October 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!
Covid-19 update
Guest contributor: Chelsea Ward
(Photo credit: CDC)

I used to like delta. At its best, it was a symbol for change, a shift from one form to another, from river to sea. I loved using it when taking notes, thinking how cool it was to insert this small symbol in my text, akin to hieroglyphs. I loved imparting that bit of arcane typography to my students. I am here to say that delta and I are no longer friends. Being in the southeastern United States, I have watched life retreat to masked interactions outdoors, and hearing about full hospitals is heart breaking. We were so close, only to have "real" life, "normal" life pulled away. 

Traveling is still possible. Costa Rica rescinded its medical insurance requirement for vaccinated adults beginning August 1, but unvaccinated adults will still need to carry insurance to cover Covid-related costs during their stay. Currently, Costa Rica is still limiting tourist visas to 90 days, public transportation is running, and masks are required. South Africa is allowing air travel with proof of a negative PCR test or an antigen test upon arrival. The country is currently at alert level 1 (as of September 30). Alert level 1 lifts curfews to 4 am and allows for most businesses to be open, but still requires masking in public (enforced by ticketing). Public transportation is running. The U.S. State Department still has Costa Rica under a "Level 4: Do Not Travel" advisory, while improving conditions in South Africa resulted in a "Level 3: Reconsider Travel" advisory. The U.S. continues to require all international travelers returning to the states to show proof of a negative PCR test before boarding their return flights.

Until we meet again, back to Zoom.
OTS 2021 Annual Meeting
Guest contributor: Erin Kuprewicz

This year’s Annual Meeting of the Organization for Tropical Studies was held online on July 29, 2021 and was well attended by over 50 Institutional Representatives and OTS Board Members. In general, OTS is following a positive trajectory: emerging from a period of survival (during the height of the global Covid-19 pandemic) to a period of building and restructuring and into a subsequent planned long period of growth and sustained engagement with scientists, educators, and policymakers.

We discussed several facets of OTS’ current and future plans with special attention paid to the financial report, activities report, and opportunities for representatives to actively participate in and contribute to the organization. Regarding finances, our investments have been growing over time, and we currently have the opportunity to use earnings from our endowments to reinvigorate our academic programs. Regarding education, OTS welcomes Nora Bynum as OTS’ first ever Dean of Academic Programs. We are planning to run seven field courses in Costa Rica and South Africa in 2021 in addition to offering online courses that train students in emerging skills in tropical biology.

OTS is now looking forward to the creation of science centers based at each of OTS’ four field stations, focused on research and policy themes relevant to each site: (1) climate change research at La Selva, Costa Rica; (2) wetland protection at Palo Verde, Costa Rica; (3) landscape restoration at Las Cruces, Costa Rica; and (4) savannah ecology at Skukuza, South Africa. We hope that our plans to integrate foundational research with conservation policy will reaffirm OTS’ leadership in tropical science. With the support of our representatives, staff, donors, and friends of OTS, we are excited to see what the next year brings!
Dr. Phyllis (“Lissy”) Dewing Coley named Association for Tropical Biology & Conservation 2021 Honorary Fellow
Guest contributor: T. Mitchell Aide
(Photo credit: University of Utah)

During the 2021 Association for Tropical Biology & Conservation (ATBC) annual meeting, convened virtually in late July, Dr. Phyllis (“Lissy”) Dewing Coley was named one of this year’s two ATBC Honorary Fellows – along with Dr. F. Gary Stiles. 

After completing her Ph.D. in 1981 at the University of Chicago and two post-doctoral fellowships (NSF and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute), Lissy moved to the Department of Biology at the University of Utah, where she has been ever since. Lissy is internationally renowned for her scientific research on how tropical trees defend themselves against their nemeses—insect herbivores. She parlayed this basic science into a highly productive applied project in Panama linking discovery of new pharmaceuticals with education and conservation. Her research is regularly published in prestigious journals including Nature, Science, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Lissy’s body of work; continuous grant support from many funding sources (e.g., NSF, NIH, National Geographic); numerous honors, including Distinguished Professor, Governor’s Medal, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences are evidence of her outstanding scientific achievements and contributions.

Moreover, Lissy has had a monumental impact in mentoring students of all levels, as well as postdoctoral fellows in “plant-animal interactions.” In 2008, the University of Utah recognized her superlative mentoring skills with a Distinguished Mentoring award from the Graduate School. However, her commendable mentoring efforts extend far beyond the boundaries of the University of Utah to underserved students across the USA and on other continents. An important component of Lissy’s mentoring strategy was inspired by her participation in an OTS course in 1976, directed by Henry Hespenheide. Lissy used this experience to spread the OTS field course spirit around the tropics by giving courses and mentoring students across the tropics. Lissy has inspired and guided nearly 200 students in primarily tropical ecology and drug discovery. Half of these students are citizens in developing countries with little exposure to science and few financial resources. Lissy is a very inspiring person, and her research and mentoring impacts were magnified even further due to her long-time collaborator and husband, Tom Kursar (who passed away in 2018).

