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14 posts categorized "Summer Tropical Ecology and Conservation "


Santa Rosa National Park: a little bit of history, conservation and dry forest

After spending a few days in the wet and moist forests we made it to Santa Rosa to explore the dry forest. Santa Rosa is exceptional not only because the different habitats and ecosystems you find there, but also for the historical and conservation value this place have for Costa Rica.

Santa Rosa was an old cattle farm hacienda in which 2 important battles happened. First in March 20th, 1856 the Costa Rican forces fought against the forces of filibuster William Walker, the filibusters were housed in the main farm building, La Casona, the ensuing battle lasted 14 minutes with the Costa Rican militia victorious in ousting the invaders.  And in 1955 Costa Ricans fought intruders supporting a coup attempt against the government of Jose Figueres Ferrer.  For this reason La Casona became a Costa Rican Historical Monument and one of the reasons why the park was created.

Santa Rosa was the first National Park created in Costa Rica in 1971, with the idea of protecting the natural environment beyond the historical site, the unique habitats within the park include savannas, deciduous forest and mangroves.  Since the creation of the park the biggest battle has been fought to conserve the area, but mostly to restore the habitat from cattle farms to what the forest used to look dozens of years ago.

During a few days we got to explore the beauties of this dry forest in regeneration, see many new species of plants and animals and experience firsthand the changes that 35-40 years of regeneration can make in a forest.



The Black Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) one of the most common animal inhabitants of Santa Rosa.




The Summer 2017 Tropical Ecology & Conservation group enjoying the shade of a Strangler Fig (Ficus sp).  From left to right, top: Jimmy Webb (University of Arkansas), Derek Frank (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), Christine Bradley (California Polytechnic State University), Drew Rosso (University of Notre Dame); bottom: Vikram Norton (University of Massachusetts-Amherst), Sarah Aitken (University of Pennsylvania) and Amanda Ogden (Utah State University).




La Casona, Costa Rica's Historical Monument.



UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_31aStudents learning from Alan about the history of the battles at Santa Rosa right at the place where the action happened.



Part of the conservation efforts in Santa Rosa and adjacent areas has been to connect the lowlands with the top of the mountains of the Cordillera de Guanacaste, this forest corridor its a really important migratory way for most of the animal species who escape the harsh dry and hot conditions in the lowlands during the dry season.  Most of these mountain tops are volcanoes some of which are active.



UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_325While learning about the importance of preserving big patches of forest and having corridors connecting these areas, Rincon de la Vieja Volcano had an eruption (yes, that big white cloud on the back!) that we did not noticed until we checked our pictures.  Do not worry that eruption it was just gas and ashes and did not affect us at all.



UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_327Alan with the students after a good learning day in which we learned the natural history of some of the plant and animal species found in Santa Rosa, the history of the place, and the importance of conservation and restoration of habitat.







Transition between Wet and Dry forest, Carara National Park

Time to move from the wet forest to the dry forest, but half way there we found Carara National Park. Carara is a moist forest in which you can see the transition between those two habitats, here you can find the best of both worlds but also encounter unique species. This was a only a morning stop, but a wonderful forest to visit and an interesting transition to see before getting to the dry forest.


IMG_3235Derek Frank (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) and Vikram Norton (University of Massachusetts-Amherst) really interested in learning about this new habitat and all the species found in there.



A cup fungi (Cookeina speciosa), a really common fungi found in Carara.



The Green and Black Poison Dart frog (Dendrobates auratus), this diurnal frogs has toxins that protects it against its predators, this common species of Carara forest feed mostly on ants where they get the compounds to produce their toxins.


The word Carara comes from the Costa Rican indigenous tribe Huetar and means crocodile. Right next to the National Park the Tarcoles River contain a really high density of crocodiles in a small area, this is an uncommon and unexplainable situation, but a good stop to see many of this incredible animals.


IMG_3242Important sign at the beginning of Tarcoles bridge.


IMG_3243What are they looking at?!


IMG_3244Ohh yeah, all those crocodiles.


IMG_3250Hungry or what?. The American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is one of the biggest species of reptiles worldwide, as reptiles they are ectotherms who need to bask exposed to the sun to get warm, what we are seeing here is a common behavior shown by the crocodiles when they need to cool down a little.




The Wet Forest of Corcovado National Park

After spending a brief time at the habitats of Paramo and Mangroves it was time to move to Corcovado, here we will be spending a few days exploring this amazing habitat full of life and many species of plants and animals to discover.  The first day we got to learn about beach ecology and explore the forest around Corcovado.


07Alan teaching the group about butterfly ecology with a live example of a Morpho butterfly.



A pair of Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao), here perched in the tree that is their favorite food item, the Beach Almond (Terminalia catappa), reason why they are usually seen along the coast line.


An important aspect of a tropical ecologist life is to create a baseline of how a tropical forest look; in a world in which a big part of the primary forest have disappear and most of the tropical forest is secondary growth, it is really important to experience with all of our senses an undisturbed tropical forest and get a point of comparison, this will give us a better idea of the importance on preserving untouched forest and to let disturbed forest to growth and regenerate.

With this idea we had a 16 km hike (about 10 miles) in which the biggest part of the hike was along a gorgeous patch of undisturbed primary forest, here you could see lots of animals (birds, lizards, frogs, insects, mammals) and trees that reach a hight of 50 or 60 meters tall.  The students get to walk at their own pace and experience this hike individually, getting immerse and feeling this forest in a unique way.




A stream in the middle of the primary forest of Corcovado.


01Vikram Norton (University of Massachusetts-Amherst), Sarah Aitken (University of Pennsylvania), Amanda Ogden (Utah State University), Derek Frank (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), Drew Rosso (University of Notre Dame), Jimmy Webb (University of Arkansas), and Christine Bradley (California Polytechnic State University) standing at the roots of a big tree at Corcovado.


IMG_2433View of the primary forest.


During our last night in Corcovado we went on a night hike and got to know some of the nocturnal fauna found in the area, several species of frogs, many species of spiders and insects and some mammals were our company during the time we went out in the dark, with our flashlights of course! 



The Smokey Jungle Frog (Leptodactylus savagei), the second largest species of frog in Costa Rica.



The Central American Woolly Opossum (Caluromys derbianus), one of the ten species of marsupials found in Costa Rica.



Tropical Ecology & Conservation Summer 2017

The Summer 2017 Tropical Ecology & Conservation group has arrived, seven young enthusiasts looking to learn as much as possible about tropical ecosystems, and at the same time admire all the different habitats and scenic beauty that Costa Rica has to offer.

After one day exploring San José, the capital city, it was time to start our first field trip. First stop, the Paramo, this may not sound like the kind of habitat you expect when you talk about a Tropical area, but in a country with a lot of mountains like Costa Rica, this habitat is really important for many endemic species that lived at the top of the mountains, we learned about some of the common species found here and some adaptations these species have to survive the daily changes in temperature and weather conditions.


IMG_3111View of the Paramo at Cerro de la Muerte.


IMG_3104Derek Frank (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), Jimmy Webb (University of Arkansas), Drew Rosso (University of Notre Dame), Sarah Aitken (University of Pennsylvania), and Vikram Norton (University of Massachusetts-Amherst) learning about Paramo characteristics and the plant and animal species found there.


IMG_3119 Fiery-throated Hummingbird (Panterpe insignis), one of the common species of the Paramo in Costa Rica, this species is endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama. 


After spending a few hours at the cold Paramo it was time to go down to the hot and humid lowlands, we made it to the town of Sierpe about dinner time, at night we had a lecture about Mangrove Ecology to get us ready for the habitat we will be exploring the next morning. Early in the morning the next day we were ready to explore this important wetland, we learned about the different mangrove species found there, the plant and animals associated to them and we even go to walk through the roots of some mangroves.


IMG_3127Students and staff getting ready to explore the mangroves of Sierpe.


IMG_3128Sierpe river.


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Christine Bradley (California Polytechnic State University) walking through the roots of a red mangrove (Rizophora mangle).


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Amanda Ogden (Utah State University) finding her way through the roots of red mangrove (Rizophora mangle).


Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 2.06.36 PM

Derek Frank (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) enjoying the view from the top of the roots of red mangrove (Rizophora mangle).




Why Study Tropical Ecology & Conservation with CIEE in Costa Rica? Watch!



Summer 2014 Student Reflects on Her Experience

Jessica Barnes from University of Colorado - Boulder spent Summer 2014 with CIEE in Costa Rica.



 Her independent research examined changes in flowering and fruiting phenology of understory Cloud Forest plants.  She compared current phenologies to those from the early 80's.  Among her findings were that plants with narrow phenological windows were most different and that plants formerly only reported below the Cloud Forest had move up.  


(Photo from Clark lab at University of Alabama)

Besleria solanoides (Gesneriaceae), formerly seen between 1320-1460 meters, was found flowering above 1550 meters for the first time in Jessica's study.  This suggests that some understory plants are moving up in elevation.  

