April 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

With every adult almost eligible for the vaccine in the U.S. and antibody titers rising, the desire to visit the forest and savannah grows. Unfortunately, Costa Rica and South Africa are still struggling. After a recent spike in Covid-19 cases, Costa Rica announced weekend driving restrictions, and the U.S. State Department issued a level 4 travel advisory, recommending no travel. Costa Rica is currently open, although masks are required. Vaccinations are available to all Costa Rican residents age 58 or older, and testing is widely available. Costa Rica is still requiring travel insurance to cover any Covid-related illness or quarantine.
The U.S. State Department also issued a level 4 travel advisory for South Africa, recommending no travel. South Africa eased in-country restrictions to a level 1 earlier this month. Alcohol sales are now allowable. However, curfews are still in place, and masks are required. South Africa is currently vaccinating its population, and testing is widely available. South Africa requires that travelers present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of travel. 
Be aware that the United States is now requiring a negative PCR test for all travelers, over the age of two, returning to the States taken within 72 hours or proof of recovery from Covid-19. The negative PCR test is required regardless of vaccination status. You can view a map of all countries currently with a level 4 travel advisory here.
Remembering Dr. Jean Langenheim
Guest Contributor:  Deborah K. Letourneau, Professor Emerita, Department of Environmental Studies, UC Santa Cruz
(Photo credit: UC Santa Cruz)

Professor Emerita Jean H. Langenheim, long-time OTS friend and supporter, passed away at 95 years old on March 28, 2021, having left a legacy of innovative research in tropical ecology, evolutionary ecology, chemical ecology, and the promotion of women in science. As an intrepid field biologist, Langenheim traveled the world and frequented remote locations, weathering adventures such as a forced plane landing in Amazonia while studying the ecology and evolution of tropical tree resins and an encounter with guerrillas, as she collected plant specimens in Colombia during a coup d'état. Her studies at Harvard in the 1960s upended the assumption that all amber originated from pines, and her extensive research on tropical broad-leafed Hymenea courbaril trees helped establish theory on chemical defenses against insects and diseases in plants.

She published over 130 scientific papers, book chapters, and several books; and she served in leadership positions when women in these positions were rare, including her role as OTS’ Academic Vice President from 1975-77 and in the 1980s as President of the Association for Tropical Biology (now the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation), the Ecological Society of America, and as the Founder and President of the International Society of Chemical Ecology. Dr. Langenheim’s lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz was home to a large and diverse cadre of graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, undergraduates, and visiting faculty from across the U.S., as well as Brazil, Mexico, Korea, China, and New Zealand, as they pursued questions in plant biology. “She was a lion in her field,” according to colleague Dr. Ingrid Parker, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCSC. “She was such a trailblazer herself, yet she was always thinking about how to promote the next generation and create opportunities for young scientists.”
International Day of the Tropics

June 29 was named the International Day of the Tropics by the United Nations in 2016 in honor of the inaugural State of the Tropics Report, which was first given on June 29, 2014. The UN hoped that, by designating a day to recognize the tropics, they could raise awareness to the importance of and challenges faced by tropical environments. This year OTS will partner with the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation for an event in honor of International Day of the Tropics. OTS will host Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, CEO of the Global Environment Fund (Former Costa Rican Minister of the Environment and former member of the OTS Board of Directors), at a TropTalks event on June 29. To register for TropTalks and see upcoming speakers please visit the OTS website.
Lonely Planet names Wilson Botanical Garden as top 20 spot to visit

The Wilson Botanical Garden, part of OTS’ Las Cruces Research Station, was named to Lonely Planet’s list of the 20 best places to visit in Costa Rica! Coming in at number 11 on the list, the garden was called out for its collection of over 2,000 native Costa Rican species and its role in the preservation of species for future reforestation efforts. Read the full feature article on the Lonely Planet website.
Young Explorers Club visited OTS South Africa
(Photo credit: Francois Malherbe)
The Young Explorers course was offered to high school students aged 15-18 and aimed to develop a sense of curiosity in a wilderness and outdoor learning environment. Students were trained in leadership skills through adventurous activities, such as educational game drive lectures, guided bush walks, tracking animals in the field, and team building exercises. Students camped and enjoyed lessons in conservation and ecology from OTS staff and visiting faculty. Students left with an idea of their surrounding environment (geology, ecology, and vegetation of Kruger National Park), as well as an understanding of the patterns of where and how different animals are located within the landscape. To test these competencies, the students competed to "catch" the most animals using camera traps. Each group had to choose a location for their camera based on the information they had learned. The groups that "caught" the most animals on camera won. 

The course also included a service component. Students sorted several boxes of insects collected by OTS students over the past 14 years. They compiled the best insects to create collections representative of the insect taxa/orders found in the Kruger National Park. The collections will be donated to neighboring rural areas for educational purposes.
African Ecology & Conservation application deadline extended

With students beginning to go back to in-person classes, we hope to offer this OTS mainstay in the fall with a few modifications to maintain the health and safety of our students and staff. Many colleges and universities have pushed back their deadlines to see how the situation improves around Covid-19, and OTS is doing the same with this popular program. Scholarships are available for qualified undergraduate students, who are looking to develop field skills in various South Africa field sites, as well as learn about this country’s diverse culture and checkered history. Apply online by May 1 to be considered.
Quantitative and Computational Methods in Animal Behavior 
(Photo credit: Rubén Ramos)

A new field course at La Selva Research Station is on the way. Quantitative and Computational Methods in Animal Behavior will lead you to bridge the gap between lab rigor and field authenticity through modern technology. There will be a strong theoretical focus on employing machine-vision tracking of animal movement in natural contexts. Students will gain hands-on experience in experimental design, set up camera and recording equipment, perform basic coding in Python to convert video into suitable formats, and be given an introduction into machine learning and animal tracking, which they will implement to automatically track animal groups. See the OTS website to find out how to apply and to get more course information.
Board of Directors Chair George Middendorf received the Eugene P. Odum Award for Excellence in Ecology Education
(Photo Credit Emily Middendorf)
The Ecological Society of America has presented Dr. George Middendorf the Eugene P. Odum Award for Excellence in Ecology Education. The award was endowed by Eugene P. Odum and recognizes an ecologist for outstanding work in ecology education. In announcing the award, the ESA stated, “[George] is an established leader in ecology education, who has dedicated his career to developing and expanding high-quality, research-based pedagogy for all students. He has made a significant and long-lasting impact on ecology education through his sustained active engagement as one of the major leaders in the field, initiating many of the major ecology education initiatives in recent decades. Over his 40 years as a member of ESA and as a faculty member at Howard University, he has taught, mentored, and inspired countless students and colleagues, specifically focusing on addressing and including underrepresented populations in ecology. His broad impact is also reflected in his scholarship in ecology education with a wide array of high-impact publications on topics such as 4DEE, active learning pedagogy, curriculum reform, ecological literacy, inclusion and diversity, environmental justice, community engagement, and informed public decision-making related to the environment.”
OTS renewed its agreement with the Costa Rican National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO) 

Costa Rica has long had legislative support for biodiversity and forest conservation as part of the Payment for Ecosystem Services program. In 1996 Costa Rica Forestry Law 7575 was passed, establishing the protection, conservation, and management of forest areas as a central responsibility of the state. The law sets up a system to reward land owners for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, protecting water uses, conserving biodiversity, and protecting ecosystem. Farmers are incentivized to restore degraded land. The program is funded through a tax on fossil fuels. OTS is fortunate to be part of the National Forestry Financing Fund, Payment for Environmental Services (PSA).
BINABITROP: 25 years with the goal of collecting all research on Costa Rican biodiversity
Guest Contributor:  Julián Monge-Nájera, Editor-in-Chief, Revista de Biología Tropical

When Darwin remembered his youth, he wrote a nice line about the human need to build collections. He said, “The passion for collecting, which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso, or a miser was very strong in me.” This same passion dominates the true librarian, who has no rest if their collection is incomplete, and this is the spirit that led Gilbert Fuentes and Ana Beatriz Azofeifa to start, a quarter-century ago, the Bibliografía Nacional en Biología Tropical (BiNaBiTrop), with the goal of collecting, not a representative sample, but all research on the spectacular biodiversity of Costa Rica.

I asked Gilbert whose idea it was.

“It wasn’t a single person`s idea,” he told me. “The subject came naturally when Ana Beatriz and I were discussing how to use the emerging technology of the internet to help the students, who came to do fieldwork with OTS back in the mid-1990s. At the time, I had just retired from my career in agriculture and was starting a new one as a librarian, and we were both worried that not all research done in Costa Rica was available locally. We felt that we could combine a database program developed by UNESCO (Micro CDS/ISIS) and the internet to collect all the literature and make it available to OTS people and other researchers worldwide, because the knowledge produced in Costa Rica is not only important for Costa Rican scientists but to scientists all over the world. We started with digital discs that Drs. Deborah and David Clark passed along to the library. We wrote to many authors for digital versions of their publications and then looked for other sources in the University of Costa Rica and elsewhere. In a letter dated February 24, 1996, I gave Ana the technical details of how it could be done and listed what we needed. We received strong support from the OTS Director at the time, Jorge Jiménez, and that is how it all started.”