Join us in congratulating Dr. Coley for this award and thank her for her infectious and energetic support for tropical ecology research, education, and training.

For more information, visit the ATBC Honorary Fellows webpage.
OTS set my course in tropical biology
Guest contributor: Phyllis (“Lissy”) Coley

I have spent 45 wonderful years messing about in tropical forests, and I am the first woman to receive one of my most coveted awards: The Official Barro Colorado Topical Derelict Award. For all of this, I credit my OTS Tropical Biology course in 1976. It provided me with a fundamental scientific exposure to ecological principles, immersed me in the wonders of the natural world, and fueled my enthusiasm for untangling its mysteries. Our first stop on the course was Palo Verde, and on the first night it was discovered that there was no toilet paper. Henry Hespenheide, the course coordinator, gave one of the most off the cuff and inspiring lectures of my life in which he linked the access to toilet paper to first world privilege. And despite the fact that many of us had diarrhea, we embraced it. A standard OTS exercise, coming up with 50 questions, has led me to thousands more tantalizing questions throughout my career. And, of course, the comradery with resource people and fellow students was mostly magical, and occasionally annoying. One example I remember was when a budding/enthusiastic herpetologist put a fer de lance in a Ziploc, and it was still able to move effortlessly across the floor under our army of bunk beds. There was also the faithful Blue Bird bus that would take us between sites. However, it often had to be pushed manually fast enough so it could be jump started. I did not shine in that course, but I learned so much and am eternally grateful. Several generations of biologists were indoctrinated and inspired by these courses, and it is even more imperative now to train young scientists in the wonders and threats to tropical forests.
Dr. F. Gary Stiles named Association for Tropical Biology & Conservation 2021 Honorary Fellow
Guest contributor: Kyle E. Harms
(Photo Credit: Sebastian Jaramillo)
During the 2021 Association for Tropical Biology & Conservation (ATBC) annual meeting, convened virtually in late July, Dr. F. Gary Stiles was named one of this year’s two ATBC Honorary Fellows – along with Dr. Phyllis (“Lissy”) D. Coley. 

After completing his Ph.D. in Zoology at UCLA in 1970 and a post-doctoral stint at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Gary held faculty positions in Costa Rica (1973-1989, Universidad de Costa Rica) and Colombia (1989-1990, Pontifica Universidad Javeriana; 1990-present, Universidad Nacional de Colombia). He is a skilled academician, teacher, and mentor, having mentored at least 80 undergraduate and graduate students through their thesis and dissertation projects on myriad tropical biology projects. Since his inaugural invitation to serve as a Resource Person on a 1968 field course for OTS, he has participated as an instructor or resource person on an estimated 100 field courses throughout Latin America. 

Gary is the world’s foremost authority on the Trochilidae (hummingbirds), having completed his dissertation on Anna’s Hummingbird and having produced a series of classic research papers on the various behavioral, life-history, and species-interaction strategies of hummingbirds, as well as numerous other taxa. Together with Alexander Skutch, Gary authored one of the best national bird guides ever written, “A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica” (F. Gary Stiles & Alexander F. Skutch, 1989, Cornell University Press, 511p). This guide has been an inspiration and key resource for countless students, researchers, and visitors to the Neotropics for more than 30 years, including students and natural history visitors to OTS research stations. He has published since 1964 more than 160 peer-reviewed research articles, book chapters, and bird guides. He has served on the American Ornithological Society’s South American Classification Committee since its inception in 1998 and has been a key voice on the more than 840 proposals to modify the formal classification of South American birds. Among numerous awards, he is an elected Honorary Fellow of the American Ornithological Society and of the Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Fisicas y Naturales. 

Join us in congratulating Dr. Stiles for this award and thank him for his unflagging commitments toward tropical biology, research, and education!

