Tropical Ferns and Lycophytes

Status:Accepting Applications
When:Jan 4-20, 2025 (Arrival: Jan 3 - Depart: Jan 21)
Where:Las Cruces and La Selva Research Stations
Duration:2 weeks
Credits:2 Credits
Deadline:Deadline August 18, 2024
Program Guide:
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SKU: U-SA-AEC-2019-2-1 Tags: , , ,

Program Overview

Tropical Ferns and Lycophytes is a special course of the Organization for Tropical Studies (OET). It is the fourth time this course has been offered. This course will provide a strong foundation for the education of future generations of pteridologists (students of ferns and lycophytes) of the neotropical region and beyond. This is an intensive postgraduate-level course that combines instruction in current ideas about the evolutionary relationships of ferns and lycophytes, reproductive biology and ecology, training in practical techniques for studying these plants, with a strong emphasis on rapid identification of these plants in the field. During the course, the participation of three professors — all national and international experts — exposes students to a wide variety of new ideas and techniques and offers them the opportunity to forge important personal and professional contacts. For many participants, this unique blend of practice and theory turns out to be a key experience in their education as a botanist and scientists in general. Costa Rica, with its high biodiversity and an excellent system of research stations and natural protected areas, is the logical venue for this course.

The course is designed to build the diverse skills needed for floristic, taxonomic, phylogenetic, and ecological research on tropical ferns.  A complementary mixture of theory and practice, the course alternates lectures on fern evolution, ecology, and phylogenetic reconstruction with training in field identification, ecological methods, and specialized workshops on topics such as ecophysiological instrumentation, anatomy, morphology, and gametophyte biology.  The main goal of this course is to learn the major families and genera of tropical ferns in a phylogenetic and ecological context.  Thus, lectures and discussion of phylogenetic theory and methodology complement a broad evolutionary survey of the major fern and lycophyte clades. 



Program Description

The course emphasizes the following topics:

    • Identification of tropical fern and lycophyte families and genera
    • Comparative morphology and anatomy of sporophytes and gametophytes
    • Phylogenetic relationships of the major clades
    • Methods of field collection and specimen preparation
    • Reproductive and gametophyte ecology
    • Biogeography
    • Hybridization and polyploidy
    • Ecophysiology
    • Fern ecology

San José. Students receive an introduction to the course at the OTS office, review equipment, buy rubber boots at Mercado Central, and welcome dinner.

Las Cruces Research Station, 1100 m elevation. Situated in the 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, which is ideal for research on fragmentation and restoration ecology. Las Cruces harbors 10 species of lycophytes and 125 species of ferns.

La Selva Research Station, 50 m elevation.  Situated in a wet lowland rain forest on the Atlantic slope, La Selva is not only OTS’ most prominent and longest-running station but also one of the world’s premiere centers of tropical forest research. Over 1,500 hectares of old- and second-growth rainforest are 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, the station connects to Braulio Carrillo National Park via a forested altitudinal transect ranging from 30 to 2,500 meters above sea level. La Selva harbors 13 species of lycophytes and 178 species of ferns.

The course is an intensive field course that runs all day. It begins with breakfast at 6:30 am. Lectures or fieldwork begin by 8:00 am. Lunch is at 12:00 pm, and dinner at 6:00 pm. Dinners are usually followed by a lecture and/or group discussions.

Tropical Ferns and Lycophytes course tuition is $3200 (member institutions) and $3950 (Non-member institutions)

A lot of partial, but substantial, scholarships are available. Please do not hesitate in contacting us if you need more information regarding this.

Cost includes all lodging and meals, transportation during the course, and all course materials. Personal expenses such as laundry, mail, entertainment, international travel, 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. Tuition is based on a minimum of 12 students, if more students are accepted tuition cost will decrease (up to 21 students).

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

Additional scholarships may be available for students with demonstrated financial needs. 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 assess your situation individually and determine your eligibility for a partial scholarship if you are selected for the course.

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


Tropical Ferns and Lycophytes has three full-time coordinators and a teaching assistant from renowned universities worldwide. This edition of the course will be led by Drs. Eddie Watkins, Alejandra Vasco, and Robbin Moran.


Dr. Eddie Watkins  is a Professor in the Department of Biology at Colgate University in New York. He is a plant ecophysiologist who focuses on ferns with a special interest in the reproductive ecology of tropical and temperate species. He has published dozens of papers on the functional ecology of ferns and is best known for his contributions to the understanding of gametophyte ecology and physiology. He has worked in Costa Rica for over two decades and has co-organized the Tropical Ferns and Lycophytes course and served as a resource person for both the OTS Tropical Plant Systematics and Tropical Biology courses. 


Dr. Alejandra Vasco is a Research Botanist at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas. She is a native of Medellín, Colombia, and has extensive tropical field experience. Much of her work on ferns has been with Elaphoglossum. Her research incorporates traditional morphological and developmental techniques, fieldwork and herbarium work, combined with molecular genetics and comparative genomics. Alejandra was a student of the 2008 version of the Tropical Ferns and Lycophytes course and has been an invited faculty of the last three versions of this same course.





Dr. Robbin Moran is Curator Emeritus at the New York Botanical Garden. He has published four books and over 200 scientific papers on ferns. Robbin was the main writer, editor, and organizer for the pteridophyte volume of Flora Mesoamericana, a work that treats the ferns and lycophytes (nearly 1400 species) occurring from southern Mexico through Panama. His book A Natural History of Ferns is a nontechnical account of fern biology written for the general public. Since 1998, he has been involved with various OTS courses. This will be the fifth Tropical Ferns and Lycophytes course he has participated in.


Housing & Meals

It is important to recognize that the OTS program differs from typical on-campus life.

Though you may have one or two roommates on campus, in Costa Rica you will be living closely with 15-22 other students and 2 to 5 professors and/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 backgrounds in very different settings) creates great images and memories. You will, for sure, share these experiences 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.

A note on Costa Rican customs and culture:

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 if you have any questions regarding cultural differences and norms at any time.

Passport & Visa Information

You must have a valid passport to travel to Costa Rica. It is important that the passport does not expire within six 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 the visa application processes can take several months, depending on the country of issue. For more information on this topic please visit

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.