August 2022

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 update
Guest contributor: Chelsea Ward
(Photo credit: CDC)

This pandemic has given me whiplash, and I have lost count of variants. The silver lining for most vaccinated people has been that the current circulating variants are more contagious but appear to cause less severe disease. It has seemed that, despite surges in areas across the world, everyone has attempted to step back towards normalcy. For many, this has meant seeing family, returning to the field, and just visiting not forgotten favorite places. Seeing the photos in social media feeds and smiling faces and dirty boots has been amazing.

Although the CDC still categorizes Covid levels in Costa Rica and South Africa as high (level 3), Costa Rica no longer requires completion of its online Health Pass and dropped the requirement for medical insurance for unvaccinated foreign travelers. In addition, all commercial establishments are operating at 100%, and mandatory mask mandates are discontinued (although they are still highly encouraged, and some establishments may require them). In South Africa, all remaining Covid-19 regulations were repealed at the end of June.
Beth Braker signs long-term contract to serve as President and CEO
(Photo credit: Shana Goffredi)

Dr. Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Braker has served as the President and CEO of OTS on a short-term basis since November of 2019. When she raised her hand to serve as our leader, she never could have expected what would happen. Yet, that steady hand guided this institution through arguably the most challenging times of its existence. Guiding a program dependent on international travel, study abroad, and visits to research stations through a pandemic that halted almost every aspect of our institution is no small feat. Under her tenure, OTS has provided online learning opportunities, strengthened connections inside the communities that OTS research stations call home, and grown to serve government and leaders of Costa Rica and South Africa in new and exciting ways. Currently, she is shepherding OTS’ work to rebuild our classic field-based OTS research and learning opportunities.

We are so thankful that Beth chose to lead us, and we are so pleased that she will remain in her role as President and CEO.
OTS signs agreement with the United Nations Development Programme

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the lead agency within the United Nations working on international development. Working in 170 countries and territories, UNDP partners with organizations to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality through the development of policies, leadership skills, institutional capabilities, partnering abilities, and sustainable development goals. UNDP was created in 1966 by the General Assembly of the United Nations from the merger of the United Nations Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance, created in 1949, and the United Nations Special Fund, established in 1958.
OTS has partnered with UNDP in Costa Rica to assist with sustainable development through two projects. The “Transition to an urban green economy and delivering global environmental benefits” project will provide insight and complement OTS’ efforts to develop a Center for the Urban Tropics at the OTS Costa Rica Office. The project will support decarbonization in the greater metropolitan area of San Jose through sustainable integrated urban planning. The Sixaoloa River Basin project will promote environmental and social sustainability in the southern Costa Rica/Panama region and benefit OTS’ own efforts to transform Las Cruces into a dynamic center for conservation and restoration of landscapes. Specifically, the project will create long-term conditions for an improved shared river basin governance and will contribute to reducing agrochemical pollution and the risks associated with periodic flooding.

This agreement with UNDP positions OTS as a resource for environmental issues in Costa Rica. At the last meeting of the OTS Board of Directors, Chief Operating Officer Miguel Mendéz was thanked for his work in bringing this relationship to OTS.
More than a research station
Guest contributor: Julia Morin, University of Connecticut
(African Ecology & Conservation, Spring 2022)

OTS’ field station in South Africa, the Skukuza Research Station, is the headquarters for the African Ecology & Conservation semester program. It is a beautiful research facility inside Kruger National Park with an amazing library, laboratory, classroom, and living accommodations. The Skukuza Rest Camp (which is the most popular entrance into the park) has excellent facilities. My classmates and I were able to attended the 19th annual Savanna Science Networking Meeting and rubbed elbows with some of South Africa’s top savanna scientists! In the tourist shop, I have bought so many gifts for friends and family. They also have the best ice cream flavors!

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Skukuza, because there is so much to do in and out of the park! I love going on game drives to see the diverse wildlife from the vehicles. We have seen four of the Big Five, which are lion, elephant, buffalo, and leopard! Going on game drives is my favorite activity inside Kruger, but there are plenty of other activities as well. We often go swimming at the local pool, exercise, and play sports in the afternoon after a long day of fieldwork.

On our days off, we have traveled outside Kruger, and I have found it quite impossible to choose what activities to participate in. On our first day off, we traveled to the incredible Mac Mac Falls. We went on a hike to a beautiful collection of pools and to “God’s Window” with the most amazing view. There are so many activities like shopping, hiking, ziplining, and lots of restaurants. There’s always something to do! Soon we will travel south to the Cape, and after that we will return to Skukuza to work on our final capstone projects. And hopefully, by the time the semester ends, we see the last animal from the Big Five list, a black or white rhino!

See Julia's blog post here, which includes additional photos from her time at Skukuza.
Decision Makers programs
In addition to our work with future leaders, OTS strongly believes that in order to sustain the tropics we must also work with those in the position to design, adopt, and implement decisions that can alter the future of the tropics.

Building on almost 60 years of experience with diverse stakeholders, we work with decision makers to provide tailor-made solutions for addressing the pressing demands on the tropics. OTS’ programs have worked with decision makers, such as the United States Senate and House of Representatives, Central American legislators, and important decision makers from the Peruvian Amazon, among others.

The Decision Makers programs are founded on OTS’ education pillars: complexity and systems theory, radical collaboration, transformative and experiential learning, purpose driven, and ethical relations and reciprocity. Through these programs, participants will develop competencies to provide effective and long-lasting solutions, for example through policy analysis, design, and implementation; a systemic and complexity approach to the tropics and its ecosystems; and scientific communication, among many other exciting and relevant themes.

OTS recently hosted a return of the Decision Makers programs in Costa Rica. In the most recent course, leaders learned about the unique mix of ecosystems in conservation issues, global health issues, leading scholars, and green infrastructure in their country. OTS’ extensive network allowed for connections and interactions with key stakeholders and organizations throughout the country for in-depth, real-life situations, and case studies.

Watch a short video about this year’s Decision Makers course here.
OCELOTS: Online Content for Experiential Learning of Tropical Systems
Guest contributor: Ann Russell
(Logo Credit: Erin Kuprewicz)

Are you a tropical biology researcher who has a cool case study to share – one that will get undergraduate students worldwide excited about biology? If yes, where do you start? The idea of creating an online module can be daunting, especially if you want to incorporate graphics, videos, interactive data tools, and best practices in teaching and learning in your module. That is where the OCELOTS (Online Content for Experiential Learning of Tropical Systems) Network comes in. Funded through NSF’s RCN-UBE (Research Coordination Networks in Undergraduate Biology Education) Program, this project brings together a diverse community of experts with backgrounds in tropical biology research, active-learning pedagogy, the 4DEE framework (Four-Dimensional Ecology Education), software development, and multimedia content creation. For background on why it is so urgent to develop these modules on tropical biology, please see Russell et al. (2022).
OCELOTS collaborates with a dozen organizations, including OTS, professional societies, university programs, and other RCNs and NGOs. These collaborations enable the OCELOTS network to support participants in the creation and adaptation of online modules. The collaboration with Gala facilitates module creation on a user-friendly platform that makes it fun and easy to turn your case study based on your published research in tropical biology into an online, open-access module. Gala supports multilingual content, so your module does not have to be in English! We encourage translations of English-based modules and international participation in OCELOTS. [link to full essay
Former OTS Board of Delegates Member Nate Dominy publishes paper on primate gramivory
Guest contributors: Chelsea Ward and Nate Dominy
(Photo Credit: Nate Dominy)

Nate Dominy, Dartmouth College, recently published the results of his research using carbon and strontium isotope ratios to understand the diet of Theropithecus primates. Theropithecus is today represented by only one species, the gelada, native to Ethiopia. Historically, this genus, which resembles a baboon, included the largest monkey to ever live. Dr. Dominy used the support of an OTS-STRI Andrew W. Mellon Research Exploration Award in Tropical Biology in 2003 to fund two research trips to the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya where he collected data on the fracture mechanics of plants. His data elucidate the increasing importance of graminoid (grass) tissues in the diets of Theropithecus, beginning around 4 million years ago. By 2 million years ago, the genus committed itself to bulk-feeding on grasses, a behavior tantamount to grazing. The photo above is an afroalpine grassland in Guassa, Ethiopia. These grasslands shaped the diet and ecology of modern geladas (Theropithecus gelada). Dr. Dominy and his team measured the fracture toughness of C3 grasses consumed by geladas and compared the results with data collected from C3 leaves and C4 grasses at Mpala, Kenya. The paper in Palaeo3 grew out of this comparative work.

Fannin LD, Yeakel JD, Venkataraman VV, Seyoum C, Geraads D, Fashing PJ, Nguyen N, Fox-Dobbs K, Dominy NJ (2021). Carbon and strontium isotope ratios shed new light on the paleobiology and collapse of Theropithecus, a primate experiment in graminivory. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 572:110393
Las Cruces featured in recent Nature article photo
(Photo Credit: Charles J. Katz)

Gretchen Daily, long-time friend of OTS, recently published an article with her Stanford colleague, Mary Ruckelshaus, in the journal Nature. The article discusses systems that were put in place in the late 90s to assign economic value to ecosystems and how these models are used to make decisions. The article was published in the June 16 edition and is accompanied by a photo of a beautiful view of Las Cruces taken by Charles J. Katz. Charles ‘Chuck’ Katz is an avid photographer and supporter of the environment and arts as well as an accomplished lawyer. 

You can find the Nature article here. Dr. Daily and Mr. Katz have also collaborated on a book featuring his photography and her text, The Power of Trees, available on Amazon. 
Enjoy some drama and fun in this video production by Rossana Maguiña at La Selva
(Photo Credit: Rossana Maguiña)

Have you heard of the La Selva challenge? Join some La Selva researchers as they take on the challenge and a bet on who is less boring. You can view the light-hearted fun here.
See the world with OTS
(Photo Credit: Donovan Loh)

2022 marked the return of OTS member tours! The specially designed tours combine natural history with behind-the-scenes look at critical tropical research.

This year OTS hosted two tours:

  • Costa Rica Experience (scheduled in July) was based out of the iconic La Selva Research Station and included interactions with OTS researchers and students as well as visits to local attractions, such as the family-owned Costa Rica Best Chocolate. A highlight of the trip was a side trip to Tortuguero for an insider’s view of sea turtle research.

  • Southern Costa Rica Adventure (scheduled for November) will be based out of the Las Cruces Research Station, which protects one of the largest remaining fragments of tropical wet premontane forest in southern Costa Rica. The trip features a visit to the Osa Peninsula, one of the most remote destinations in Costa Rica. Many of the wildlife species found here are unique to this area, and the region is considered ecologically important because of the extraordinary biodiversity of wildlife and plant life found only here.

We are now planning trips for 2023 and 2024, which may include a tour of Costa Rica’s biological gardens and featuring the Wilson Botanical Garden - one off the most important plant collections in Central America - and an extended trip to the Skukuza Research Station, located within the Kruger National Park.

Both of the 2022 trips quickly sold out, so please contact Jim Boyle at or at (360) 920-6302 to be added to member tour mailing list.
Another way to support tropical research and education

If you buy products from Amazon, please consider using AmazonSmile. 

Here’s how it works: Amazon will donate 0.5% of your purchase to OTS when you order through their “Smile” page and designate OTS as your preferred charity. The products sold, the purchase price, 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. 
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! 
Help OTS expand its online community

Thank you so much to everyone who 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 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.
Thank you for being part of the future

Sit with a group of students at an OTS research station for half an hour, and you’ll learn something. Their choice of a career in science and focus on fieldwork is invariably shaped by a deep concern over the future of our planet. I’m sure you share that view, as do I. 

Students are fully aware that with each lost species we also lose the potential for discoveries of significant value to medicine, agriculture, and mankind’s quality of life. 

OTS provides researchers with the access and infrastructure they need to perform research. Central to this is the protection of 3,900 acres of forest at La Selva and 800 at Las Cruces. This requires a dedicated staff to keep trails clear, forest guards to patrol, and a commitment to preserve the forest for the future. Now is a great time to consider a contribution and help ensure the forest stays safe and secure.

Vice President for Philanthropy
408 Swift Avenue
Durham, NC 27705
(919) 684 5774