December 2020

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

The pandemic has not been kind to those of us in the States. We spent the Thanksgiving holiday in our bubble and are looking to a Christmas in the same bubble. Costa Rica has fared better with nearly 150,000 cases. If you are thinking of heading south, travel is open to all U.S. residents with proof of travel insurance covering any quarantine or medical treatment needed as a result of Covid. The insurance policy must cover your entire length of stay. All travelers must complete an online health check. However, a negative PCR test is no longer required. According to the Costa Rican embassy, essential services are open. Public transportation and hospitals are operating at normal capacity. Facial coverings are required in all public spaces, including bus stops and on all forms of public transportation.
South Africa is reporting over 800,000 cases. As of November 11, U.S. travelers are welcome as long as they can produce a negative Covid test, which must be taken within 72 hours of travel. Alternatively, travelers can quarantine upon entry. Although South Africa has relaxed some restrictions, a curfew from midnight to 4am and a mandatory mask ordinance are still in place.
Reconstruction of the La Selva Canopy Towers
Photo credit: Canuto Muñoz

In May 2018 the La Selva Research Station was hit by a micro tornado. Hundreds of trees were flattened, access roads and paths were blocked, and electrical and fiber optic lines were knocked offline. A few buildings, like the River Station, sustained structural damage. The iconic Canopy Towers took a direct hit, toppling the three walk-up towers, ripping out cables, destroying valuable sensors, and causing tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage.
After two years, the vegetation has begun the recovery process naturally. The Canopy Towers, however, have required direct and costly intervention on the part of the entire OTS community as well as financial support from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Canopy Towers are also known as the MRI Towers, named after the Major Research Infrastructure program of NSF that originally funded the project in 2007. The recovery grant came from the Field Stations and Marine Labs program. 
Reconstruction of the towers was completed in late 2019, and a new set of instruments has now been installed. The sensors generate a wide range of data available to the scientific community and also provide flexibility to incorporate additional instrumentation required by independent research projects.
Located well above the forest canopy at a height of 57 meters is a suite of meteorological sensors and an eddy-covariance system. This is complemented by a vertical profile (sensors at different heights above the ground) that monitors temperature, water vapor, and carbon dioxide concentrations, in addition to soil nodes that capture important below-ground environmental variables. These data streams allow OTS to characterize the forest environment from soil to canopy, as well as to estimate energy and carbon fluxes between the forest canopy and the atmosphere. The location of the canopy tower in a forest plot, established in 2009 (in which every tree with a diameter above 10 cm is identified, tagged, and measured yearly), adds to the value of this unique facility.
OTS is committed to making this research platform available to our entire scientific community. At present, the installed instrumentation is geared primarily toward studies in areas such as tropical forest ecology and plant physiology; but the easy canopy access, connectivity, and flexibility should make this an ideal platform for a wide range of studies. The eddy-covariance system can be expanded to include methane fluxes, a major greenhouse gas of interest to many studies. Electrical outlets and ethernet ports can be found at different heights along the tower to hook up additional instruments. Wireless internet is available in the area surrounding the towers. A new air-conditioned control room at the base of the instrumented tower provides a comfortable space to work, as well as ample room for those instruments that cannot be exposed to harsh outdoor conditions.
We at OTS are excited to move into the future with the Canopy Towers, and we are looking forward to seeing how your studies will leverage this remarkable facility at our station to deliver cutting-edge science.

Are you interested in supporting this long-term monitoring effort at our station? If so, please contact Jim Boyle by email or call (360) 920-6302.
Every year the staff at La Selva Research Station look forward to hosting the local community at an onsite Environmental Fair. Activities, forest tours, and cultural events are shared. The day is full of learning and fun. This year, like many things, the fair transitioned online. We missed seeing the looks of wonder and smiling faces in person but were so glad we were able to share some of La Selva with our global community. You can check out the virtual fair on the La Selva Facebook page.
Las Cruces hit by hurricane Eta
Photo credit: NASA

In the early morning hours of November 3, Hurricane Eta hit Central America as a Category 4 storm. Nicaragua bore the brunt of the storm, but the outer rain bands brought significant rain to Costa Rica. Guanacaste experienced the heaviest rains, but Palo Verde weathered the storm well. Landslides were reported nationwide. One landslide occurred just outside the Las Cruces property and took the life of the couple who lived there. Some trails on the property were washed out, but we are fortunate that damage was minimal. Our heart goes out to our neighbors.
OTS scientists recognized for their publications with the Julie S. Denslow Prize for Outstanding Paper in Biotropica

Two OTS scientists were recently recognized with the Julie S. Denslow prize for the Outstanding Paper in Biotropica, a publication of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation. Dr. Sabrina Amador-Vargas was recognized for her paper on plant killing by neotropical acacia ants (Biotropica. 2019; 51: 692– 699. Her work explored the ecological, behavioral, and evolution of acacia ants creating clearings about their home acacia tree. The ants work to maintain a hospitable environment for their tree. Dr. Amador-Vargas completed some of her work at Palo Verde, and her work was supported financially and logistically by OTS. She has served as a resource person on several OTS courses in Costa Rica.