After the first 25 years, OTS stills offers its staff, students, and everyone else free access to this stupendous collection of over 45,415 records of publications, including journal articles, theses, academic and technical reports, and, keeping up the times, digital multimedia. Of these, about 33,009 can be downloaded in full versions, something that is particularly important in a world in which tropical scientists are blocked from knowledge about their own biodiversity by the paywalls of a few companies. From me and other tropical scientists, congratulations and a big Thank You! to Gilbert, Ana, Jorge, and OTS.

You can visit BINABITROP here.
Field stations, undergraduate research, and paying it forward
Guest Contributor: Colin R. Morrison, Graduate Program in EEB, The University of Texas at Austin  
(Photo Credit Colin R. Morrison)

I practice, learn, and teach a discipline that claims its purpose is to understand biological and environmental variation. Expanding this base of understanding puts us in a position to apply that knowledge to creating solutions that improve our ability to live in harmony with nature. These are the reasons that ecology has provided me with a purpose. Doing ecology brings me personal joy, motivates me to hone skills that I can contribute to society, and provides me a platform from which I can empower others to walk paths toward careers in STEM. So, what is the point of walking my path as a researcher if I fail to do it in a way that allows me to mentor others?

Early on, I was attracted to biology (I didn’t know what ecology was yet), because I thought that it would provide me with opportunities to spend time outside and get me a job with coworkers who also enjoyed the outdoors. This was a good assumption, because both of these wishes were granted! However, the real value that I have gained from ecology has everything to do with the nuanced lessons learned and life experiences that have taken place while doing it. For example, practicing ecology gives me a way to situate my personal values within an ethical and intellectual framework. This framework puts me in an advantageous position to responsibly study how patterns emerge and processes govern them. Likewise, the framework serves as a personal roadmap that manifests in practically all other aspects of my life. The everyday skills that I get to practice while following this map include everything from interpersonal communication, carpentry, time management, accounting, developing technological literacy, etc. The flexibility and the variety of different opportunities to learn and grow that ecology presents me are key reasons why I encourage other people to pursue this career path.

To read more, click here to access Colin Morrison's full essay.
Rob Dunn remembers his visit to La Selva and writing his book, Never Home Alone
Guest Contributor: Rob Dunn  

Several years ago, while finishing writing a book called Never Home Alone, I was thinking about how to describe the joy of studying something, anything, with a group of people, each with a different set of skills and interests. As I did, I remembered my time at La Selva Research Station when I was 19 years old.  

At 19, I found a job working with Samantha (Sam) Messier at La Selva Research Station in Costa Rica. I’d grown up spending most of my time outdoors paying attention to the life around me but hadn’t fully yet come to terms with the possibility that “making sense of nature,” was a kind of job, much less what one would call that job. I arrived at La Selva at night. Someone had left a key in an envelope for me. I picked up the key and walked across the bridge of the Rio Sarapiqui to the building in which I’d be staying. I felt like a character in a book.  

Sam was studying Nasutitermes termites. These termites eat wood that is often low in nitrogen. They make up for this lack by relying on nitrogen that the bacteria in their guts fix from the air. Sam was studying what factors cause termites to rely more on this nitrogen. One factor she was interested in was disturbance of termite nests by tamandua anteaters. My job was varied, but a key component would be acting out the disturbance created by such anteaters. I’d walk around La Selva Research Station and act out the role of an anteater by hacking modest holes in Nasutitermes termite colonies. Walking from colony to colony, gave me an excuse to explore. I took notes on what I found in termite colonies (bats, a woodpecker, bugs that mimic feces, at least one snake, and so on). I took blurry photos. I kept a mental tally of the wonders of each day.  

As I wrote in Never Home Alone:

“...for the young boy still lurking in my twenty-year-old self, this job was great. I got to wander a trail hacking at things with a machete. For the young scientist in me, it was far better. While working, I talked to Sam about science until she tired. At lunch and dinner, I talked to other scientists until they tired. Then, when there was no one left to answer questions, I walked. At night, I walked paths with a headlamp, a flashlight, and a backup flashlight. The night forest was full of the sounds of life and the smells of life, but the only things that could be seen were those revealed by the light. It was as if the light, in revealing species, also created them. I learned to tell the difference between the eye shines of snakes, frogs, and mammals. I learned to recognize the silhouettes of sleeping birds. I learned to look patiently at leaves and bark where giant spiders, katydids, and insects that mimicked bird feces lurked. Some nights, I convinced a German bat scientist to take me netting for bats. I hadn’t been vaccinated for rabies. He didn’t care. I was twenty; I didn’t care. He taught me how to identify the bats. I learned the nectar feeders, the insect feeders, and the fruit feeders. I encountered the giant, bird-eating Vampyrum spectrum, so big it would rip a hole right through the net. My observations, however anecdotal, allowed me to begin to come up with my own hypotheses. I fell in love with the idea that most of what was understandable was not yet understood. I fell in love with discovery, with the way in which the unknown could be revealed with patience under nearly any log or leaf. By the end of my stay in Costa Rica, I’d helped Sam show that the termite colonies were able to make more soldiers when bothered more often with a machete. That was the end of the study but not of the influence of the experience on me.” 
Years later, I shifted my work from tropical forests to the study of our daily environments and also to writing about daily environments. In the process, perhaps I unwittingly sought out, through collaborations, some version of the feeling I had as a 19-year-old, both of being surrounded by nature but also of being surrounded by people who had different ways of knowing about nature. Studying the life under beds and in kitchens is not the same as studying termites in a rainforest. And yet, on the best days, the same sense of mystery is present, the same potential to spend long hours making observations and talking about ideas with people who know things you don’t know. In between faculty meetings and emails about budgets, such moments are fleeting, and yet, when they occur, they are charmed.  

Now, for anyone who is interested, this can all come full circle. Along with the team at iNaturalist and many collaborators, I’ve developed a project wherein people can take pictures of the species they find in their dwellings. I’d love if some 19-year-old (or 90-year-old) student of life would spend a few wonder-filled days taking pictures of species dwelling indoors at La Selva or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world. What La Selva taught me was the joy of watching nature with other people. What the decades since have taught me is that you can find that joy in a supercharged form at La Selva but also in other varieties anyplace else you happen to be in the world.  
Night and Day in the Rain Forest, a children's book by Jennifer Powers

OTS sites serve many roles. Most of us appreciate them for their beauty, and many of see them teaming with questions waiting to be answered. We take pictures, fill data binders, and dutifully take field notes. If asked, we may admit to sitting quietly off the trail and admiring the beauty around us. I don’t think it is common for us to transcribe that amazement into art work. There are some amazing examples at both La Selva and Las Cruces, which surely stand out. Another treasure born of the wonder we see in the forest is Jennifer Powers’ children’s book Night and Day in the Rainforest. It is filled with beautiful watercolors and an inquisitive coati. The book is available to read for free online here.
Check out our science
(Photo Credit Chelsea Ward)

It is more important for young ant-lions to eat than older instars. Farji-Brener was the invited OTS faculty on the Ecologia Tropical y Conservación course.

Wu et al. found that birds pay attention to each other’s distress calls but pay more attention if they are phylogenetically related. Co-author Luis Sandoval was invited faculty on an OTS Tropical Biology course. We are currently accepting applications!

Stream noise was shown to affect anuran assemblages at La Selva. 

Deforestation was found to reduce the ability of plants to mate by changing the community of pollinators in the areas surrounding La Selva.

Samples collected from La Selva anurans were used to genotype B. dendrobatidis (chytrid) and isolate epidermal bacterial that may inhibit chytrid growth.
Save the date - OTS Annual Meeting
(Photo credit: Ademar Hurtado)
The 2021 OTS Annual Meeting will be hosted online this year. Please make plans to join us on Monday, June 7, 1-4pm EDT. To register, please visit our website or contact Jennifer Kelley. An agenda and connection information will be distributed in advance of the meeting.
Why We Need Your Continued Help
(Photo credit: Juan Jose Pucci)
We hope you've enjoyed this report from the tropics! As you can see, a lot is going on as we begin to reopen and gear up for classes that will start once travel resumes. However, normalcy is still months away, and between now and the time we are truly back to normal we will be urging our friends, alumni, supporters, and conservationists to help in any way they can. Contributions are critical, but we also hope our friends will spread the word on OTS projects via social media. You may also want to help by hosting an OTS Virtual House Party. To learn about OTS Virtual House Parties, click here. To make a contribution, click here.
Can you help us reach more people?

Hopefully, 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