs:  Tropical Ecology and Conservation, Summer Tropical Ecology and Conservation, and CIEE's program on Sustainability and the Environment.

 To filter content for each program, please select the appropriate category on the right.

Enjoy.  These blogs are designed to showcase how we learn and what you will do as a CIEE student in Monteverde, Costa Rica.  The CIEE Difference is clear:  we learn by doing and in amazing places. Join us!



For the past month I have been working with CORCLIMA on their carbon sinks inventory. CORCLIMA, also known as The Monteverde Commission for Resilience to Climate Change, is a network of leaders that encourages broad public participation, with representatives from public institutions, private organizations and community members. Their goals are to align and unite efforts in the Monteverde region to reduce carbon emissions, increase carbon sequestration, and adapt to climate change. The ultimate goal is to make Monteverde the first carbon negative region in the country.

 Carbon negativity occurs when the amount of carbon absorbed through the forests is more than the amount that is emitted from the region. CORCLIMA has already been working on the emissions inventory and my work was based on starting with the carbon sink inventory. The were several main goals that I needed to accomplish, but the most important one was coming up with the questions that would be in the interview. This was very important because before starting to make tree plots that will calculate the amount of carbon captured, we have to interview the landowners to gather general information about their property, which will later be determined by CORCLIMA as to whether or not it is an appropriate property to put one of the plots. After making the interview, I was able to visit six properties and interview the landowners. Through this I was able to see the effectiveness of the questions and clear up any issues that were found.

Many landowners had questions about the plots that might be put on their property, so I was thankfully able to make one of the plots myself on my professor’s property, plotting the coordinates of all the trees and measuring their diameters. This was an extremely valuable experience that I could look back on and explain the process to the landowners that I interviewed. During the interview process it was made clear that the landowners would like to receive some sort of recognition for participating in the project and with this new information I made a template for a certificate of participation that will be awarded to the participating landowners once the plots are established. At the end of the internship I provided CORCLIMA with the interview, six completed interview with landowners, summaries of each interview, a certificate of participation, and a draft email to be sent to landowners before visiting them. The tree plot that I made was more of an exercise for me to see how it will be done and so I could explain the sizing etc to the landowners.

I feel like my greatest contribution was making the interview, because it is a tool that CORCLIMA will continue to use throughout their work on the carbon sink inventory. For me personally, I found it very valuable to learn how to make an interview, making sure all questions are relevant to the purpose and that they are clear so that people understand them. I chose to work with CORCLIMA in this project because I am very passionate about climate change and educating the public the issue. I had never previously worked on anything like this, so everything that I produced for CORCLIMA was something new that I learned throughout my time working in the internship.

Marce  Hector  Catie
Catie Strickland learns from Hector Castaneda and Marcela Morales about the techniques used to quantify carbon emissions


The focus of my internship was promoting environmental education through working with the Monteverde Conservation League in the Bajo del Tigre reserve, which is one of their protected areas. My initial focus within the reserve was set to be in the Casita de los Niños (Children’s Room), where my supervisor and I brainstormed over the course of a few days our shared visions of what the room would look like.

Sophie prepares an interactive exhibit
Sophie prepares an interactive educational exhibit

I am extremely passionate about environmental and outdoor education, especially with children. There is a huge disconnect between nature and people, but it is this generation’s children who are not experiencing the outdoors fully. Fewer children are spending time outdoors, even though there is countless research that has shown just how cleansing and beneficial being in nature is. This past year I have focused much of my time trying to interpret and solve this disconnect, as well as determine how nature is cleansing to me personally. 

This passion of mine has also helped direct the kind of route I want to take in the future, and interning with this organization has given me a wonderful example of something I see myself being heavily involved in. I want to find a job either with kids or young adults, and help spread awareness about what it means to not only experience nature, but truly appreciate it as well for what it is. I am currently a trip leader at my University (University of Redlands, in Redlands, CA), so pairing outdoor leadership with the environmental education component that I gained from this internship has been extremely rewarding and motivating.