For more information, visit the ATBC Honorary Fellows webpage.
Laura Bizzarri wins the Alwyn Gentry Award for Best Student Presentation
(Photo credit: Mario Alberto Salazar Araya)

We want to congratulate Laura Bizzarri for winning the Alwyn Gentry Award for Best Student Presentation at the 2021 Association for Tropical Biology & Conservation (ATBC) annual meeting with her research on hummingbird flower mite movement among host plants at La Selva Research Station using human transportation models. You can listen to Laura’s talk here and read her essay below.
Hitchhikers in the rainforest: How human transportation models can help us understand interactions between hummingbirds, plants, and flower mites
Guest contributor: Laura Bizzarri
(Photo credit: Erin Kuprewicz)
That the tropics are a hotspot of biodiversity is no secret for the readers of the OTS eCanopy newsletter. However, when the general public thinks about the tropics, they often picture
charismatic organisms such as macaws, howler monkeys, jaguars, or tree boas. Smaller, less conspicuous organisms are often overlooked. My research focuses on a fascinating interaction, small flower mites that live in the flowers of hummingbird pollinated plants. Flower mites hitch rides on the beaks of hummingbirds to disperse to new host plants and find flowers, drink nectar, mate, and reproduce. I started working on the ecology of hummingbird flower mites in the Fall of 2017, when I joined the lab of Dr. Carlos García-Robledo at the University of Connecticut to pursue a master’s degree. I will admit that I had not applied to grad school with the goal of working with mites, but once Carlos and I got talking about these arthropods and how they interact with plants and hummingbirds, it wasn’t hard for me to fall in love with this cool system. I was thrilled when the National Geographic Society awarded me an Early Career Grant. With the support of Nat Geo, I combined novel methods such as high-speed video recording and DNA Barcoding to study hummingbird flower mites and their interactions with hummingbirds and plants at La Selva Research Station in Costa Rica.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down entire countries worldwide, tropical biologists relied on airplane travel to reach a beautiful location for research, a much-needed vacation, to return home and visit our families, or attend amazing conferences such those held by the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC). Imagine if you had to take a plane every day to get food, find a partner, or start a family. This is exactly what hummingbird flower mites experience throughout their lifetime. This analogy inspired me to adopt human transportation analyses to study transportation patterns in hummingbird flower mites. Transportation analyses can determine how accessible are transportation hubs, such as a subway station, an airport or a hummingbird-pollinated flower (Rodrigue 2016).

You can read Laura’s full essay here
Experience Costa Rica with OTS!

Please join us February 6 - 13, 2022 for a special birding tour of Costa Rica for friends and supporters of the Organization for Tropical Studies! For trip details, please click here.
Get your rubber boots dirty as you experience the biodiversity of the tropics and explore one of the most complex environments on earth. Your tour will combine natural history with a behind-the-scenes look at critical tropical research.
Your trip will give you the opportunity to:
  • learn about the ecology of tropical rain forests at the iconic La Selva Research Station;
  • explore Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity and varied ecosystems;
  • experience bird walks, river tours, and night walks with world-renowned naturalists;
  • gain an insider’s look into groundbreaking research on climate change in the tropics;
  • tour family-owned Costa Rica Best Chocolate farm and factory; and
  • spend time on the Caribbean coast with the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
To register, please click here.
For more information contact Jim Boyle at (919) 684-5774 or at james.boyle@tropicalstudies.org.
Did you know spiders exert pressure on populations of frogs?
(Photo credit: W. Lapinski) 

