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21 posts categorized "Summer Tropical Ecology and Conservation "


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).


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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.

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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.  

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.


Santa Rosa National Park

Our next stop was at the Santa Rosa National Park in northwestern Costa Rica, right below the Nicaraguan border. Santa Rosa is a tropical deciduous dry forest and differs significantly from the tropical wet forest of Corcovado National Park and therefore the two areas contain very contrasting flora and fauna.

Crescentia alata.

Revisiting Santa Rosa was mind-blowing for me. When I first visited the park in February, we were in the middle of the dry season. And boy was it dry! A majority of the forest trees stood leafless, all the streams were dried up, and the wind kept a cloud of dust in the air all the time.

However, the Santa Rosa forest was still incredible in the dry season. Without leaves, we were able to see an incredible assortment of wildlife all the time. No matter where you went, it seemed like there was some species of monkey or hawk looking at you through the branches.

Orange-fronted Parakeets in the dry season.

This time when we visited, it was the wet season and things were extremely different. We arrived at the campsite in the dark and I was not able to get a good look at what the surrounding forest looked like. The next morning when I woke up, I didn’t recognize anything about where I was. The forest was green, lush and full of life. One of the neatest things to see was amount of butterflies that were everywhere!

IMG_2682View from the hacienda in Santa Rosa.

IMG_2633Phoebis sennae. This species of butterfly has several color morphs.

IMG_2620Caterpillar in the family Sphingidae. Eumorpha sp.

IMG_2655Double-striped Thick-knee.

IMG_2679Tantilla vermiformis. Family: Colubridae.

IMG_2662Milk weed. Asclepias curassavica.

IMG_2627A bunch of eggs.

IMG_2555Bromelia pinguin.

IMG_2672Order: Diptera.

IMG_2670Hog-nosed Pitviper. Porthidium ophryomegas. Juveniles of this species were everywhere! I saw several each day. I only saw an adult once, though.


One of my favorite things I did in Santa Rosa was going out at night to find the creatures of the night. I would spend hours each night hiking around. Even when I could not see anything, the sounds were incredible. Animal activity seemed to be highest at night, and I saw so much!

6b9a689c3381cf02d3ed852601892e58074a51f4d4aa32c9679c135e3d2bce35Costa Rican Zebra Tarantula. Aphonopelma seemanni

IMG_2742A scorpion (Centruroides margaritatus) being devoured by a swarm of army ants (Eciton burchellii).

Walking stick insect. Family: Phylliidae

IMG_2734Army ants. Eciton burchelli.

  IMG_2724Tailless whip scorpion. Order: Amblypygi

IMG_2712A giant water bug. Family: Belostomatidae


One of our days in Santa Rosa was spent hiking 13 km one way to Playa Naranjo. This hike took us through a lot of secondary deciduous dry forest and a small stretch of primary deciduous dry forest. This hike was really incredible. Even after being in Santa Rosa for several days, this hike really highlighted the differences between wet and dry season in this forest.

IMG_2765Ficus sp.

IMG_2781Crested Caracara

IMG_2761Roadside Hawk

IMG_2789In the dry season, this watering hole is often the only place animals can go to find water. We came here during the wet season hoping to catch a glimpse of a tapir. We weren't succesful, but we found a lot of tracks and it was a beautiful spot to watch the sunset.


On our last night in Santa Rosa, we went to Playa Junquillal to celebrate the end of the first field trip. It was a blast and the beautiful sunset was a great way to wrap up a great two weeks.




Carara National Park

After leaving Corcovado, we stayed the night in Playa Hermosa. The following day we visited Carara National Park for a few hours. This park has lots to see, including clowns. Afterwards we got on the bus and headed to our next destination, Santa Rosa.

Here are a few pictures from Carara!


Flower of Erythrochiton gymnanthus. Range is restricted to the Carara National Park.


We found clowns!


Fruit of a Heliconia sp.


A spiny Automeris sp. caterpillar.


A Hoffman's Woodpecker (Melanerpes hoffmannii) eating the fruit of a Monstera tenuis liana.


Green and Black Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus).


Leaf-cutter Ants. (Atta cephalotes).


Finding out I would get to spend the summer as an intern in Costa Rica was a dream come true. My spring semester was spent in the CIEE Tropical Ecology and Conservation Monteverde, Costa Rica program. It was beyond doubt the best time of my life. The experiences I had, the friends I made, and the natural wonders that Costa Rica showed me provided the perfect learning environment that no traditional college or university can offer.  Now, I am lucky enough to be a summer intern with the CIEE Tropical Ecology and Conservation summer program based in Monteverde, Costa Rica. This time, I get to use the knowledge and skills I gained over the past four months to experience the country in an entirely novel way. Here I will try to share some of my journey into the beauty of Costa Rica.