I have learned how to better adapt to big changes in a project. Once I have a plan or vision, I work hard until the job is finished. However, due to the storm that hit during the first half of the internship timeline, my responsibilities shifted and I had to quickly change my focus while still maintaining a positive outlook for the next weeks. While changing original goals and intentions was an honest challenge for me, I came out of this internship with a better sense of how to combat frustrations in all stages of a project.  

Sophie with plant and helping jose
Jose (of the Monteverde Conservation League) teaches Sophie how to use power tools (left) and she learns about plant-animal interactions in the tropics, as part of her internship


I chose to work with native plant landscaping because there is a need to re-establish native vegetation in the landscaping around a local business as a means of creating a more resilient environment. The particular focus of my work is to remedy the damage caused to the trails around Art House following a tropical storm. Art House experienced extensive flood damage to the property, partially caused by unsustainable landscaping methods such as the replacement of native plants with invasive ornamental plants which lessens the resiliency of the area. I have prior experience working with native plants as means for sustainable landscaping in flood control. Previously I had worked to restore the riparian zone along Nancy Creek at Marist School in Atlanta Georgia. Similar to this internship, that restoration projected involved removing invasive vegetation from the riparian zone and replacing it with native vegetation that would improve flood control. For this reason, I took a particular interest in this internship.

Grace Gaskin and Felipe Negrini working togetherGrace, with mentor Felipe Negrini, preparing the stepping stone tiles for the hardscaping at Casa de Arte

The main focus of this internship is to use sustainable landscaping in order to improve the quality of the environment of the trails in front of Art House. This includes the removal of invasive ornamental plants and replacing them with native vegetation which will not only be more resilient in the face of events such as flooding from storms, but will also add an aesthetic component to the area which will hopefully lead to an increased interest in the trails, as well as Art House. Following the storm and the resulting flooding, the property of Art House had a large amount of issues that could not all be handled by the owner. This internship is benefitting not only the environment, but also the local community by helping this local business fix the damages from the storm.

After initially analyzing the property, I determined that the biggest impact could be made by improving the entrance to the trails that lead up to the Art House gallery. The immediate entrance from the main road was flooded and had large amounts of mud which had been deposited. As of October 18, 2017, I have removed the mud which had made the entrance difficult to pass through, as well as large groups of invasive plants which did not provide any soil stabilization along the creek, a factor that contributed to the large amount of mud in the entrance. In addition to removing the mud and these plants, I have created 10 cement stepping stones decorated with recycled glass and tiles collected from various places in Monteverde. These will be placed strategically in the entrance as a means of minimizing the collection of mud and allowing for easier passage. The invasive plants which I removed will be replaced with native species that will provide soil stabilization with the long-term goal of offering a higher degree of protection from flooding. Finally, I have been constructing a bench from recycled wood, which will be placed at the entrance with the goal of attracting more people into the area. Overall, my biggest contribution so far has been the progress of removing the problematic invasive vegetation which had contributed to the flooding, and the construction of stepping stones to allow for easier passage through the area. Through this internship I have broadened my knowledge of the different techniques of sustainable landscaping, such as how the removal of the invasive plants and replacement with native plants will create a much more resilient environment in the face of natural events such as tropical storms and floods.

Grace Gaskin INSH products
A selection of selection of stepping stone tiles created for Casa de Arte as part of the CIEE Internship Program


Grace drilling
Grace makes a bench for the Casa de Arte




This past October I interned under Justin Welch, in Monteverde, Costa Rica, to help with his startup company Vision to Reality Consultants (VTR). My internship specifically focused on determining the feasibility of producing biodiesel in Monteverde and determining the best preparation methods and uses for Effective Microorganism mixes. Over the next year, VTR seeks to experiment with different collection and composting techniques in order to lay the groundwork for a large-scale composting operation run by the Monteverde Municipal District. Dani Ufheil with barrels

When I arrived in Monteverde, I was already pursuing my undergraduate degree in Biological Systems Engineering at Iowa State University, but I was unsure about what area of focus I wanted to follow. During my first month in Costa Rica, I learned about an abundance of environmental issues, but one problem that stuck with me was the challenges encompassing waste management. Growing up in the United States, I had always done my best to recycle but was ignorant about the current management practices and problems that waste management posed. It wasn’t until I visited La Carpio, the location of San Jose’s landfill, that I was truly exposed to the issues of waste management and understood that improvements to the system were a necessity.

I knew I wanted to intern under Justin because of the excellent opportunity it provided me to learn more about the components of the waste stream produced by humans, as well as the different options for waste management. As the internship progressed, I was enlightened by what I learned about all the different forms of waste humans generate and enthralled by the enormous potential for improvement within the waste management system. My experience in this internship has inspired within me a passion for developing improvements in the waste management system and has helped me decide to pursue a focus in Biorenewable Resources within my degree when I return to Iowa State next semester.     

I began this internship with very limited knowledge about the different forms of waste and how they are managed, and I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the complex connectivity of Justin’s waste management plan for the Monteverde Municipality. I gained valuable knowledge and research skills when investigating the process and components that go into making biodiesel. I was required to investigate biodiesel from not only a technical basis, but also a business point of view in order to assess the feasibility of biodiesel production.  I conducted interviews to practice communicating in Spanish and to learn about the different components of the organic waste stream produced by local businesses. I had to consider the different management techniques of the organic waste stream that could be used to simultaneously minimize environmental impacts, improve productivity within Justin’s business and enhance overall waste management practices within the municipality. Overall, my greatest contribution to this internship was the information I accumulated for VTR that helped clarify the goals and capabilities of the company, and my greatest accomplishment was obtaining the knowledge that helped clarify my personal future goals.

Dani shoveling and a barrel that is ready
Dani prepares an effective microorganism mixture (left) and a finished barrel, ready for effective microorganism mixture production (right).




Celebrating the Independence of Costa Rica

On Friday September 15th Costa Rica celebrated 196 years of Independent life.  In a country with no army and a great education system this holiday means a big celebration for people of all ages.  

Every single town in the country has a traditional parade with school kids demonstrating their patriotism and their artistic skills in front of the communities where people leave their houses to be part of this important celebration. The parade is full of music, color, tradition and happiness and our Tropical Ecology & Conservation Fall 2017 students wanted to be  part of this cultural experience.


IMG_3397School kids marching with Costa Rican flags, one of the most common scenes during the parade.


IMG_3370Many different schools have their own bands playing music during the parade.


IMG_3381From left to right: Stevie Lennartson (Occidental College), Rachel Blood (Oregon State University), Anika Lindsey (Oberlin College), Raquel Peterson (Whitman College), Lexie Codd (Seattle University), and Cait Barnes (Belmont University) enjoying the parade.


IMG_3386Lots of color in the traditional Costa Rican vestment from the Independence period.


IMG_3389Even the little kids enjoy being part of the traditional parade.


IMG_3391Nick Siebert (Saint John Fisher College) amazed by the Costa Rican Independence parade.


IMG_3400High school students dressed with clothing from different provinces and used for different social activities during the 1820's.



Nora Lazerus (University of Colorado - Boulder), and Maddie Tilyou (University of Pennsylvania) joining the parade and dancing with the traditional Costa Rican mascaradas. 







The end of the journey

The Tropical Ecology & Conservation Summer 2017 program has come to a end.  For 2 months the students experienced the life of a Tropical biologist exploring the different ecosystems of Costa Rica.

For 16 days of those 2 months, the students lived in homestay with Costa Rican families while working on their independent research project, during this time the students have the opportunity to practice their Spanish with their new families and get immerse with a new culture, for some of the students this is one of the highlihgts of the program.  As a farewell CPI, the Spanish language center, organize a picnic with the students and all the families that hosted them during this time, and the students give a presentation in Spanish in which they put their best effort in showing all the cultural and language learning they got during their time in Costa Rica.


IMG_3492Drew Rosso (University of Notre Dame) with his homestay mom Virginia Trejos and his tico sisters.


IMG_3495Amanda Ogden (Utah State University) enjoying some final time with Yadira Loría her homestay mom for two weeks.


IMG_3497Christine Bradley (California Polytechnic State University) posing for the last memory with her mom Miriam and brother Andrey from the Ortega Salas family.


The last days at the Biological Station has been focused on putting all the information gather from the independent research into a written format; but also as a good practice for future professionals the students have to prepare an oral presentation about the findings of the research they conducted for a little over two weeks; during this symposium the students have to opportunity to show to the staff, their classmates and the general public the really interesting scientific findings about the different topics studied in Monteverde.



IMG_3512Derek Frank (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) talking about the spiders webs found in bromeliads and how they act as keystone species for the communities of invertebrates found there.


IMG_3523Talking about a really interesting topic on fire resistance in different species of Cloud Forest trees here it is Vikram Norton from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.


IMG_3530Jimmy Webb (University of Arkansas) explaining his results about the anti-bacterial properties of some medicinal plants used by locals in the Monteverde Community.


It has been an amazing journey for the students and staff of the Summer 2017 Tropical Ecology & Conservation program and hopefully all the learning lessons and the whole experience will stay with the students for a really long time and will be apply to their professional careers and life.  It is time for the students to go back home, but on the way back to San José we have a last short trip to Arenal to enjoy the beauty of the volcano and enjoy some time at the hot springs.


UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3b0Sarah Aitken (University of Pennsylvania) enjoying the view of Arenal volcano.


Student's Projects, Independent Research in Tropical Ecology (Part 3)

The Independent Research is coming to an end, and the students are finishing their data collection and coming to great conclusions with the data they are finding.


Christine Bradley from the California Polytechnic State University is studying the Owl butterfly (Caligo spp) and its oviposition preference and caterpillar survival on native and invasive host plants in the Order Zingiberales. Some families in the Zingiberales order are introduced, like the banana family or Musaceae, and some other families like Heliconiaceae and Maranthaceae are native.  Christine studied the oviposition preference, number of eggs found per plant, and instar sizes of two different species of Owl butterflies Caligo memnon and C. illioneus on six species of plants in the Zingiberales order, 5 species of native plants (4 in the Heliconiaceae family and 1 in the Maranthaceae) and 1 especies, Musa acumminata in the introduced family Musaceae.


Image1Christine Bradley (California Polytechnic State University) checking one of the Heliconia plants looking for eggs or caterpillars of the Owl butterfly (Caligo spp).


Image2Christine marking one of the Owl Butterflies (Caligo spp).


Drew Rosso from the University of Notre Dame looked at the function of drip tips on Cloud Forest plant leaves.  Drip tips are pointy projections found in lots of different leaves in the tropics, these drip tips help the leaves with their water shedding capacity to keep the surface of the leaves clean and dry; most of the studies in the tropics about drip tips function has shown some important capacity on shedding rain water but none of them have show the importance of drip tips draining water from mist in cloud forest species.  For this reason Drew choose seven different species of leaves with drip tips and one without and placed them in aquaria with artificial misters to simulate the cloud forest mist and determine if the drip tips had an effect on the reduction of water on the leaf surface.


IMG_3102Drew's set up of the leaves receiving mist from an artificial mister.


IMG_3100Picture of the inside of one of Drew's experimental aquariums, different drip tip types on the leaves and the erlenmeyer below them to collecting the water drained after the mist exposure.


IMG_3115Drew Rosso (University of Notre Dame) measuring the water collected from one of the leaves with drip tips after the mist exposure.




Student's Projects, Independent Research in Tropical Ecology (Part 2)

The research keeps going on and our students continue gathering really interesting data for the different topics they are all exploring.


Vikram Norton from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst is studying the fire resistance of Cloud Forest Trees. Vikram found that in temperate and lowland tropical forest different characteristics of trees bark will  give them different resistance to fire and as the climate is changing globally forest fires are becoming more common; forest fires are not common in Tropical Cloud Forests, but as the temperatures are increasing and these forests are becoming drier this may becoming a problem in the future, hence his interest on this topic. Vikram choose 10 different common species of trees in the Monteverde area and collected a small piece of bark from 3 individuals of each species, for each bark sample he measured the density, thickness and weight (dry  and wet); and once the samples were completely dry after spending 48 hours in a food dehydrator the fire trials began, he put the samples over a direct flame and measure the time it take the sample to reach 60 degrees Celsius and the time it takes to set up on fire.


IMG_3079Vikram Norton (University of Massachusetts-Amherst) getting his bark samples ready to measure the wet and dry weight.


UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3afSome of the 30 different bark samples, from 10 different species, Vikram is examining during his independent research project.


IMG_3126Vikram Norton (University of Massachusetts-Amherst) doing his burning experiments, here measuring the temperature of one of his bark samples.


Sarah Aitken from the University of Pennsylvania is looking at the predation and dispersion of seeds by Agoutis (Dasyprocta punctata). To see this Sarah is using peanuts as seeds and she is using different treatments with animal dung;  to observe if seeds that have go throughout the digestive system of an animal and expelled out in the dung have a higher chance of survive the predation of a seedeater Sarah is setting up in the field 10 stations with 10 seeds (peanuts) as control and 10 stations with 10 seeds cover with different kinds of animal dung: pig, horse, and cows and measure the number of seeds taken by agoutis or any other animals.  Sarah also wants to see if seeds that are placed in an area with traces of a big predator will deter these seed predators or dispersers to come close to them, for this she is using seed stations with cat pee and seed stations with nothing on them as controls. 

IMG_3094Sarah Aitken (University of Pennsylvania) setting up her seed stations on the field.


IMG_3087Sarah Aitken (University of Pennsylvania) ready to cover one of her seed stations with horse dung.


PoopSeed stations cover with A) horse dung and B) cow dung.


IMG_3470Main predator of Sarah's seeds, the agouti (Dasyprocta punctata).



Student's Projects, Independent Research In Tropical Ecology (Part 1)

A really important part of the development of a field ecologist is the process of doing research and producing scientific knowledge.  Here at our Tropical Ecology & Conservation program our students have the opportunity to experience all the steps a field biologist need to go through while doing research, starting with the writing of a proposal, collecting data in the field, analyzing the data, and ending with a written scientific paper.  

The independent research project is one of the highlights of our program where students choose to do a project that fits their area of interest and where they spend many days experiencing the life of a field ecologist.  Here are some of the projects our Summer students have been working on in the last few weeks.


Amanda Ogden from Utah State University is measuring the impact of humans on the distribution, diversity, and activity of mammals; to measure this Amanda is using the Monteverde Biological Station as a point of reference for human disturbance and from there noticing the presence of different species of mammals at different distances from the Station, to do this she uses three different methodologies: 1) Camera traps, these are cameras set up in the forest that get trigger to take a picture every time an animal big enough walk in front of them. 2) Fake clay eggs, this eggs made out of clay simulating Quail eggs were set up on the ground and left there for a few days to see if they get predated by any mammals, you can identify the predatory mammals by checking the teeth marks on the eggs. 3) Visual counts, walking on the trails around the station looking for mammals and noticing the points where the species are found. To measure the impact of the Station on the mammals, Amanda did each of the three components of her experiment at different distances from the main building.


UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3aaAmanda Ogden (Utah State University) setting camera traps as part of her independent research project.


CameraTrapsSome of the mammal species caught in the camera traps installed as part of Amanda's research project. A) Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata), B) Coati (Nasua narica), C) Puma or Mountain Lion (Puma concolor), and Tayra (Eira barbara).


ClayEggsFake clay eggs experiment.  A) Showing the location of the fake eggs in the field, and B) showing some of the eggs with teeth marks left by predatory mammals.


Jimmy Webb from the University of Arkansas has the interest of working with medicinal plants, Jimmy wants to measure the anti-bacterial properties of some plants found around Monteverde.  To do his experiment Jimmy choose 8 different plant species with supposed anti-bacterial properties and other 8 species where there have been no reports of anti-bacterial activity; extracts of these plants were made using methanol and small discs made out of filter paper soaked on the extracts, once the discs were ready they were placed in petri dishes with growth of two different bacterias Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, 3 controls were also use for the experiment: discs soaked in just distilled water, just methanol, and an anti-bacterial drops (Dexometasona) found at the pharmacy.  The anti-bacterial properties of the plants were measured with the inhibition of the bacterial growth around the discs with extracts placed in the petri dishes.


IMG_3077Jimmy Webb (University of Arkansas) preparing his plant extracts.


IMG_3082Jimmy Webb (University of Arkansas) smearing the Escherichia coli colonies on the petri dishes for its growth. 


PetriDishesPreparation of the petri dishes to measure the anti-bacterial properties of different plant species.  A) discs with different plant extracts being place on petri dishes with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, B) after 48 hours of the discs being placed on the petri dishes the inhibition of the bacterial growth can be measure, here in the form of the halos around the filter paper discs.


The Amazing Forest of Peñas Blancas

After a couple of weeks at the Biological Station in which we had lectures, assignments, lab practical, midterm and many other activities, it was time to have a break from some "normal" school period and have our next adventure; this time our destination was Eladio's Refuge at the Peñas Blancas valley.  Eladio's is found in the heart of the Monteverde protected area also known as the Children's Eternal Rain Forest, to get to this place we hiked for 16 kilometers (10 miles), we started our hike at the entrance of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and after a few hours throughout a marvelous forest full of life we made it to our final destination.

Here at Eladio's we learned about how the conservation of the whole area started, and how farmers who owned the land, like Eladio Cruz, saw the importance of preserving and protecting the forest around Monteverde, changed their mind and sold their land for conservation purposes and start working on increasing the size of the protected area and with the help of many donations, one of the biggest made by a group of Swedish school kids, hence the name of Children's Eternal Rain Forest, the area is now the biggest private reserve in Central America covering around 25 000 hectares of forest.

Besides learning about conservation we also hike through the forest discovering new species of plant and animals, used mist nets to catch bats and birds, did a night hike in which we saw many species of frogs, insects and snakes, visit rivers and waterfalls, and the most important we were in the middle of nowhere with no electricity and internet connection, far away from the "real" world just soaking on nature and enjoying this wonderful new experience.  

It was only a few days there, but a good energy recharging to go back to Monteverde and start our Independent Research project.



The group is ready and really excited to start the hike to Eladio's, here at the entrance of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.  From left to right: Amanda Ogden (Utah State University), Sarah Aitken (University of Pennsylvania) Derek Frank (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), Drew Rosso (University of Notre Dame), Jimmy Webb (University of Arkansas), Christine Bradley (California Polytechnic State University), and Vikram Norton (University of Massachusetts-Amherst).


UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_38bJust after a few minutes hiking we encountered a pair of dung beetles carrying a ball of dung.  These roller species find a source of dung and make a little ball that they roll to a hole in a safe place in which they lay their eggs to develop.



One of the many rivers or streams that we crossed during our time at Eladio's.



It is not call the rain forest for no reason.  Peñas Blancas receive around 9 meters of rain per year and here we experienced first hand.


IMG_3361While its raining and after spending some time exploring nature nothing better than enjoy a little break playing card games.


IMG_3378Drew Rosso (University of Notre Dame) enjoying the waters of Quebrada Celeste (Light blue stream), the name comes from the color of the water.


IMG_3362Eladio Cruz preparing some food for the group.  Eladio used to own the land were the refuge it is found, he was the first person who sold his land for conservation purposes and since then he has been a big collaborator on the conservation of the Monteverde area.  He is a great naturalist and also an amazing cook.


IMG_3407While mist netting for birds we caught several species of them; hummingbirds, manakins, tanagers were some of the types of birds we caught.  Here Derek Frank (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) holding a Long-billed Gnatwren (Ramphocaenus melanurus).


GOPR0058Vikram Norton (University of Massachusetts-Amherst) having a back massage under a waterfall.


IMG_3416Many species of beautiful of frogs were found during our night hike, here Christine Bradley (California Polytechnic State University) posing with the most colorful of all the Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas).