NSF LSAMP REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) for U.S. Underrepresented
Minority Students Summer Program in Costa Rica
(African American, Hispanic American, Native American, Alaskan Natives, Pacific Islanders)
With funding from the National Science Foundation’s LSAMP Program, OTS offers a research experience for students from NSF LSAMP Alliance member institutions. Students selected for the program will live at La Selva Research Station or Las Cruces Research Station for their eight-week program. From this program, you can expect to gain the following: 1) research skills in the field, 2) communication skills through training in scientific writing, oral presentations, science blogging, and videography, and 3) exposure to topics that affect the research stations and biodiversity conservation in the tropics..
La Selva Research Station and Las Cruces Research Station provide undergraduate students with unparalleled access to tropical forest ecosystems, mentoring by experienced tropical researchers, and training in field research methodology. Each student will work with an on-station (field) mentor as well as an on-campus (home) mentor from his/her home institution to ensure the integration of the summer research experience into students’ academic careers.
Please read the “Curriculum” (program description) and the “Prerequisites” (who can apply) tabs carefully. In the “Mentors” tab you can find the complete list of mentors and projects for 2022.
Note about the Program and COVID-19: Strict and obligatory COVID-19 protocols developed by OTS in accordance with international and Costa Rican guidelines will be followed as part of the on-boarding and during-program procedures; additional information will be provided to interested and confirmed participants. All REU program participants will have, COVID-19 testing, and will remain at the OTS research station for the duration of the program (exceptions apply).
Curriculum & Schedule
Students from diverse ethnic and academic backgrounds will complete an independent research project in the field, from the project planning stage through to symposium presentation and potential publication. Undergraduates will be selected through a competitive application process for an eight-week research program at La Selva Research Station or Las Cruces Research Station in Costa Rica. Students will live immersed in a rich academic community of researchers conducting novel tropical research and will attend workshops on field skills, current research in tropical biology, international research ethics, statistics, and scientific written and oral communication. Participants will learn about environmental, social, and cultural issues surrounding the Station.
Prior to arriving in Costa Rica, selected students and their assigned mentors must communicate effectively via email and internet calling platforms to prepare for the program. Under the guidance of their mentor, students will write a brief research proposal and prepare an oral presentation before coming to Costa Rica. The team will also need to complete all research permit paperwork and arrange for equipment and supplies.
Pre-departure: Besides working with your mentors before the trip, participants will need to prepare for international travel and living and working at the field station. To be ready for international travel, participants will need to have their passport, consult with a physician about travel health and vaccines, understand and comply with international restrictions because of the pandemic (including Costa Rica entry requirements), and take a COVID-19 test.
- Students arrive to Costa Rica and to the Research Station. They will receive introductory lectures and will have workshops to refresh or adjust scientific skills. They will get to know their environment and decide on study sites.
- The introductory week ends with a proposal symposium, where all the students present their ideas for their summer research projects.
- Students collect data for their projects.
- In addition, cultural activities and virtual guest lectures will occur during this period.
- Students finish their data collection and focus on analyzing their results. They produce their final papers and their presentations.
- The program ends with a research symposium where all students present the results of their projects.
- Students will then spend a last night in San José, the capital city, where they will share a Closing Dinner and then will return to their homes. Please note that before returning home, a COVID-19 test might be required before travel depending on current travel restrictions.
- March 10: Student applications open
- April 4: Student application deadline
- April 4 to April 18: Student selections announced
- April 18 to April 24: Students send their forms and paperwork
- June 6: Program starts at Las Cruces Research Station (students arrive in Costa Rica)
- June 13: Program starts at La Selva Research Station (students arrive in Costa Rica)
- August 1: Program ends at Las Cruces Research Station (students fly to the U.S)
- August 8: Program ends at La Selva Research Station (students fly to the U.S)
*Exact dates, except arrival and departure, subject to change.
Related Downloads (to be updated)
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La Selva REU Mentors 2022
Laura Bizzarri (University of Connecticut)
Project 1. How do phoretic flower mites choose their host plants?
Phoresy, defined as the use of another organism for dispersal, is widespread among mites. However, the underlying mechanisms for this unique lifestyle remain largely understudied. In particular, the mechanism by which a mite can recognize its preferred host, remains unclear. It is hypothesized that chemical cues from the host allow mites to recognize and ultimately choose one host over another. In flower mites that utilize hummingbirds to move among flowers, the standing hypothesis is that mites can recognize the scent of the flowers of their preferred host plant. The student will use an olfactometer set up to test: 1 – The ability of mites to discern between air and flowers of their host; 2 – Mites’ preference among a variety of potential hosts in comparison with their known hosts.
Project 2. Do phoretic flower mites run as fast as cheetahs?
Hummingbird flower mites rely on hummingbirds for dispersal among their host plants. Phoretic dispersal of flower mites on hummingbirds is assumed to rely on the ability of mites to run as fast as cheetahs to embark and disembark from the hummingbirds’ beaks. However, to date,
there is little evidence that this group of mites is indeed capable of running at the speed of cheetahs. This project will investigate the running speed of phoretic hummingbird flower mites and whether there is a relationship between the speed of different mite species and the hummingbird species that visit their host plants. The student will use a high-speed camera to record mites running and then use computer software to measure the speed. The speed data will be used to test for correlations with hummingbird beak length data that has been previously
Justin Nowakowski (Smithsonian Institution)
Confronted with changing climate suitability, species may be able to persist locally in microclimate refugia or disperse to areas with more favorable climates. By maintaining tree cover, forest restoration and agroforestry initiatives may contribute to both local persistence and facilitate the movement of animals under climate change. An REU project would map microclimate variation associated with forest restoration or agroforestry by deploying microclimate sensors and combining these measurements with high-resolution drone or satellite images. Using these data, the student could then improve predictions of species distributions under continued climate change.
Deforestation and reforestation drastically alter local microclimates. However, few studies integrate thermal ecology into research on biodiversity responses to forest cover change. An REU student could study the consequences of microclimate for species occurrences in mature forest and altered habitats (e.g., deforested sites and those under restoration and/or agroforestry) through active field surveys (for amphibians and reptiles) or camera trapping (for mammals). A project could also quantify aspects of species’ climatic niches to understand how niches and microclimates interact to shape local biodiversity. Projects 1 & 2 are not mutually exclusive, and students could work on aspects of each. The proposed projects would combine field and laboratory work, offering students an opportunity to learn sampling techniques as well as geospatial and statistical methods.
Mariana Gelambi (Virginia Tech)
Project 1. Effects of nutrient composition on fruit bat foraging behavior
Project 2. The relative role of nutrients versus secondary metabolites in fruit bat foraging
Seed dispersal is a critical ecological process that maintains tropical forest diversity. Fruit bats play a pivotal role in this process, dispersing several pioneer plant species (e.g., Cecropia, Vismia, Solanum, and Piper) that colonize forests during the early stages of regeneration. Although the relevance of this process to ecosystem sustainability is well documented, the mechanisms underlying the fruit-frugivore interaction remain unclear. REU students will investigate the role of two different groups of chemical traits, namely nutrients and secondary metabolites, in the foraging behavior of the Seba’s short-tailed bat (Carollia perspicillata). Both projects will be conducted with captive bats in flight cages, using two-choice experiments that vary the concentrations of different macronutrients (Project 1) or nutrients and secondary metabolites (Project 2). I have successfully conducted pilot experiments with an artificial toxin at La Selva. Preference will be quantified as the amount of food eaten in 30 minutes. The projects involve: (1) capturing wild bats in mist nets, (2) preparing artificial diets with different concentrations of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids (project 1) and secondary metabolites (project 2) and (3) conducting two-choice experiments with bats in flight cages. The students would have to work in the afternoon preparing the diets and cleaning the flight cages, and at night, working with the bats. As the choice experiments are short, there is plenty of time to test other variables that students might be interested in. The experimental design will remain flexible, and can be easily customized and adapted to the students’ interests. The two students can work synergistically and collaboratively in the field. Rabies vaccines will be required for any student planning to handle bats, and masks and gloves will be required for working in flight cages.
Danielle Brown (Middle Tennessee State University)
Project 1. How do competing species share the same space?
Project 2. How does vertebrate diversity change across forest types?
My research focuses on studying animal behavior to 1) understand the factors that drive differences in behavior among populations and 2) predict population consequences of behavioral responses to environmental change. The primary objective of student projects will be to use direct observation and remote monitoring (camera traps) to compare species diversity and behavior between areas of intense human activity, restored forest and intact/original habitat. Students will get hands-on experience in experimental design, behavioral observation techniques, data recording and digital record-keeping (maintaining a camera trap photo database). Daily field work will involve setting up the camera traps and hiking out to change camera cards and check batteries. Direct observation of animals will occur at some trap sites. Laboratory work (and when it is raining) includes uploading camera trap photos to a shared database and annotating the photos with species identification and other characteristics for later analysis. Project possibilities: How do competing species share the same space? How does vertebrate diversity change across forest types?
Carissa Ganong and Ashley Elias (co-mentors) (Missouri West State University)
A key step in conservation is understanding the factors that drive species abundance and distribution. This project will examine whether stream fish abundance and diversity are related to aquatic insect abundance and diversity, terrestrial insect subsidies, and/or stream phosphorus concentration in streams across La Selva Biological Station. Two students will work together in the field, one taking the lead on quantifying fish abundance and diversity and the other taking the lead on quantifying insect taxa. This project will involve a significant amount of hiking to field sites across La Selva, as well as microscope work to identify insects. Students will develop their skills in fish and insect identification as well as learning different sampling methods for fish and insects.
Las Cruces REU Mentors 2022
Project 1. Constructing a particulate carbon budget for a neotropical stream.
Allochthonous organic matter is an important source of energy and nutrients in forested streams, and understanding the deposition, retention, transport, and decomposition of these sources of organic matter is crucial to monitoring stream health and change. While the characterization of organic matter processing in temperate forested streams has been well described, analogous studies are lacking for neotropical streams. I would like to construct a budget of particulate organic matter within the Las Cruces stream network by conducting surveys of litter deposition rates, measuring standing stock, and using a series of litter releases to characterize litter retention and transport. Additionally, I am interested in developing related projects, such as surveying macroinvertebrate community structure associated with leaf litter packs in streams and monitoring decomposition rates.
Project 2. Controllers of freshwater crab behavior and implications for decomposition dynamics.
We have found two species of freshwater crab (Pseudothelphusidae) associated with stream systems at Las Cruces. Previous projects show that (1) the distribution of the crabs within and outside of streams is highly variable, and (2) that the crabs contribute to the decomposition of leaf matter through shredding. I would like to explore factors controlling crab behavior, densities, and leaf processing rates. For example, crab species and parasite load (trematode metacercariae were discovered in both crab species) may impact activity.
Terry J. Torres-Cruz
Project 1. Diversity of microfungi in primary tropical forests
Fungi in the genus Fusarium are widely distributed around the world. However, most of our research efforts study these fungi for their importance in agriculture by causing plant diseases and economic losses in various crops. Our knowledge of their diversity in uncultivated areas is currently limited and there is potential for discovery of new species in primary tropical forests, which are species-rich and understudied. The REU student will develop a project that describes the occurrence and diversity of fungi, with emphasis in the genus Fusarium, in a primary tropical forest. The student will learn sampling techniques for plant tissues and soils, collection and recording of field data, and will develop basic microbiology laboratory skills like isolation, culturing and use of a microscope. Additionally, the student will gain experience in data analysis and develop scientific oral and writing communication skills that are generally applicable to different professions and fields of study. The project requires making observations and sample collection 2-3 times a week during the first 4-5 weeks, culturing for isolation of fungi back at the station for 2-3 hours in the afternoon after each collection, and transferring of cultures and observing cultures under a microscope.
Project 2. Variation in plant and soil fungal diversity under different reforestation strategies
Soil and plant fungi are key players in tropical rainforests. These fungal communities can be affected by the use of land and habitat loss. We have little information about the diversity of fungi in the genus Fusarium associated with different reforestation approaches after agricultural use. The REU student leading this project will compare the Fusarium communities found in secondary forests under different reforestation strategies. The student will learn sampling techniques for plant tissues and soils, collection and recording of field data, and will develop basic microbiology laboratory skills like isolation, culturing and use of a microscope. Additionally, the student will gain experience in data analysis and develop scientific oral and writing communication skills that are generally applicable to different professions and fields of study. The project requires making observations and sample collection 2-3 times a week during the first 4-5 weeks, culturing for isolation of fungi back at the station for 2-3 hours in the afternoon after each collection, and transferring of cultures and observing cultures under a microscope.
Sara Shuger Fox
Project 1. Rural Public Health Outreach for Nutrition
Reducing morbidity and mortality related to obesity is a public health priority in rural Costa Rica.
The objectives for this site study are to explore two rural populations of Costa Rica, specifically
identifying the prevalence of obesity and developing preventative measures to articulate public
health literature. Specific objectives include the following:
1. Develop cross-cultural competency in Costa Rica by fostering experiential learning goals
in a rural setting.
2. Investigate the differences in a universal vs public healthcare system.
3. Examine literature for the promotion of public health outreach in rural Costa Rican
communities, specifically targeting dietary modifications.
Project 1. Microhabitat preferences of benthic invertebrates in tropical streams.
Benthic environments in tropical streams host a variety of organisms of different life strategies, ranging from soft bodied, infaunal plathelmints to insects with aquatic larvae or macrocrustaceans. The REU student will develop a project that examines the factors affecting the aquatic invertebrates’ preferences for certain microhabitats, their abundances or species composition across a tropical stream. For this purpose, they will use different field capture techniques, animal manipulation methods and habitat characterization, as well as laboratory methods including the use of microscopes and identification tools. If more than one student is interested, two projects could be carried out on this subject.
Project 2. Predation-prey relationships of semi-aquatic spiders.
Semi-aquatic spiders are fascinating animals that live in rocks and crevices in the vicinity of water bodies, preying on insects, frogs, tadpoles, and other organisms including small fish. Two species of the non-web genus Trechalea are abundant in the rainforest’s streams of Costa Rica, where they play an important ecological role by controlling other species’ populations. However, little is known about their behaviour and the factors affecting their hunting/resting activities. This study aims to investigate their predation strategy and activity rhythms; The REU student can expect searching rivers for big spiders during different times of the day, observing activity patterns, and mapping their movements. If more than one student is interested, two projects could be carried out on this subject.
Project 1. Conduct female-removal experiments to characterize embryonic sources of
mortality in clutches with and without females
Early studies of the natural history of this species report little or no parental care. Previous studies on this species at Las Cruces Biological Station revealed that the females stay between 45–85 minutes with the clutch before deserting it, however, no published studies have evaluated if female presence provides a direct benefit to the clutch. To test this, the student will use enclosures in the field to carry out parent-removal experiments. After fertilization and oviposition occur, females assigned to the removal treatment will be displaced from the clutch. Clutches will be compared between the two treatments (control vs. removal) to determine if egg attendance provides any benefit to the offspring.
Project 2. Experimentally determine whether female oviposition site choice increases
Previous studies on the reproductive behavior of E. prosoblepon indicate that females lay eggs more frequently on bryophytes (mosses, liverworts, and hornworts). However, it has not been explored whether females discriminate between potential oviposition sites. The student will test whether females deposit eggs at random when presented with alternative oviposition substrates. After fertilization occurs, we will determine if the different substrates lead to differences in hatching success.
Allie Martin and Lindsey Swierk (co-mentors)
Project 1. The effects of predation risk and microhabitat quality on dive duration in water anoles.
Performing antipredator behaviors often comes at a cost—less energy is available for other important tasks, such as foraging, reproduction, and territory defense. When anoles dive into streams to avoid predators, they need to balance staying underwater long enough to escape predators with the costs that being underwater entails—loss of body heat and depletion of oxygen. The student conducting this study will test lizard dive duration under different levels of oxygen, temperature, and flow, and will study how the presence of a simulated predator also affects antipredator behavior.
Project 2. Individual differences and preferred antipredator tactic
Individuals with different characteristics (size, sex, etc.) often vary in their performance of antipredator behaviors due to differences in energetic priorities. For example, males of a species may perform antipredator behaviors for shorter durations so they can save energy to
devote to attracting females. The student conducting this study will examine differences in antipredator tactics in field studies to determine if and how individual variation affects antipredator tactics.
Housing & Meals
June through August are normally the busiest months of the year at OTS research stations, and but we expect that because of the pandemic there will be fewer groups on station during the REU program. La Selva and Las Cruces have many researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, coming from all over the world who stay for all or part of the summer to work or study. Due to the pandemic, social bubbles on station will need to remain separate, but there will still be opportunities to learn about other researchers work at OTS.
It is very likely that you will be sharing a room with one or more other students in the REU program. You will be part of a diverse group of students and researchers, representing many different opinions and lifestyles. For this reason, it is important to be tolerant, respectful, honest, cooperative, and, above all, have a good sense of humor!
Meals at the stations consist of many Costa Rican and international favorites, with rice and beans being the basis of the local diet. Students should be prepared to eat on station for all of their meals, and to enjoy a simple yet hearty menu. Many special diets can be accommodated, but some specialty items are not available in Costa Rica.
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.
Students will be obligated to follow strict COVID-19 protocols and guidelines at all times during the program, including quarantine, testing, mask-wearing, social-distancing, stringent hygiene, etc.
Students will be obligated to also follow OTS´ other policies related to well-being and safety, including but not limited to alcohol (not permitted for students), sexual harassment, forest and water safety, and group living norms.