Benjamin Wigley, Corli Coestee, and Laurence Kruger were recognized, along with their co-authors, Jayashree Ratnamm and Mahesh Sankaran, for their work on elephants and fire in African savannas (Biotropica. 2019; 51: 682– 691. Elephants often feed on the bark of trees in the savanna. When these trees are subsequently exposed to fire, ants colonize the bark wounds, creating further damage and a slowed recovery. This is a much more complex ecological interaction than previously thought. Dr. Wigley is an OTS alumnus, and Dr. Kruger is Director of the OTS Skukuza Research Station in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Dr. Julie Denslow is an alumnus of the OTS course Fundamentals of Tropical Ecology and a long-time researcher in Costa Rica.
Eagle Hill Liverwort Seminar went to La Selva November 15, 2020
Guest Contributor: Dr. Gregorio Dauphin,
Apartado 212-6100, Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica.
Liverworts or hepatics belong to the only division in the plant kingdom that have oil bodies. Oil bodies are tiny cellular organelles with a single membrane, probably “floating” in the plasma of living cells (Figure 1). We do not know much about their physiology, but it is well known that they contain aromatic oils called terpenoids. Once the plant is collected, oil bodies have an ephemerous life and usually disappear as the plants dry out. In order to visualize them, fresh material must be examined under the microscope.

In the frame of the online mini-seminar, “A dive into the Liverworts and Hornworts of Central America,” from Eagle Hill Institute (Maine,, seminar instructor Gregorio Dauphin and his wife, Barbara, made their shortest visit ever to La Selva (2 hours). Among the goals was to show seminar participants from the whole continent the astonishing beauty of fresh, leaf-dwelling hepatics (epiphylls) with oil bodies.

There is no commercial use of liverworts so far, but the possibilities of obtaining drugs or other derivates from these tiny plants are very promising. For instance, simple phenolic compounds, such as perrotetins, have been isolated from the Japanese hepatic Radula perrottettii and proven to be a valuable substitute for medicinal Cannabis without the secondary effects. We found a typical epiphyllous species, Radula flaccida, growing on old leaves of Schefflera nicaraguensis next to the station’s soccer field (Figure 2). An OTS course-type survey on five phorophyte leaves led us to discover 12 epiphyllous species that are very common at La Selva (Table 1). Up to eight species were located on a single leaf!

If the pandemic conditions improve, and the situation comes back to (or near) normality, several Eagle Hill seminar participants plan to carry out a presential liverwort seminar at La Selva Research Station. This would give us a head start with inventories of this ubiquitous and diverse plant group in La Selva (over 800 species in Central America!), which is so far not well represented in OTS research stations.

Table 1. Epiphyllous liverworts on 5 phorophyte leaves from old secondary forest (ZAZ) at La Selva Biological Station, November 10th, 2010.
Captions for the figures: 1. Oil bodies “floating” over chloroplasts in cells of Cololejeunea diaphana. 2. Radula flaccida, epiphyll on Schefflera nicaraguensis at La Selva, November 10, 2020.
On Neotropical Migrants and My Own Personal Peregrination 
Guest Contributor, Ellen Reid [OTS 08-01]
I was walking my dog down the street early one recent Saturday morning when we came across a little yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata) sitting on the pavement, clearly having just struck a window on her migration from north to south. As we stood there watching to see if she might recover enough to fly off, it occurred to me that I have felt a little bit like this warbler a few times in my life – perhaps especially now during the pandemic, when I had been going about my life only to be struck unexpectedly and become grounded, disoriented, and a little beat up by an unforeseen break in my journey. Continue reading this article here.
Lessons from La Selva: Caterpillar and Parasitoid Declines in a Lowland Tropical Forest
Guest Contributor and Outstanding Student Paper Award Winner, Danielle Salcido

Our study observing long-term trends in plant-caterpillar-parasitoid interactions at La Selva Research Station has many great stories behind it. The paper we recently published from this work was titled, “Loss of Dominant Caterpillar Genera in a Lowland Tropical Forest,” published in Scientific Reports in January 2020 (Salcido et al. 2020). It was generously awarded the 2019-2020 Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS) Kimberly G. Smith Outstanding Student Paper Award for which I am very grateful. In addition to the published results, “Loss of Dominant Caterpillar Genera in a Lowland Tropical Forest,” represents a story shaped by and shared with many people beyond the author list. Continue reading this article here.
BINABITROP gets a new look
In 1996, Ana Beatriz Azofeifa Mora, M.Sc., Coordinator of the OTS Library System, and Dr. Jorge Arturo Jimenez Ramón, Director of OTS in Costa Rica, had the idea to collect and create a database of documents published around the world on the topic of Costa Rica tropical biology. This database came to be called the National Bibliography on Tropical Biology (BINABITROP), and it contains literature on Costa Rica tropical biology that has been published in the country and abroad. The records in the database contain theses, books, book excerpts, magazine articles, conference presentations, reports, multimedia, etc. with information primarily in English or Spanish on tropical biology and related topics in Costa Rica. Of these, more than 44,970 documents are available in PDF format.

