December 2021

Welcome to the OTS newsletter for our community! Our goal is to stay connected, announce news, provide updates, and share memories. If you would like to contribute in any way, please contact us.   

Stay connected to students and researchers in the tropics. Get social with OTS!
A message from our President and CEO

OTS friends:

Recent welcome rains in Southern California make me long to be at one of our beautiful OTS field sites. I can almost pretend I am there as my screensaver images move through the incredible landscapes and organisms that talented OTS photographers have contributed. My sincere hope is that 2022 will bring welcome opportunities for you and for researchers, students, and natural history visitors to travel to OTS facilities in South Africa and Costa Rica.

In a final end-of-year activity, for the very first time ever, OTS will host Christmas Bird Counts at all of our sites in Costa Rica, in partnership with community groups and conservation authorities. Last year’s counts recorded 342 species at La Selva and 182 species in Palo Verde. Las Cruces has been added as an official site for this year. We can’t wait to learn the results! 

All of us at OTS thank you for your support and wish you the best for a great 2022. 

Beth Braker
President and CEO
Covid Update
Guest contributor: Chelsea Ward
(Photo credit: CDC)

Vaccines for kids are here! Boosters are here! But Omicron is also here. The Great Lakes and Northeast see Covid cases rising and hospitals filling. Omicron is now the dominant variant in the United States. We find ourselves wanting normalcy and navigating odd conversations about vaccine status. As of press time, the U.S. finally allows international travelers in with proof of vaccination. However, there are restrictions for some African nations, including South Africa, due to the presence of Omicron. They continue to require all incoming travelers to provide a negative PCR test before traveling regardless of vaccination status.

Although the U.S. State Department is still not recommending travel to Costa Rica and the CDC classifies Covid infections as very high, Costa Rica is experiencing a decrease in Covid
infections, boasts a 66.7% vaccination rate, and recently announced a vaccine mandate. The mandate will be in full effect beginning January 7, 2022. During the transition, businesses can operate at 50% capacity and allow any individual in, regardless of vaccination status OR operate at 100% capacity and allow only fully vaccinated persons in. The mandate will apply to everyone including tourists 12 years and up. Masks are required for everyone in public spaces. Travel to Costa Rica is allowed, and unvaccinated or partially vaccinated travelers are required to carry travel insurance. The health pass survey is required for all tourists. It has to be filled out 72 hours before flight, and you will be given a QR code which you will scan at immigration.

The State Department asks travelers to not travel to South Africa mostly due to the presence of the Omicron variant. Approximately 20% of all South Africans have been vaccinated, and the country is currently observing their alert Level 1. A curfew is in effect from 12am to 4am daily, and public meeting spaces close at 11 pm. Face masks are required in all public spaces enforced by ticketing.
Even with Omicron, we are all cautiously planning our travel for 2022 and holding our breath that we have done our collective part to decrease the spread of this disease. Stay well and stay hopeful.
In memoriam of Mario Boza Loría (1942-2021)
Guest contributor: Pedro Leon
(Photo credit: Mario Boza via LinkedIn)

Costa Rica´s prominent system of national parks and wildlife preserves owes its existence to two indisputable leaders, Álvaro Ugalde and Mario Boza. Álvaro passed away in 2015, while Mario has recently left us (October 29, 2021) with a legacy that will endure as a huge green footprint in the midst of an increasingly degraded world. Many mourned his departure, including Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado, who posted a statement of support for his family, recognizing Mario's contribution to the creation and care of the protected areas housed in the Ministry of the Environment.
Mario was trained as an agronomist at UCR and went on to CATIE, where he was mentored by Kenton Miller and Gerardo Budowski in the production of a thesis on the Volcan Poás National Park. Kenton had just done a similar study for the emerging Santa Rosa National Park. In 1969, Mario became involved in writing and lobbying Congress to pass the Forestry Law that established the System of National Parks (SPN) and the Forestry Department, enacted in 1970. Mario was asked to lead the SPN and soon connected with Álvaro, who was finishing his degree in biology at UCR. Both Álvaro and Mario took a training tour, led by Miller, to the US National Parks that transformed their lives. They both found their vision and vocation.
During the following decades, Mario and Álvaro consolidated and augmented representative rain forest types, volcanoes, and wetlands into a functional system tied to academic institutions, such as the Tropical Science Center and OTS, and to nature tourism. Mario and Álvaro then created, with the help of a couple fellow biologists (Luis Diego Gómez and myself), the National Parks Foundation (FPN), along with José María Rodriguez. The FPN, with substantial help from IUCN, TNC, and many other partners, raised funds to buy inholdings that were exerting strong legal and political pressures for compensation. Also, in partnership with OTS, it purchased an extension of the Braulio Carrillo National Park to connect it with La Selva Research Station that generated an altitudinal gradient of unique biological importance. Finally, FPN was a leader, between 1988 and 1990, in the conversion of national debt into local funds for conservation, the so-called “debt-for-nature swaps.” FPN catalyzed four swaps with donations from private donors, foundations, AID and the Swedish Developmental Agency for $46 million, for land purchase and operations during the following years. Mario was also Vice Minister of the Environment for a short time during the Presidency of Calderón Fournier. Remarkably, he remained active and always critical of the problems that protected areas confront with encroaching human presence.  
Mario is survived by wife Marta, two adult children, Andrés and Irene, and two granddaughters who, according to Marta, Mario adored. I personally witnessed Marta’s unerring support for Mario during decades and her support for his unending commitments during a lifetime. To celebrate his memory and his huge green print, a local commentary stated, “Oaks sometimes die, but they leave a huge print that not even time can erase.”
Laura Aldrich-Wolfe awarded NSF CAREER Award
(Photo credit: Steve Travers)

Dr. Aldrich-Wolfe was recently awarded the second of two NSF grants to continue her work on coffee at Las Cruces. Her most recent award is a $1.16 million NSF CAREER grant entitled, “Coffee fungi below and above ground: agroecological experiments for teaching and learning about fungal diversity and ecosystem function,” and continues her partnership with Dr. Priscila Chaverri Echandi at the Universidad de Costa Rica. Her previous NSF EAGER grant included Dr. Chaverri Echandi and partners from Michigan State Univeristy (Dr. Catherin Lindell) and Oklahoma State University (Dr. Benedicte Bachelot). The goal of the research is to increase the understanding of fungi in ecosystem function particularly as it relates to decomposition rates and plant disease with an emphasis on coffee. The Cascante Arrieta family of Sieta Colinas, Coto Brus, have played gracious hosts to Dr. Aldrich-Wolfe and her team for their on-farm coffee experiment. It is her hope that by understanding fungi, plant, and ecosystem dynamics in coffee enterprises in Costa Rica, we may be better able to understand plant diseases and fungal interactions in agricultural systems across the globe. 
Dr. Aldrich-Wolfe’s grant will also work to bring research opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students both at her home institution, North Dakota State University, and abroad in Costa Rica. You can read abstracts for Dr. Aldrich-Wolfe’s CAREER grant here and EAGER grant here.
Double the adventure, double the fun: How two OTS courses helped shape my academic career
Guest contributor: Dr. Metha M. Klock, Department of Environmental Studies, San José State University
(Photo Credit: Metha M. Klock)
Wake up at 5:30am, just as the sun starts filtering through broad jungle leaves and howler monkeys start practicing their echoing brays. Roll over in your narrow bunk, trying not to wake your bunkmate sleeping below as you slip down the slender ladder to your door. Maybe be the first to the cafeteria; in any case, grab a hot plate of gallo pinto and douse it in Salsa Lizano. Turn your head as the fast friends you’ve made in just a week start filing in, filling up their plates. Listen as an excited buzz builds in the room and voices hum in excited murmurs about the hike later that day to see the famous Ficus, hollowed from devouring its long-since forgotten host. Hours later, sit at the base of that tree and hear tales about students who’ve clambered up its twisting core to arrive at the lush canopy. Try to climb it yourself, start up a few feet, then realize maybe you’re best closer to the ground. The next morning, wake up and realize that the egg sandwich you peacefully consumed at the base of the behemoth distracted you from the twenty-three chiggers contentedly munching on your skin. Decide you don’t care, because the howler monkeys are testing out their morning operatics, your stomach is growling, there are friends to be made, and nature to be explored. [link to full essay]
Undergraduate applications open for Summer & Fall 2022
(Photo Credit: Hema Venkata)

For students itching to get back into the field and explore some of the best that Costa Rica and South Africa have to offer, now is your chance. See below for more information on each OTS program. Scholarships are available for qualified students. Remember that we enroll on a rolling basis, so these programs may fill before the deadlines.

Summer 2022:

Join the long list of participants who have gone on to become world-renowned tropical biologists and leaders in conservation sciences in this life-changing course. Explore Costa Rica through the lens of our three distinct field stations as you develop your understanding of the fundamentals of tropical biology and conduct independent research. Discounted tuition is available for students from OTS member institutions. Applications due by March 1, 2022.

Explore a range of health issues through an interdisciplinary lens that will help you understand that health is a human rights issue. Visit various rural and urban centers as you examine health care access across the urbanization gradient. You will also spend significant time in and around Kruger National Park and our research station in Skukuza. Discounted tuition is available for students from OTS member institutions. Applications due by March 1, 2022.

This field-based veterinary research practicum is perfect for upper-level undergraduates and first-year veterinary graduate students looking for an experience unlike any other. It focuses on disease ecology in and around the Greater Kruger National Park and is run in partnership with local veterinary scientists. It is designed to provide participants with direct insights into current challenges faced by wildlife conservationists in South Africa and veterinary health care in resource-poor rural agricultural areas. This practicum is not for credit and is 6 weeks in length. Applications due by April 1, 2022.

Fall 2022:

Participate in OTS' flagship undergraduate program that takes students to new heights in academia and adventure! Based at the Skukuza Research Station inside Kruger National Park, students have unique access to South Africa's largest national park. Rub elbows with elephants, lions, and dung beetles as you learn from leading scientists and conservationists. You will travel to various important sites throughout the country as you develop an understanding of this diverse and breathtaking tip of Africa. Finally, all students will make a scientific contribution by designing and conducting a research project and presenting their findings to the scientific community. Applications due by April 1, 2022.
Looking back at getting started
Guest contributor: Doug Levey, Program Director, Population & Community Ecology Cluster, Division of Environmental Biology, National Science Foundation
(Photo credit: Carlos de la Rosa)
Tropical forests are full of surprises. Home to so many rare species and unexpected interactions, your odds are high of seeing something special every time you venture into one. You never know what to expect. That endless sense of adventure, however, can feel overwhelming to a beginning student. Where does one even start?

I first experienced OTS in 1979 as a graduate research assistant for an NSF-funded project led by Julie Denslow and Tim Moermond at La Selva. The project’s objectives were well-defined, so I could jump right in. But it was my advisors’ project, not mine. I knew I needed to fledge, and the challenge of finding a “good” dissertation topic haunted me. The next year I took the OTS course -- there was only one version of it back then -- and experienced the inquiry-based approach to tropical ecology pioneered by Dan Janzen and quickly perfected by others (see Kyle Harms’ essay). It was empowering. Students were encouraged to ask off-the-wall questions and pursue them with quick-and-dirty experiments that never worked (at least for me) and always generated new questions. We talked about them non-stop, learned from each other, and gradually came to see tropical forest complexity through a new lens, one of curiosity and empowerment. [Link to full essay]
Costa Rica - a riot of biodiversity and complexity, a base for interpreting the past
Guest contributor: Patricia Vickers-Rich, Monash University, Australia
(Photo Credit: Patricia Vickers-Rich)

Being a palaeontologist, my research was about long-dead things. So, as a graduate student at Columbia University in the late 1960s and working on the past history of birds on the continent of Australia, I decided that I needed a better understanding of the modern world. I became aware of the course given by OTS in Costa Rica, which looked into the way life works in the modern world and decided to apply. Being a palaeontologist, and not a modern biologist, I thought my chances of success were low – but perhaps it was my different background than most of the applicants that gave me some luck – and I was part of the 1970 student group to visit Costa Rica as a part of the OTS course.
The volcanoes in this region are still very active, because Costa Rica lies along an active tectonic boundary. For a geologist this is heaven! One of our teachers for the OTS course was a geologist. He and I and a couple of others were able to visit some of these “works of art” – some of which were still steaming, but fortunately for us none exploded. It was absolutely brilliant being able to visit some of these tectonic structures that were active. [Link to full essay
Are the tropics different?
Guest contributor: Thomas W. Sherry, Tulane University, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
(Photo credit: Víctor Acosta Chaves) 

Ever since my OTS Fundamentals course in Costa Rica and subsequent generous support of my dissertation field work there, I’ve wanted to know more about Latin America and the Caribbean region; and many of my interests, e.g., in conservation biology, are informed by the history and politics of the region. However, I feel conflictedan impostoras a Latin-Americanist, because my world view as a biologist encompasses greater scales in space and time. I am similarly conflicted about the question of whether the tropics are “different,” motivating the following ruminations. A lot of research and diverse scholars have influenced my thinking, providing the masa for whatever empanadas may have come out of the oil.

One answer: who cares? I doubt that Jay Savage, Dan Janzen, and others who pioneered Tropical Fundamentals courses in Costa Rica cared about whether or not the tropics are “different.” It was vision enough to recognize the tropics as a biological frontier and the importance of training a generation of scientists to kick-start tropical science. Their efforts were wildly successful by any criteria, although the complexity of tropical biology remains daunting. [Link to full essay]
(Photo credit: Will Sweet)

The Dr. Pamela Hall Early Career Research Fellowship. In January 2022, OTS will open applications for a new program, funded by family and friends of OTS researcher Dr. Pamela Hall. This fellowship will elevate and advance the careers of ecologists and evolutionary biologists who are women and/or underrepresented minorities. Priority will be given to scientists from regions where tropical forests are threatened. The Dr. Pamela Hall Fellowship will provide $10,000 per year to an early career scientist to cover 100 days of station fees at the La Selva Research Station, including room, board, and lab fees. The award will provide for travel expenses, a monthly stipend, and a modest budget for research supplies. Consult the OTS website in January 2022 for details.
2022 Yale Environmental Fellows Program. EFP is a nationally competitive summer fellowship program for masters and doctoral students that seeks to place students traditionally underrepresented in the environmental field and those committed to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion in summer fellowships with environmental foundations and their grantees. The Environmental Fellows Program (EFP) at the Yale School of the Environment (YSE), in partnership with the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA), is a 12‐week summer fellowship opportunity that seeks to diversify the environmental field by cultivating the career aspirations of masters and doctoral students from historically underrepresented groups by connecting students to work opportunities in environmental nonprofits, grant makers, and government sectors. EFP is looking for future leaders and decision makers in the rapidly changing fields of conservation, justice, equity, and philanthropy. Learn more from the EFP website or contact Molly Blondell or Donna Williams at
International Master in Tropical Biodiversity and Ecosystems (TROPIMUNDO). The Université libre de Bruxelles is coordinating the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree in Tropical Biodiversity and Ecosystems (TROPIMUNDO). This program is the first International Master in Tropical Biodiversity and Ecosystems (2 years, 120 ECTS) that allows students to delve into interlinked ecosystems under threat by spending a full second semester of coursework in field schools in the Amazonian tropical rainforest, the Caribbean and Indian Ocean tropical islands, the Central‐African rainforest, the East‐African Great Lakes, terrestrial and coastal ecosystems, the Malagasy forest ecosystems, and the Asian terrestrial, aquatic and mangrove forests, and a fourth semester dedicated to thesis work related to tropical biodiversity and ecosystems. The other two semesters are covering basic and specialized courses in Belgium, Italy, France, and French Guiana. The European Commission offers a certain number of full scholarships for EU and non‐EU students. There are no country restrictions whatsoever. Selected scholarship holders will have their tuition fees and mobility covered in addition to receiving full insurance and monthly allocations. As Erasmus Mundus is the educational excellence brand of the European Commission, we are not allowed to use any other criteria than excellence to select the scholarship holders. Students with a background in biology seeking a scholarship to study abroad are encouraged to apply. (See FAQ online for a detailed list with eligible and noneligible diplomas.) The first call for applicants seeking a scholarship intending to start in academic year 2022‐ 2023 is now open. The deadline for application is January 15, 2022. See the TROPIMUNDO website for further information and the application procedure.
John J. and Katherine C. Ewel Postdoctoral Fellowship at University of Florida. The John J. and Katherine C. Ewel Postdoctoral Fellowship Program in Ecology and Environmental Science in the Tropics and Subtropics will enable a recent doctoral recipient to study tropical or subtropical ecology and environmental sciences at the University of Florida (UF). The Fellow will conduct research for two years with a UF faculty member in any department in any subdiscipline of ecology or environmental science. The fellowship is intended to advance science and enrich the scope and depth of research credentials of both the Fellow and the faculty mentor. A successful application will be based on a partnership between the applicant and the mentor that builds on the strengths of both. Evidence of joint development of the research proposal is key. The fellowship will provide an annual stipend of $54,000 plus an annual allowance of $15,000 for health insurance, research support, professional development, and travel. Candidates that possess strong prior academic and professional success with potential to contribute to scholarship are encouraged to apply. Applicants must have earned a Ph.D. no earlier than January 2020, propose research related to tropical or subtropical ecology and the environment, and have secured a commitment letter from one or more UF faculty mentor(s). For more information please visit the UF website. Applications due: January 9, 2022.
The 2021 OTS Outstanding Student Paper Award

The OTS Membership Committee is pleased to announce the 2021 OTS Outstanding Student Paper Award. We invite nominations for a $500 cash prize for excellence in research via an outstanding publication in tropical biology written by a student. The deadline for submissions is December 31, 2021.

Eligibility & Nomination
At the time of the nomination deadline, the paper must be published or accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal reporting work completed within the tropics. To be eligible, the author must:

1) have been a student (undergraduate or graduate) when the research was completed;
2) satisfy at least one of the following three criteria:
3) still be enrolled in undergraduate or graduate school (or within 2 years of having completed a degree).

Selection Criteria
Applications will be reviewed by an award committee headed by Dr. Erin Kuprewicz and comprising active researchers affiliated with OTS. Applications will be judged primarily on the paper’s originality and potential impact on the field. Nomination packets should consist of a single .pdf document and include:

1) A nomination letter briefly describing the paper and outlining the qualification criteria from the list above, self-nominations are welcome;
2) a copy of the paper under consideration;
3) a brief letter from an advisor, mentor, or colleague, in a relevant field of study, describing the impact of the paper on the field of tropical biology; and
4) the nominee’s CV.

Application Deadline: December 31, 2021. Email applications to Erin Kuprewicz. Announcement of this year’s award recipient will be made on OTS’ website and in the e-Canopy newsletter.
Goodbye, 2021
(Photo credit: Chris Migliaccio)

It may be misguided to be thankful for the passage of time, but this last year is one we do not want to repeat. Ever.

Yet, today we are optimistic. On the horizon, we see hope, revival, and opportunity. We see the chance to once again focus on our core mission: Providing researchers, educators, and students with the facilities they need to produce world-class research while offering educators and their students the chance to pursue the serious study of tropical ecology in the field.

As 2021 fades into the rearview mirror, I hope you’ll take a second to consider a tax-deductible contribution. Your gift will help us put on successful and much-lauded courses, which include Google Earth Engine for Ecology and Conservation, Plant-People Interactions: Ethnobotany in the 21st Century, and Multimedia Science Communication. We will be bringing back OTS’ Decision Makers course, which will continue to help shape the perspectives of future leaders.

And, you’ll be helping us catch up on some of the repairs and maintenance items that were necessarily deferred during the pandemic.

In recent months, we’ve asked for help at a tempo that exceeds our past practice. You may be among those who contributed in the past six weeks, and for this you have our gratitude. But if you’ve not yet been able to help or see your way to making an additional contribution, I can promise your gift will be put to good use.

We are not yet out of the woods. Colleges have not yet been able to make firm
commitments for 2022 due to Covid concerns, and the valued income we received from birders and other nature history visitors has not yet returned to normal.

Put simply, the abrupt and near-total collapse in income that we’ve experienced during the pandemic left us struggling. We will be feeling the effects during 2022 and, perhaps, beyond. 

Thank you for considering a year-end gift!
Jim Boyle
Vice President, Philanthropy
Can you help us reach more people?

We hope you have seen all the amazing content OTS has been sharing on social media. Help us reach more folks! Like, comment, and share our posts. Let everyone know you appreciate OTS. It is such an easy way to show your support!
408 Swift Avenue
Durham, NC 27705
(919) 684 5774