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4 posts from August 2017


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.