Field Ecology: Skills for Science and Beyond (Costa Rica)

When:Postponed until 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic
Where:OTS Stations in Costa Rica (La Selva, Las Cruces, Palo Verde) and Monteverde
Duration:3 Weeks
Credits:4 Credits
Program Guide:
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Course Overview

Field Ecology: Skills for Science and Beyond is an intensive, three-week course that will challenge you in every way. This course is a shortened version of the Advanced Ecology summer course. Nevertheless, at its heart lie the highly regarded OTS “field-inspired research problems”, which engage students in the fast-paced formulation of research questions based on field observations, experimental design, data collection, analysis, and oral and written presentations.

Students will take away advanced skills in research design, data analysis, writing, science communication, and collaborative research – all in the breath-taking tropical setting that is Costa Rica. Long days and late nights, filled with science. The 2019 course will place emphasis on research and analysis tools as well as science communication. We guarantee that you will return to your home institution a better scientist. Who could ask for more?!

Course participants are eligible for pilot and research awards provided by the OTS Fellowship program. Students most complete the course successfully to be eligible.


The students will get extensive experience designing and conducting group and individual research projects across a range of tropical ecosystems. A large emphasis will be placed on:

  • Design of research questions based on innovative field observations
  • Research approaches
  • Analytical tools.
  • Statistical analysis using R.
  • Scientific writing and oral presentation.

In addition, the course will emphasize skills for communicating science both to scientists and the general public. Science communication will be addressed through a workshops on writing and presenting, and students will be responsible for maintaining a student blog.


Field Ecology: Skills for Science and Beyond is designed to make the most out of the students’ time. A students’ day during the Filed Ecology course will usually begin at 06:00 hrs. with breakfast at 06:00 or 06:30 and a start to the field by 07:00 hrs. Lunch will be at 12:00 hrs. (Lunch may be out in the field depending on the circumstances) and dinner at 18:00 hrs.

We will have a review of the next day’s work after dinner, usually followed by a lecture and occasional general group discussions or data analysis. The pace can be overwhelming at first, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you get used to it, and by how much you see and learn.

Sites Visited

Field Ecology: Skill for Science and Beyond is a highly mobile course that travels to field sites throughout Costa Rica. Costa Rica has an incredible diversity of ecosystems and the course field sites represent most of the major ecosystem types in the country, ranging from wet forest to dry forest, low elevation to high elevation. The course visits all three OTS field stations (La Selva, Las Cruces, and Palo Verde), as well as Monteverde Biological Station.

La Selva Biological Station

Situated in wet lowland rainforest on the Atlantic slope, La Selva is not only OTS’ largest and longest-running station, but also one of the world’s premiere centers of tropical forest research. Over 1500 hectares of old- and second-growth rainforest is readily accessible via an extensive trail system. Besides its impressive forest and excellent laboratory and classroom facilities, one of La Selva’s great assets is the opportunity to interact with researchers from around the world. In addition to this, the station connects to Braulio Carrillo National Park via a forested altitudinal transect ranging from 30 m to 2500 m above sea level.

Las Cruces Biological Station

Situated in premontane rainforest on the Pacific slope, Las Cruces has a world-class plant collection in the Wilson Botanical Garden and an associated 160 hectare tract of old growth mid-elevation forest. Las Cruces is surrounded by agricultural landscapes, ideal for research on fragmentation and restoration ecology.

Palo Verde Biological Station

Situated in the heart of Palo Verde National Park in the Guanacaste province, the Palo Verde Biological Station is surrounded by over 19000 ha of semi-deciduous tropical dry forest and seasonal freshwater wetland. The tropical dry forest is one of the most endangered of the tropical ecosystems and one of international research interest. The seasonal freshwater wetland, designated as a RAMSAR site in 1991, lies in front of the station and attracts abundant waterfowl.

Monteverde Biological Station

In the cloud forest that continues towards the Atlantic slope of the humid Eternal Forest of Children, protecting more than 55,000 hectares, it is the largest extension of private reserves in Central America. There will also be a visit to the Monteverde Biological Reserve, recognized worldwide. The Monteverde region contains 8 Holdridge life zones, and is the site where the course emphasizes Biological Conservation.


Tuition, Room & Board

Field Ecology: Skills for Science and Beyond course costs exceed $5,500 per student. Students from non-OTS institutions are charged $5,500 for tuition, whereas students from OTS-member institutions are charged $2,500 (with a $3,000 OTS scholarship).

Cost includes: all lodging and meals, transportation during the course, and all course materials. Personal expenses such as laundry, mail, entertainment, international travel, airport tax ($29), insurance, medical expenses, etc. are not covered. Also, students planning additional time in Costa Rica before or after the course should allow $50-60 per day.

Course fees are due in full one month prior to start of course.

Additional scholarships may be available for students with demonstrated financial need. If you are interested in being considered for a partial scholarship please make sure to include a request for a partial scholarship along with the rest of the required documents. The letter should outline your financial situation, previous scholarships/grants (if any), and the amount you are seeking from outside sources to cover the costs of the course. The letter will help us asses your situation individually and determine your eligibility for a partial scholarship if you are selected for the course.

Please note that the scholarships are awarded and applied only to the tuition/course cost. They cannot be applied in any other way, for example travel expenses. Although we may be able to award a partial scholarship, we recommend that you seek funds for the course outside through you own means, such as applying for grants from your department or organizing small fund raisers.


Field Ecology: Skills for Science and Beyond is characterized by having two full-time coordinators and a teaching assistant from renowned universities worldwide. This edition of the course will be led by Dr. Carissa Ganong and Dr. Darko D. Cotoras.

Carissa Ganong, Ph.D.
Ph.D., University of Georgia

Carissa is an aquatic ecologist and invertebrate zoologist with a strong interest in anthropogenic impacts on aquatic ecosystems, and her research integrates in situ field studies, laboratory mesocosm experiments, and analytical chemistry techniques. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, and her dissertation work examined the effects of precipitation regime on stream pH and stream macroinvertebrates at La Selva Biological Station. She is currently an assistant professor of biology (and all things invertebrate) at Missouri Western State University. She has coordinated the summer NSF-OTS La Selva REU program since 2014 and also coordinated the OTS field ecology course in 2017.

Darko D. Cotoras, Ph.D.
Ph.D. Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley

Darko is an evolutionary biologist interested in the historical processes that create biodiversity, particularly looking at oceanic islands. He combines field surveys with museum work to answer questions about phylogenetics, population genetics and genome assembly. Currently, he is a Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences and previously did a PostDoc between that institution and the University of California, Santa Cruz. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley studying the temporal dynamic of an adaptive radiation of Hawaiian spiders. His Master in Ecology and Evolution, and Bachelors in Biology are from the Universidad de Chile. He has been faculty on several OTS courses,  as well as co-coordinate graduate Field Ecology and the REU program at Las Cruces.

Wagner Chaves-Acuña

Wagner is a Ph.D. student at Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina, interested in the taxonomy, systematics, and conservation of anuran amphibians. His research focuses on the disparity and evolution of morphological traits within a tree-frog genus endemic to the Central American Isthmus. He has previously conducted research on the attendance behaviors associated to male-only parental care in glassfrogs, and he has also explored the colors of aposematic poison-dart frogs through predator and conspecific visual systems. He obtained his Bachelors in Biology from the Universidad de Costa Rica, and he currently works at the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” – CONICET. He has participated as a teaching assistant in the field ecology course since 2017.

Students will have the opportunity to interact, be taught by and participate in group field projects with faculty from many different universities and research interests.

Housing & Meals

It is important to recognize that the OTS program differs from your typical on-campus life. You will be a guest in Costa Rica, and consequently you will need to be sensitive to and respectful of Costa Rican customs and culture. In general, Costa Ricans (“Ticos” and “Ticas”) are warm, friendly, and courteous. We encourage you to interact with many Ticos, and we hope you will develop some good friendships.

It is important to remember that certain behaviors that are acceptable among fellow classmates at an OTS site may not be acceptable when dealing with non-course participants. For example, Costa Ricans tend to be conservative in their attitudes toward nudity and sex. Thus, stages of undress that are acceptable and inevitable in field station dormitories are offensive in public. Also, nudity on beaches, no matter how apparently deserted, is inappropriate.

Costa Ricans tend to be much more tolerant of noise (say, the loud music coming from the neighbor’s house or the children shouting and running in the living room) than many of us are in the U.S. While we ask that you be respectful of Costa Rican ways and customs, we also understand that cultural norms can often be subtle, complex, and even counter-intuitive. If you would like some advance preparation regarding Ticos and their way of life, we suggest you read Biesanz, et al. The Ticos Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica (1999, ISBN 978-1555877378) before coming to Costa Rica. Other sources you should consider are Palmer and Molina´s (2004) The Costa Rica Reader History, Culture, Politics (ISBN 0-8223-3372-4), Baker´s (2015) Moon Costa Rica and Coates’ (1997) Central America A Natural and Cultural History (ISBN 0-300-08065-4). Please feel free to ask OTS staff about any questions you have regarding cultural differences and norms at any time.

Though you may have one or two roommates on campus, in Costa Rica you will be living closely with 15-25 other students and two to five professors or field assistants. This means communication and respect will be crucial. All of us need to be as open, honest, and cooperative as possible. We also need to have sincere respect for one another, regardless of different opinions and lifestyles. This includes respect for privacy, respect for rules and regulations, and even respect for the fact that unpredictability is an inherent feature of field-based programs such as ours. Indeed, next to communication and cooperation, flexibility and a good sense of humor are the most important characteristics of a successful student in our program. By living and working with the same people for several weeks, you will undoubtedly develop a number of very close friendships. The combination of uncomfortable (being wet, muddy, and tired), wacky (a bunch of Gringos on the dance floor), wonderful situations (watching iguanas sunning on the bridge at La Selva), and truly amazing (interacting with people from all sorts of social back-grounds in very different settings) creates great images and memories. You will, for sure, share these with your fellow participants well beyond the end of the course.

As OTS students, you must not only be proactive in asking the questions (and finding the answers) that are important to you, you must also be ready to share your own knowledge and experience with the rest of the group.

<h3>Passport &amp; Visa Information</h3>
You must have a valid Passport to travel to Costa Rica. It is important that the passport does not expire within 6 months of entering Costa Rica. If you are NOT a citizen of a North American or European country, you will probably need a special visa to get into Costa Rica. We recommend that you contact your respective consulate or embassy services to determine if you need a visa to travel to Costa Rica. It is important to take into account the requirements to get a visa approved before you apply for one of our courses. If you are accepted into one of our courses we will provide any information necessary (within reason) to help with the visa application. Please keep in mind that visa application processes can take several months depending on the country of issue. For more information on this topic please visit <a href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”></a>.

U.S. citizens entering Costa Rica are automatically granted a 90-day tourist Visa. Students planning to stay in Costa Rica after the program end date need to take this into account. Please consult OTS if you have any questions about this.

Health & Safety

OTS is deeply committed to student safety and well-being and does not expose students to unnecessary danger or risk. OTS monitors national and international events that might affect our students. Five decades of risk assessment, emergency response, and crisis resolution have enabled OTS to maximize student safety and security. All students participate in an on-site orientation program upon arrival in Costa Rica. For our most current safety information, contact the OTS Enrollment Management staff at