The concept of biology [sensus latus] in thematic scope includes agricultural, veterinary, forestry, environmental, land, sea, and natural resources. The records include, among other information, relevant aspects such as the location of the document and, in the event that conditions allow and appropriate permissions have been granted, a copy of the document in electronic format. All information contained in BINABITROP is strictly for academic or research (noncommercial) use only. Unauthorized use of the materials stored in BINABITROP may violate applicable copyright, trademark, or other intellectual property laws.

Vital to the development of BINABITROP has been the participation of Gilbert Fuentes-González, who is in charge of compiling, curating, and managing the records in the database. The records found in BINABITROP are collected from the databases of national and international information centers, via online databases, and by author submissions, among others. One of the first sources of information, which BINABITROP drew upon, was the bibliographic references in the archives of the Library of the University of Costa Rica (UCR) School of Biology. At that time, Dr. Oscar Rocha was its Director.
OTS thanks all the people, who have been linked in one way or another to the creation, maintenance, and growth of this database. In addition to the individuals already mentioned by name in this text, OTS recognizes our former colleagues, Susana Aguilar-Zumbado, M.Sc., and Sofía Zamora-Carvajal, Lic., for their efforts to ensure data quality.

On October 20, 2020, exactly 24 years since the launch of BINABITROP, OTS presented a new database query interface. The new interface was developed by Engineer Diego Araya-Chaves of the OTS Office of Information Management, and it is expected to improve day by day.

If you have questions about the new query interface or have comments about your experience with the database, please send email to, as we want to create a list of testimonials. In addition, if you know of any publication that does not currently exist in the database, please contact us to evaluate your materials for submission. When referencing a record located in BINABITROP, OTS asks that users include in the citation, “Organization for Tropical Studies – BINABITROP.”

If you want to use BINABITROP press here.
Help OTS expand its online community

Thank you so much to everyone that has shared news and updates. Please keep them coming! We love to share your news and accomplishments. We need your help to reach more people concerned with education, research, and the responsible use of natural resources in the tropics. If you think that you can help by sharing our information across your social networks or if you can provide us with content or material for use in our social networks, please contact us
Environmental, Social, and Governance program

OTS is excited to announce a new funding initiative through the development of a comprehensive Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) program. ESG refers to the three central factors in measuring the long-term sustainability and societal impact of corporations, foundations, and other organizations.

Our efforts will have two key components:

  • An internal review of our educational programs, research projects, and in-country operations to establish OTS’ ESG brand to attract new corporate partnerships
  • An external effort to market OTS’ ESG program to corporations, foundations, and other organizations that are working to improve their own sustainability and ESG profiles

Look for more information about this exciting project in upcoming issues of the e-Canopy or for more information about OTS’ ESG program please contact: Jim Boyle, Vice President for Philanthropy, by email or call (360) 920-6302.
2020 tax considerations

CARES Act tax benefit

If you itemize your deductions for 2020, the CARES Acts allows you to deduct charitable contributions of up to 100% of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). Typically, you can only deduction 60% of your AGI. This means that for 2020, if your AGI is $250,000, you can deduct $250,000 in charitable contributions. The CARES Act has also increased the amounts of annual charitable deductions for corporations from 10% to 25% of taxable income. Any donations that are greater than 25% can be deducted within the following five years.

IRA distribution

If you are 70½ or older, you can transfer up to $100,000 from a traditional IRA tax-free to charity each year. The transfer(s) to charity will count as your Required Minimum Distribution without being added to your AGI. Your charitable gift will not be taxed, as it would be if you were to take a distribution and then donate the cash to charity. Plus, ensuring that your Required Minimum Distribution is not included in your AGI could help to keep your income below the threshold that is subject to the high-income surcharge for Medicare parts B and D. In addition, it can also hold down the percentage of your Social Security benefits that are subject to taxes. Please check with your financial advisor or tax attorney for advice on what is best for your specific situation.

By any measure, 2020 has been a difficult year. Yet, despite all the challenges, there is much for which we can be thankful at OTS. We work in some of the most amazing locations in the world. We work with world-renown scientists, researchers, and professors. We work together as an incredible team of staff and volunteers, who are dedicated to our mission and deeply believe in the work.

However, we are mostly thankful for you – for students who trust us with shaping their future, for parents who trust us with their children, for researchers who trust us with their life’s work, and for donors who trust us with their money.

We believe that 2021 will be a great year for OTS, full of discovery and challenges. We invite you to continue to be part of the story by making a gift today. To learn about all the ways you can become involved with OTS, please contact Jim Boyle by email or call (360) 920-6302.

Thank you!
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