Jessica shares some thoughts on her summer with CIEE in Costa Rica:

"Venturing to Costa Rica through the CIEE program was nothing short of incredible.  It was an experience I will keep with me for the rest of my life and has encouraged me to continue traveling to explore cultures and ecosystems.  Every trip consisted of learning, not just about tropical conservation biology, but also about myself.  Learning in the field allowed me to absorb information more easily than in any classroom setting and makes me wish that all classes could bring you into the mangroves to teach about Avicennia germinans while introducing you to it in person.  

Although the work was incredibly challenging, it illustrated to me exactly what I am capable of and has in turn made me a stronger person mentally, physically and emotionally.  The staff was nothing short of amazing.  They are always prepared to help and create a safe and fun atmosphere.  

Being immersed in Central American culture was amazing and my Spanish increased tenfold while I realized how different our cultures actually are.

 I wouldn't trade my two months in Costa Rica with CIEE for anything else in the world and I would strongly encourage anyone who has a passion for the environment and conservation to do the same.  You won't regret it."





Tropical Ecology & Conservation: Summer 2014


Our first night in San Jose, Costa Rica.  Here is our first chance to sample real Costa Rican food.  Everyone looks so clean!


The large figures in the back are used in local parades.  


After a brief orientation, we explore the city and the topic of Urbanization with Humans in the Tropics instructor Gisella Fernandez.  


The next morning we begin a 2 week field trip to explore Costa Rica's biodiversity.  Here is our first stop:  the oak forest, bamboo thickets and paramo above 3000 meters altitude.  


Katherine finds a once common but now rare mountain salamander (Bolitoglossa pesrubra).  This is endemic to one mountain range in Costa Rica, which means it is found only there.  This is one of many tropical montaine amphibians whose populations are in decline.

Images  The Fiery-throated Hummingbird is another highland endemic.  Tropical Biology instructor Adam Stein (below with red backpack straps) points it out and later gives a brief lecture on why so many bird species are endemic to tropical mountain peaks.DSC08749

The next morning we are in boats exploring mangrove forests.

2014-06-14 09.35.01

Will examines the leaves of Mora megistosperma (sometimes oleifera) along the Rio Sierpe in the Southwestern part of Costa Rica.  This is in the bean family (Fabaceae).





From the boat we see a large American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) on the shore.  

2014-06-14 11.56.24

David climbs on some mangrove roots to get a closer look.


Far from the crocodile, we swim for a little while in the Rio Sierpe.  After, we continue down river and into the Pacific ocean on our way to Corcovado.


Nina and Maxine.




 Cassidy, Jessica and Will exploring Corcovado's lowland rainforest.


Class on the beach of Corcovado National Park.


Katie reviews her notes after a long day of exploring.


Tony does the same but looks a little sleepy.


A typical Corcovado sunset.  In all, we spent four nights in Corcovado.  

2014-06-15 15.30.41

We hiked...


learned about lowland tropical rainforests...


Scarlet Macaws...


Spider Monkeys...


tapirs (three in one day!)...



snorkelled around the nearby island called Isla del Caño...

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took a swim or two...

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and learned about beach ecology.

From Corcovado, we made our way up the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.  Once outside the forest, we stopped and talked about some important land uses, like banana (Musa acuminata)...

Unknown Bananas

and African Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis)


which is the leading cause of deforestation in many parts of Asia.  

We spent a morning exploring Carara National Park, which is about halfway up the Pacific Coast.   Full-all-hiking-trails-map-carara-national-park


Carara National Park is only 5,000 hectares (1 hectare = 2.5 acres), but is the only remnant tropical moist forest along the Pacific coast that hasn't been converted to oil palm or cattle pasture.

Dendrobates auratus, Green and black poison dart frog, Family Dendrobatidae, La Selva, Costa Rica-4676

The Green and Black poison dart frog (Dendrobates auratus) lives in the leaf litter of Carara.  It apparently gets its toxicity from eating certain ants.  


A large mating pair of millipedes (Nyssodesmus python) help decompose Carara's leaf litter.  

From Carara, we kept going North to Santa Rosa National Park, where we camped for four nights.


Santa Rosa is a lowland tropical dry forest.  It has a dry season of over five months.  During this time, it doesn't rain at all.  Even though it looked green in June, if you were to go back in March it would be very brown and most plants would be leafless.  



Our campground became a makeshift classroom where we learned about leaf morphology.

2014-06-20 12.33.17

Lily, Kathy and Maricel made delicious food for us while we were out working.


Michael and Anna gathering data on mutualistic Acacia ants for a group experiment.  Other groups worked on bird nest site selection or fig and fig wasp interactions. 


Will, David, Karen and Marny take seat in the dry forest as they hear about how important successional changes taking place in the park.


A 13 km hike to the beach is a cause for celebration.


 A brief history lesson at La Casona of Santa Rosa, where U.S. adventurer William Walker's army was defeated as they tried to take over Nicaragua and Costa Rica.


We go to Las Pumas Rescue Center and see five of Costa Rica's six species of wild cats, including the jaguar.  Unfortunately, the cats cannot be released into the wild for various reasons.


 A waterfall break on our way to Monteverde.  


Arriving at the Monteverde Biological Station.


Hiking up to the ridge of the Monteverde Cloud Forest.


The Elfin Forest at 1800 meters behind the Biological Station.  Monteverde is known for its epiphytes, like many orchids, that live on trees.  Monteverde has more species of described orchids than anywhere else.


Most of Monteverde's orchids are very small.  This is a Platystele sp.


A visit to a local coffee farm for Humans in the Tropics.  This is a traditional farm with a mix of crops around the coffee.


David and Anna on the canopy bridge in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve.  David studied the impact of tourism on mammals in the reserve for his independent project.


Karen, Jessica and David in the Cloud Forest.  Jessica studied changes in the flowering and fruiting phenology of Cloud Forest understory plants in the reserve for her project.  


Marissa feeds a calf during a Humans day that explores local livestock practices.


Cassidy climbing a local strangler fig.


Inside a strangler fig.


With instructor Adam in the forest.

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Tony and Katie examine flowers for an arthropod diversity lab.


Life in the canopy.


Maxine on her way to Eladio's cabin in the middle of the Children's Eternal Rainforest.


Mealtime at Eladio's cabin.


Mistnetting birds.


David meets a red eyed tree frog on a night hike.  


With TA Moncho (purple) admiring a rainforest viper.



Maxine works on a wood bowl during a Humans in the Tropics day that studies Forestry.


Monteverde view.

Photo 1

Hiking to swim in some local hot springs.


Katie with her home stay family.


Will presents the results of his study on epiphyte placement in trees at different altitudes.


This is a small sample of many wonderful adventures in learning for the Summer Tropical Ecology & Conservation group for 2014.  Many thanks to all of you.  We wish you the best.

If you like what you see, come and join us!  


Welcome to the CIEE Monteverde Blog

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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.  

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!


Here is a video by Summer 2014 student Jessica Barnes of UC Boulder. This is to encourage young women to study STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) using her CIEE Tropical Ecology & Conservation program as an example. Enjoy and thanks Jessica!


Peñas Blancas

After spending a few weeks at the biological station in Monteverde, we headed out for our next field trip. This trip took us 16 km to a station in the Peñas Blancas Valley. This area is surrounded by tropical rainforest and is full of cool things to see.


Our local on this trip is at a station named “Eladio’s Refuge." Eladio sold the land to the Centro Científico Tropical and now helps guide groups in, cook for them, and share his incredible wealth of knowledge on the biology of the region.


Every moment at Eladio’s is unreal. Whether you wake up with the sun to see an incredible display of Costa Rica’s bird diversity, are sitting under the porch to let a storm pass, or just eating his food- everything here is extraordinary!



During the spring semester, we left Eladio’s and headed to Poco Sol, La Tirimbina, Parismina, and eventually ended up in Bocas del Toro, Panama. In these places we were able to experience beautiful coral reef ecosystems, leatherback sea turtles, and explore the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. For summer program, we spent five days at Eladio’s and headed back to Monteverde. The summer program has a much shorter second field trip, but we still saw a lot!

IMG_3164Eyelash Pitviper. Bothriechis schlegelii.

Norops capito.

IMG_3174Corytophanes cristatus just hanging out.


Dictyophora sp.


Coprinus disseminatus.


Cotylidia sp.

IMG_2965Mycena sp.

IMG_3218Order: Megaloptera.

IMG_3169Order: Coleoptera.

Fern frond.

IMG_2964Family: Araceae.

IMG_2963Alloplectus weirii.


And of course we went out on a night hike. The Peñas Blancas Valley is on the Caribbean side Costa Rica and receives a lot of rainfall each year. This makes it a perfect place to find amphibians:

IMG_3204Red-eyed Tree Frog. Agalychnis callidryas.

IMG_3183Climbing toad. Incilius coniferus.

IMG_3207Smilisca phaeota.

IMG_3198Juvenile Duellmanohyla uranochroa.

IMG_3185Smoky Jungle Frog. Leptodactylus pentadactylus.

IMG_3178Dendropsophus ebraccatus.


A giant Orthopteran.