November 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!
Update from the OTS Board of Directors
Guest contributors: George Middendorf, Chair, and Chelsea Ward, Secretary
(Photo credit: Andres Santana Mora)

Some of us are still stuck in our offices, wanting badly to travel, to be somewhere new or familiar, or a new secret spot in a familiar locale. Yet, there are exciting things happening at our stations. As seen on iNaturalist, sloths and a cat have been spotted at La Selva, and someone with a clear appreciation of all things six-legged has posted some really amazing wasps and bees. You can view all the latest observations on the La Selva Flora and Fauna project link. A Las Cruces visitor was able to record the call of a Chocó Screech owl. You can hear the bird through what sounds like gentle rain. Beautiful images of large birds and iguanids are being posted from Palo Verde. While some universities are slow to allow international travel, there are some within the OTS community planning travel, purchasing tickets, and booking reservations. "Muddy boots" courses are open for applications too. So go! See the things and share them. Post to social media, iNaturalist, or just email us to tell us about how amazing your trip was! Do it for those of us still waiting.

Member Director Elections
On November 16, 2022, the OTS Institutional Representatives met to discuss and nominate individuals for Board Member Director positions. Information about nominees and election procedures will be posted, and Member Directors will be elected via online voting.

OTS Annual Meeting
In January 2023, date and time TBA, the OTS Annual Meeting will be held. The agenda will focus on a review of the past year’s accomplishments and preview anticipated activities and projects for the coming year. The meeting will be virtual, open to members of the OTS Board of Directors and to all Institutional Representatives, and will also include nomination of candidates for 2023 Board Member Director positions. 
OTS prepares to celebrate its 60th Anniversary

As 2022 comes to an end, OTS is preparing to celebrate 60 years of working to ensure the future of the tropics. In commemoration, we are happy to unveil a special 60th Anniversary logo that incorporates the OTS’ brand, the research stations, and some of the flora and fauna to be discovered at OTS' sites.

The logo includes the OTS acronym and the famous Monstera leaf, iconic components of the brand. Next, some of the most beloved species from the research stations are included: the lion and elephant from Skukuza, the ant and jabiru from Palo Verde, the bat and curassow from La Selva, and the agouti from Las Cruces. Lastly, the number 60 – created with water flows, wind currents, clouds, leaves, and pollen – pulls all of these elements together in a harmonious way.

The new logo marks the beginning of a wonderful celebration. Stay tuned to our social media and this newsletter to be part of the festivities in the coming year.
Clarks publish open-access data for tropical rain forest research and teaching

Drs. David and Deborah Clark, along with Leonell Campos Otoya, William Miranda Conejo, and Orlando Vargas Ramirez, have published an extensive data set that covers soil, topography, and vegetation across 1,170 grid points in a 573ha area of old growth tropical rain forest at La Selva. The data has been used to refine a reserve-wide soils map for La Selva and has already improved the landscape scale analysis for ten publications. The data is published with no restrictions. This incredible resource includes original scans of data sheets and soil chemistry data from previous work by the Clarks. The data is accurately georeferenced, and metadata is available for all methods. It can serve as an important benchmark to assess changes in soils and vegetation. “My co-researchers and I hope that the data will continue to provide diverse opportunities for teaching, student projects, and basic research on tropical rain forest landscape ecology.” -David Clark
Every forest has its story
Guest contributor: Deedra McClearn
(Photo Credit: Deedra McClearn)

In this photo, taken in August 2022, Dr. Eugenio González and Orlando Vargas are checking the locations of trees planted ~35 years ago in the La Guaria Annex of La Selva as part of a study on the growth of native tree seedlings.

What is so special about this photo?

The people – Dr. González, Director of the Soltis Center field station of Texas A&M in Costa Rica, planted these trees as seedlings when he was an undergraduate forestry student. Orlando Vargas, Head of Scientific Operations at La Selva Research Station, remembers walking around in this area when he was a child and the area was a large cattle pasture. And here they are together, working on a new phase of research that is tracking the fates of these trees.

The trees – Eugenio planted seedlings of 84 different species (mostly of native trees), 24 individuals of each species, for a total of 2,016 trees at this site. He also planted a comparable number of seedlings at three other sites at La Selva. He and his team collected seeds in the forest, germinated them in shade houses, and planted them as seedlings when they were a few months old. Some of the trees have died, quite a few have grown into large trees, and many others are doing well but growing slowly as is typical for many dense-wood species. All in all, the trees have formed a beautiful secondary forest that is home to many species of understory plants as well as multitudes of animals.

The science – the information about the early growth of the seedlings allowed the researchers to choose 14 species out of the 84 that seemed to survive well and grow quickly. These species were used by the Government of Costa Rica to recommend these trees for reforestation and for the Payments for Environmental Services Program. Before this study, Costa Rica used exotic species (pine, eucalyptus, teak) in the timber industry and for reforestation. This study and similar studies around the country completely transformed the way forest conservation was practiced in Costa Rica.

The future – now OTS scientists (Eugenio, Orlando, and others) are revisiting these trees 35 years later to monitor their survival and growth and the type of environment they have created. Which trees survived? Which ones grew fastest? What species of birds, mammals, and insects live here? Can we take the lessons we learned with this restoration project to other areas that need to be rehabilitated? Stand by…
OTS-associated scientists sound the alarm on global insect decline
(Photo credit: Andres Santana Mora)

An international team of over 70 scientists, including several long-term OTS researchers, published “Scientists Warning on Climate Change and Insects” in Ecological Monographs. The authors summarize the effects of climate warming on insects and describe the multiple ways that the effects on insects will magnify the effects of climate extreme events on humans. They warn that, if we do not act to understand and reduce how climate change impacts insects, we will eliminate our chances of ensuring a healthy and sustainable future for ecosystems and all life that depends on them. The authors provide insight on how we can conserve insects and recommend distinct policy actions and management, and importantly, highlight actions that can be taken by every planetary citizen. Authors of the paper are quoted in a press release from the University of Connecticut, OTS permanent member and accrediting institution for OTS’ undergraduate programs. 
Duke XPRIZE team uses La Selva as a test site
(Logo: XPRIZE Foundation)

The XPRIZE is a nonprofit focused on solving the world’s greatest challenges. Since its inception in 1994, the XPRIZE has given over $140 million in prizes to teams with really big ideas. It was an XPRIZE that began the commercial space race (think Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and Space X). This year XPRIZE is sponsoring XPRIZE Rain Forest with a $10 million prize to the team that can best enhance our understanding of rain forests. Fifteen teams have been named as semi-finalists in the competition, including Duke University’s “Blue Devil Rainforest Divers.” Led by Dr. Martin Brooke, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Dr. Stuart Primm, Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology, the team is using drones connected with RF data links to collect images, sounds, and samples from emergent, canopy, and understory layers in the forest. The team returned from a two-week trip to La Selva Research Station to test their system. During the trip, the group was aided in identifying organisms by iNaturalist, local guides, and a portable DNA sequencer. You can view images from their journey on Instagram. This summer the Duke team advanced to the XPRIZE semi-finals and will be traveling to Singapore for the next phase of the competition.
New OTS course focusing on the canopy to be offered this spring

Our Education Team has been busy planning amazing field learning experiences. Look for the return of tried-and-true courses, as well as some new offerings. This year we are offering Canopy Biology, a new graduate course led by Dr. Catherine Cardelús and Dr. David Anderson, world-renowned names in the matters of canopy research, canopy access, and field techniques. The course features a strong theoretical approach to canopy biology and hands-on experience in how to access and be up in the canopy.

Students will have the opportunity to ask and answer great questions: What questions can we pose about the canopy? How do we get there? How do we develop research on the canopy? It is a whole new world above the forest that students will get to visit. The course travels with enough equipment to access the canopy and to develop the entire program in the best and safest way possible.
Upcoming summer opportunities

Tropical Biology in Costa Rica – