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6 posts from December 2016


Zach Plooster from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities made a video about his experience during our Fall 2016 program.  Thank you Zach for such a wonderful video.

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Internships in Sustainability and the Environment: "Sustainable Landscaping," Bex Klafter

Throughout the past month, I have been working with sustainable landscaper Felipe Negrini to create mosaics using upcycled materials to improve the Monteverde-Santa Elena transect. This internship has focused on increasing the functionality of the transect—currently difficult to walk due to poor pedestrian-oriented infrastructure—by enhancing the security and aesthetics of a section of the trail to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. I have created mosaics on twenty bricks to install in the area which will draw attention to trail to encourage more pedestrians to walk there. The main beneficiaries of my work are the local residents and visitors walking the transect and trail.

            I was drawn to this internship because I’m interested in subtle systems changes to increase the walkability and therefore sustainability of cities. Additionally, I have always wanted to create art using upcycled materials, such as the tiles I used for my mosaics. Cities in developing countries face major issues related to extremely rapid urbanization without sufficient city planning and thus suffer inadequate infrastructural growth. Monteverde is no exception; most parts of the transect lack appropriate sidewalks, there has been very little planning dedicated to future expansion, and many areas experience decay and erosion due to heavy rain and poor maintenance. While there are trails from Santa Elena to the Cloud Forest Preserve, many have fallen into disrepair and are infrequently used by pedestrians—posing a serious safety hazard and detracting from both residents’ and visitors’ experiences of Monteverde.

To accomplish this internship, I first familiarized myself with Monteverde by walking the transect multiple times while noting observations, reading previous interns’ evaluations of the area, and researching Monteverde’s history. After gaining a better understanding of the town and its infrastructural strengths and needs, I decided to create mosaicked cinderblocks to install on the trail to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. To make the mosaics, I met with local artist Ana Ovares, who is very experienced with mosaics and taught me the techniques. Then, I gathered old materials such as ceramic tiles, cracked tea cups, and broken bottles and smashed them into the shapes I wanted. Finally, I put cement on the blocks and added the materials. After drying, each cinderblock required a laborious cleaning and maintenance process.

BexSmashing tiles to make pieces for mosaics

I am grateful for this internship opportunity because, professionally, I am interested in pursuing a career in environmental regulation, potentially through government. This internship allowed me to learn more about urban planning, infrastructural shortcomings, and the potential role of sustainable landscaping to ameliorate these problems—which will help me at a position in an environmental government agency. In addition, I learned about and created mosaics, which I’d previously known nothing about. As a student of environmental studies, my work products rarely include anything more tangible than a paper or presentation, so I have loved the opportunity to produce something physical and learn a new artistic skill. The twenty mosaics I made and installed forced me outside of my comfort zone by pushing me to think creatively about how I could alter perceptions of the physical space through my contributions. Although challenging, this internship was an extremely rewarding experience allowing me to learn more about sustainable landscaping, Monteverde, and mosaics. I hope to continue creating upcycled art in the future and believe that the patience, skills, and knowledge acquired in the process will benefit me in my future artistic, scholastic, and professional endeavors.

Bex 2

The twenty finished mosaic cinderblocks 


Internships in Sustainability and the Environment: "Communications in Sustainability," by Otter Giltz

I served my internship with Radio Monteverde, a communications project in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The purpose of the project is to facilitate the creation and dispersal of sustainability related information to a bilingual audience. My supervisor was Mari Wadsworth, the director of Radio Monteverde. She offered invaluable guidance, training and feedback throughout the process.

My internship was focused on the creation of three podcasts on topics of sustainability: environmental, economic and social. For the podcasts we interviewed 11 stakeholders in the Monteverde zone. We worked to include representatives of social, environmental and economic sectors of the zone. The first podcast centered on the paving of Route 606, the mountain road up to Monteverde, and its impacts on the zone. The second podcast was significantly longer and encouraged sustainable development using examples from the zone. The third and final podcast was focused on the rural community of Guacimal and its community efforts to protect its waterways.

Being from a small, tight knit farming community, I have always been interested in communities. Interested in understanding their structure, composition and motivations. I learned early the power of communities and the importance of communication in their effectiveness. This has led to a professional interest reflected in my education, in the hopes that I may facilitate such community dialogue toward the a sustainability oriented end.

I have gained several new skills during the course of this internship as well as further developing some I previously held. The new skills I gained were primarily technical. I learned how to operate a portable audio recorder and basic skills in the audio editing program ‘Audacity’. Additionally, I developed skills in communication. I wrote and conducted interviews on established topics in conjunction with my fellow intern. I developed my interpersonal communication and non-violent conflict resolution skills in navigating conflicts during the course of our internship.

FullSizeRender (1)Conducting an interview at Monteverde FM

Due to my limited Spanish language skills I did not facilitate the majority of our interviews, although I was present and involved. My biggest contribution was in time spent reviewing interviews, selecting relevant portions and assembling them into a podcast built around our narration. Personally, I consider my biggest accomplishment in this internship to be the successful navigation of differing interests and styles, especially during the construction of the various scripts.


An interview at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

The limited length of this internship did not limit the mutually productive relationship I formed with the benefitting parties. While the work was done directly for broadcast by Monteverde FM I know it will be heard not only by local but global citizens. In turn, this internship impacted me by encouraging me to develop a variety of technical and professional communication skills that will benefit me for years to come.


Fall 2016 Tropical Ecology & Conservation Independent Research Projects

One of the highlights of the Tropical Ecology & Conservation program is the Independent Research Project.  For about a month the students develop a project idea in which they go through the entire process of scientific research: writing a project proposal, 28 days of data collection both in the field as in the lab, and writing a scientific paper with the results of the project.

Here are some of the Student's Projects from the Fall 2016 


Ben Sehl from Purdue University studied the aggression levels of the bee Crawfordapis luctuosa; this is a solitary ground nesting bee who's nests are usually found in clay habitats. To test the aggression levels of this bees Ben had circle tube trials in which he placed bees that were provisioning (bringing pollen) to their offspring paired with bees that were not.  He found that bees that were provisioning were over 22 percent more aggressive than those that were not provisioning; and also that only non-provisioning bees increase their aggressiveness as they become bigger.  This provide support to the idea that non-provisioning bees are kleptoparasitic and the provisioning bees need to defend their nests from them.


Ben Sehl (Purdue University) during one of his circle tube trials

CrawfordapisCrawfordapis luctuosa, Ben's study organism


Paige Heitzman from Gustavus Adulphus College studied how the predator escape behavior of the Blue Morpho butterfly (Morpho peleides) is affected when exposed to different concentrations of ethanol; Morpho butterflies feed on rotten fermenting fruit that may contain a concentration up to 4.5%.  In a flight cage Paige fed the butterflies for 5 minutes with ethanol solutions of concentration 0%, 0.5%, 1%, 2%, and 3% and then check the subsequent flight times of the butterflies with a stimulus of 3 KHz.  She found a significant decrease in the flight time of the butterflies as the alcohol concentration increase from 0% to 3%.  This suggest intoxication levels lower predator response avoidance in Morpho butterflies.

PaigePaige Heitzman (Gustavus Adolphus College) holding a Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides)

Morpho butterfly (Morpho peleides) during a feeding trial.


Dylan Rose from University of Colorado - Boulder did his project in how the ecosystem function is impacted by bryophyte diversity and moss mats looking at temporal stability of moisture and the biodiversity associated to the moss, this are important factors due that Tropical Cloud Forests are at risk as global warming alters the precipitation and temperature regimes.  He found that as you go high in elevation there is an increasing in the moss mat.  He also found species from high elevations dehydrated the fastest.  This are important findings showing that lower elevation species retain water for longer periods and rehydrate faster, and their movement upslope may outcompete the high elevation species.

DylanCollectingDataDylan Rose (University of Colorado - Boulder) measuring moss diversity and depth in the Elfin Forest at the Monteverde Cloud Forest.


Sequoia Perpetual-Lowry from Eckerd College investigated how epiphytic communities are organized and what assembly rules are at play in recently fallen branches in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.  For this Sequoia found 64 fallen branches with sizes between 30-100 cm length and 10-30 cm in diameter, on these branches she looked for moss coverage and number of individuals and species of epiphytic plants.  Sequoia found that as the percentage of moss cover increase on the branches the species richness also increased, also the vascular epiphytes in the Cloud Foresta are assemblage in a random way.  When you see this on the perspective of global warming as Tropical Cloud Forest experience more consecutive dry days, mosses my buffer water shortages or epiphytic communities are likely to follow mosses uphill seeking historic mist levels.

Sequoia and sampling branchSequoia Perpetual-Lowry (Eckerd College) with one of her sampled fallen branches cover with moss and epiphytes.


Zach Plooster from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities studied frugivorous bird interspecific aggression and niche partitioning in the tropical tree Spondias purpurea, this is an abundant tree that produces fleshy fruits used by frugivorous birds as food supply.  Due to the high abundance of fruits produced by this tree Zach observed several trees for periods of 45 minutes looking for bird species foraging in the trees but also the foraging location, aggressive behavior, fruit preference (green or ripe), and the time to arrive and departure for each individual.  Zach found larger birds  were more aggressive than smaller birds and also that the middle area was the most prefer foraging area for birds, some species of birds prefer green fruits over ripe and viceversa.

Zach Birdwatching Zach Plotter (University of Minnesota - Twin Cities) looking for birds at a Spondias purpurea tree.


Emily Rockhill from Pomona College did his project with the use of veterinary antibiotics in agricultural practices and the effect of these in dung dwelling invertebrate communities this due dung associated communities perform important ecosystem services, and alteration could result in more pronounced environmental consequences. Emily used dung from cattle treated with antibiotics and cattle not recently treated and looked for invertebrate morphospecies for identification.  The Shannon diversity index showed that dung from cattle treated with antibiotics communities had a significantly higher abundance of individuals but a lower diversity of species.

EmilyEmily Rockhill (Pomona College) with one of her dung samples.


EmilyBugsSome of the invertebrates found by Emily Rockhill (Pomona College) in the dung samples.




Internships in Sustainability and the Environment: "Social Media at Bajo Del Tigre," Ariel Kahn

During this past month I worked with Orlando Calvo to improve social media for the Bajo del Tigre Reserve, in order to promote visitation by local and international eco-tourists and stimulate conservation activities that support the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. The history of how the reserve was established is an extraordinary story. It is truly unique and memorable to those who learn about it. I started by researching the history, mission and vision of the rainforest. The basis of this information was crucial when forming my final products, because it allowed me to gain a better understanding of the reserve. I also researched social media to understand whom the reserve should reach out to. This involved analyzing the data they have for their Facebook page, to see what main age demographics visit their page. From there I researched information on their two main age demographics as well as social media as a whole. This allowed me to form strategies and examples on the content and manner of their posts for their social media accounts. Using the data I acquired, I formed an agenda that included three posts for each day of the week, as well as the type of posts accustom for each day.

Ariel 2

This photo represents how I produced the captions for the flora and fauna pictures. I used books as well as the Internet to find information for the topics.

My personal interest in the internship was our shared ultimate goal of conservation efforts. The position leveled with my major as well as my certificate in renewable and sustainable energy. As an environmental scientist, I deeply care about the environment, which was the catalyst in my decision to choose this organization to work with. I really enjoyed engaging with the individuals at the reserve and being an active member of their team. The history of the reserve and their compassion for sustainability needs to live on even in the face of an endangered budget, which is why I have played an integral part in securing their future through social media management.

            Through my research process, I have acquired a wide variety of skills and knowledge. I learned about how social media reaches out to individuals and how to attract certain age groups when doing so. By using that information, I formed documents that will be very useful for the reserve. I also studied different flora and fauna in order to develop captions for pictures that will be used on their social media pages.

            My greatest contribution is creating the basis for social media they will utilize to increase their visitation. The research and products I have accomplished will be valuable when trying to promote conservation activities that support the reserve. The beneficiaries of my work are flora and fauna, Costa Ricans and individuals all over the world.

Ariel 1

This picture was taken at Bajo del Tigre. It represents the day, which consisted of taking pictures of flora and fauna at the reserve.


Internships in Sustainability and the Environment: "Landscape Architecture," Ella Hinkley

This fall I invested four weeks in an internship with landscape architect, native Costa Rican, and resident of Monteverde Felipe Negrini. Our goals were to improve the functionality and aesthetics of the walking trail leading from Santa Elena to Monteverde using sustainable landscape designs. In doing this, our aim was to improve the quality of life and safety of individuals who walk the transect. The beneficiaries of my project include residents of Monteverde as well as the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve each year.

            This internship in particular was appealing to me because it poised the opportunity for me to work with my hands, think creatively, learn about native plants and make a tangible, visible difference in the community. I have a deep love for gardening and a growing appreciation and interest in landscaping and urban planning. Through this experience I explored both of these, while aquiring other new skills as well. I hope to pursue jobs that relate to sustainable landscaping, with a primary focus on promoting wildly productive land and garden spaces devoted to food harvest through permaculture. Although this internship did not relate to food production, I utilized permaculture principles and assessment methods in my designs. It was inspiring to get to work with Felipe, hear his perspectives on landscaping and develop my own style of design.

The section of the trail that I chose to focus on posed the most need, as the entrance of the trail was not very visible, and many people were choosing to walk on the road instead. Aside from promoting safety by securing the trail, I wanted to draw people into walk there because this transect winds through a healthy forest, full of native plants and abundance. The physical products I created are a living archway signifying the beginning of a trail that appears just after a bridge, where it was before unclear where it was continuing. To do this I cut branches from Tubu trees and sunk them into the ground. These will hopefully sprout and take root, as we are in the rainy season and this type of tree is hardy enough to do so. I also attached fallen epiphytes to the branches for aesthetic appeal. Another contribution I made was securing and filling in the trail as it crossed the drainage ditch. A previously dangerous and eroding bank is now a safe and inviting place to enter this beautiful section of trail. Other contributions include areas of native plantings in and around the trail and small branches with epiphytes at the study center.

IMG_1412Securing the trail

In this internship I integrated economic sustainability by using materials that were salvaged from the forest, hoping to set an example for the city to see how sustainable landscaping can fit in their budget. I also promoted social and environmental sustainability by creating a safer place for people to walk, encouraging them to use this path and experience nature.


This internship was epiphantastic!