Dr. Brian Holt knew spiders ate frogs; there had been anecdotal reports for years. He just didn’t know how much and what effects spiders were having on frog populations. As a graduate student in Dr. Craig Guyer’s lab at Auburn University, Brian went to La Selva to find out. After 1,500 observations, Brian had the data he needed to show that the presence of Ctenidae spiders negatively affects frog populations and that frogs avoided spiders especially when leaf litter was scarce. Brian storified his paper on Twitter, and you can read his synopsis hereThe paper was also recently published in the open access Journal of Tropical Ecology, and you can view the full version here. Brian’s research was funded by a National Geographic Young Explorers grant and a Graduate Research Fellowship from OTS.  
State of OTS Education (2020-2021)
Guest contributor: Nora Bynum
Dear OTS Colleagues, 
2020-2021 has been a period unlike any other for OTS and the entire world. The Covid-19 global pandemic reached every corner of the globe, including OTS’ research stations, causing the suspension of courses and the temporary closure of our research stations in Costa Rica and South Africa. However, since then, our research stations have reopened to domestic and some international visitors, as well as students and researchers. Each of our stations is closely following the guidance of local, public health officials in order to provide the highest levels of safety and security. 
Online Courses 20-21
As an organization known for field-based programs, Covid-19 presented OTS with a unique challenge. How do we offer impactful learning opportunities when the “field” component of OTS courses is impossible to achieve? Enter, in response, our resourceful Education Team to create a series of online short courses focused on emerging skills and issues in the fields of biology, conservation, statistics, technology, and others. Recent and upcoming online courses include: Bioacoustic Analysis in R, Google Earth Engine for Ecology & Conservation, Redacción Científica, Multimedia Science Communication, and Disease Ecology & Wildlife Management Practicum. Check the Online Courses page on our website for more information on these exciting new courses. It is important to note that most of these courses produce modest surpluses, which is most welcome given that many field courses have been canceled due to concerns about Covid-19. 
Field-Based Courses
Until recently, we hoped to run our flagship undergraduate semester field program, African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa, in Fall 2021. Unfortunately, because of several factors, including the potential risk to students and staff as well as many of our sending institutions cancelling all study abroad for their students, the only reasonable solution was to postpone the program until Spring 2022. 
One of the areas of increased focus for OTS is field research skills in and around Kruger National Park and the OTS Skukuza Research Station. The Women in Science Practicum attempts to remove the obstacles young women in STEM face by pairing six U.S. and South African students together to develop field research skills while collecting long-term ecological monitoring data. Participants will leave with significant experience in biodiversity inventory skills, research experience, and the confidence to advance their careers in science. More information coming soon at tropicalstudies.org
In addition, the Veterinary Field Practicum is intended for pre-veterinary students and will grapple with the ecology of zoonotic, vector-borne, and emerging infectious diseases in a changing world.  The course will explore the environmental drivers of disease dynamics and the links between animal health, human health, and environmental health in and around Kruger National Park. We will cover diverse topics related to disease ecology, ranging from clinical and molecular diagnostics to microscopy, vaccinations, game capture, types of parasites and pathogens and their vectors, governance and legislation, livestock management, and ecosystem health. We aim to provide ecological, socioeconomic, and veterinary context for studying disease ecology in South Africa while concurrently teaching clinical, analytical, and field skills. Offered in partnership with local veterinarians and scientists, the practicum will provide direct insights into current animal health challenges faced by reserve managers. 
Graduate Programs
OTS is optimistic about the possibilities of running two Costa Rican graduate field-courses in early 2021. Both courses are a critical part of OTS’ core. For that reason, we abbreviated the itineraries to four weeks for the Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach and Ecología Tropical y Conservación. Both courses were considered a great success. For more information, see the Graduate Programs section of our website. 
Environmental Science and Policy (ESP)
The ESP program supports biodiversity and sustainability of natural systems and resources by training strategically positioned individuals within various sectors. The program started in 1988 and has provided support to OTS' mission of promoting the responsible use of natural resources in the tropics.  
ESP activities are principally short courses. Most courses have occurred in and about Costa Rica. The goal of training is to equip project participants with a science-based framework for decisions and actions. OTS' programs remain one of the very few that provide such training to its midstream professionals.
Our initial plan is to develop two programs for U.S. decision makers and two for decision makers from the global south during the first two years. In developing and executing these programs, we will leverage our relationship with the University of Connecticut (UConn) and engage the expertise of key contacts with UConn.
As we reignite the Environmental Science and Policy program, we will build momentum on our existing contacts in the policy arena, such as Christiana Figueres, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Javier Mateo Vega, and Jane Lubchenco. It will be crucial to reference relevant sustainable development goals (SDGs), particularly number 15, “Life on Land.” We are in the midst of the United Nations Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs, so it would make sense for the courses to have that as an overarching framework. We are also starting the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which could also serve as a driving theme for decision makers programs through 2030.
As part of our activities, we will also complete an analysis of ESP alumni – Where are they now? – to demonstrate the impact of past programs and use these contacts to plan for the future. 
For short-course topics, it is crucial to pick timely and urgent themes, such as tropical reforestation, nature-based solutions to address climate change, and ecosystem-based adaptation.
Lastly, as conditions hopefully improve, we look forward to the day when we will be welcoming students, faculty, researchers, and tourists to our stations once again. Until that time, please continue to stay in the loop with OTS by following us on social media (@tropicalstudies). We hope to see you in South Africa and Costa Rica soon!
Best regards,
Nora Bynum, PhD
Dean of Academic Programs
Organization for Tropical Studies
Spring 2022 semester of African Ecology & Conservation deadline quickly approaching
(Photo credit: Emily Rehmann)
OTS is enthusiastic about the return of our flagship undergraduate semester program this spring! Students will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn and conduct hands-on field research inside South Africa’s oldest and largest protected area, Kruger National Park. OTS scholarships are available for all qualified applicants, especially from OTS Member Institutions. The application deadline is November 1, but the program may fill before this date. To apply, click here for more information or contact the OTS Enrollment Management Department.
A whole new world: dazzling diversity in Costa Rica

The unique fauna and flora of the Neotropics makes this region an amazing place for an Old-World biologist to visit. Dr Lisa Nupen, Resident Lecturer at OTS’ South African research station in Skukuza is visiting Costa Rica for the first time and has shared her first impressions in a blog post on the OTS website. Lisa has studied and worked only in the Afrotropics, and so experiencing the New-World for the first time has been very special.

