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Fall 2016: Undergraduates Experience Abroad  

It's been a great semester!  The students of the undergraduate Tropical Biology semester abroad program finished with a final flourish with dinner and slide show on Monday, December 12, reminiscing about their semester experiences.

During the second half of the course the students traveled to Monteverde, Bocas del Toro, and Palo Verde. In Monteverde the students explored the cloud and premontane forests, went frog hunting while learning about the global declines of amphibians, explored pollination syndromes, and received firsthand look at the pros and cons of an ecotourism-motivated community.

In Bocas del Toro the students visited the ITEC station, which was their base for snorkel exploration of marine reefs and sea grass beds. Aided by Alain Duran (UCSB and FIU), they conducted herbivory trials on the fringing reef near the station to try to understand how a fish-poor reef was still in such good shape with respect to coral cover. The answer? Part of the reef is not as fish poor as they thought according to the go-pro videos, and the other part of the reef has a lack of fish herbivores, but an abundance of sea urchins that more than make up for that!  

In Palo Verde they explored the forest and marsh in the Park and the agricultural projects outside the Park. Students examined infection dynamics of mistletoes on host trees and set up a long term monitoring project led by faculty Mauricio García and invited faculty Pablo Riba. They also explored the effects of group size on risk-taking behavior in Astyanax fish with invited faculty Augustin Engman from UNC.  

Exciting Research Projects

Students completed a number of independent projects at Palo Verde. One project examined the impacts of low salinity on the freshwater snails of the marsh, trying to mimic the effect that climate-change induced sea-level rises will have on marsh salinity. The snails were definitely unhappy with their new 2% and 4% salt-water habitats and fed less on lettuce than the 0% control group!  

Two students from Bowdoin and Reed Colleges teamed up to explore the effect of low light environments on the sensitive aquatic plant Neptunia natans. They found that plants from low light adjust their responses to non-damaging stimuli in several ways, though they won't give away the results because they hope to submit a small paper detailing how plants change their behaviors when the costs and benefits of their actions change. Pretty exciting!  

An unusual observation of crickets eating Eichhornia Water Hyacanth flowers led two students to explore the impacts on pollinator attraction, while other students examined the impact of agricultural landscapes on pollinator attraction to Ipomea morning glory flowers.  

Another project at Palo Verde examined how a spider that camouflages in the vegetation close to the flowers affects the plant by eating potential pollinators. Interestingly, they found that the spider was not only eating the bees, but eating herbivores and other predators. Maybe the spider is not affecting the plant as negatively as they thought.

As with any good project, the students ended up with more questions than answers. As the semester continued, students contributed more submissions to the course blog and wrote about their experiences and how they have affected their thinking and their perspectives. Read back over this semester's blogs, and follow the coming semester at: http://tropical-biology.blogspot.com/

Photos: Erika Deinert, Mauricio García-C, and Stephanie Valle
Last Updated ( 12/21/16 )
Organization for Tropical Studies
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