“When we are immersed in it, it is easy to take the natural world around us for granted, but when translocated to a novel environment we can take everything in with fresh eyes.” Have a look at her blog post to find out about some fascinating examples of convergent evolution among the birds and mammals of South Africa and Costa Rica and some unique aspects of the ecosystems in each region. 
New information kiosk for visitors to the Palo Verde National Park 

OTS joined efforts with other institutions, including Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación (SINAC), Área de Conservación Arenal – Tempisque (ACAT), and the Asociación Costa Rica Por Siempre, to build an information kiosk for visitors to the Palo Verde National Park. This initiative aims to offer relevant information about the park in Spanish and English so that people can learn more about the different types of bird species that visit the wetland, the flora and fauna found in the park, and other information of interest to visitors.

This initiative was financed, in part, with resources from the “Salvemos Palo Verde” fundraising campaign that aimed to collaborate in the recovery and conservation of the Palo Verde International Wetland by donating the equipment required to control and eradicate the invasive plant species known as the Typha domingensis (cattail reed), which is one of the main threats in the conservation of this ecosystem.
Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative honored with the Human Diversity Award from the Organization of Biological Field Stations 

We are proud to announce that the SSLI Campus in Skukuza has been awarded the 2021 Human Diversity Award from the Organization for Biological Field Stations (OBFS). This award provides recognition to field stations implementing programs or approaches specifically aimed at promoting diversity and equity in field sciences, particularly those which “increase the involvement, engagement, and sustainability of underrepresented groups in field science.” The award was presented at the OBFS Annual Meeting, which was held online in September 2021. SSLI was recognized for its work engaging local communities with higher education opportunities and promoting equity in access to field science experiences. 
2021 ESA Fellows announced

Every year the Ecological Society of America honors members who have made outstanding contributions to the fields covered by ESA. Honorees are recognized for their advancement or application of ecological knowledge in academics, government, nonprofit organizations, and society. Fellows are elected for life. OTS is proud to announce that five of this year’s ESA fellows are friends of OTS. 

Karen Holl, Professor, University of California Santa Cruz, Environmental Studies  
Dr. Holl is a long-time researcher at Las Cruces Research Station and was recognized for her work in restoration ecology and for leadership in bringing restoration and science into decision making at the international level.
William Morris, Professor, Duke University, Biology Department
Dr. Morris is recognized for his contributions to population dynamic and species interactions. He served as a delegate to OTS from Duke.
Ingrid Parker, Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Dr. Parker was a delegate to OTS for UCSC for many years and is being recognized for her work to understand biological invasions and the legacy of invasions in natural ecosystems. As OTS can attest, she is also being recognized for her service to consortia and organizations addressing conservation and ecosystem management.
Rebecca Ostertag, Professor, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Department of Biology, Tropical Conservation and Environmental Science MS Program
Dr. Ostertag is a researcher at Las Cruces and helped the University of Hawaii join OTS. She is being recognized for mentoring and enhancing diversity in up-and-coming ecologists as well as her work in tropical rainforest ecology and conservation.
Stefan Schnitzer, Professor, Marquette University, Department of Biological Sciences
Dr. Schnitzer is recognized for his work on lianas and their role in tropical forest communities and ecosystem ecology. His work with mentoring junior scientists and as a generous collaborator were also of note. Dr. Schnitzer is a former La Selva Researcher. 
Please join us in congratulating all of the 2021 ESA fellows. A complete list of honorees can be found on the ESA website.
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@uconn.edu.

Announcement of this year’s award recipient will be made on OTS’ website and in the e-Canopy newsletter.
Another way to support tropical research and education

If you buy products from Amazon, please consider using AmazonSmile if you do not already do so.  Here’s how it works: Amazon will donate 0.5% of your purchase price to OTS when you make the purchase through their “Smile” page and designate OTS as your preferred charity. The products sold, the purchase prices, your account details, and everything else are identical to the regular Amazon site. 
To start using Smile:

  • Click this link.
  • Select the “Start Shopping” button and log in as usual.
  • Bookmark the page that loads, which will now carry the AmazonSmile logo in the top left corner, and use this new bookmark to launch Amazon for your future purchases.  

Note: If you already use AmazonSmile and want to designate OTS as your preferred charity, you can do so in your account settings at any time. 

Thank you! 
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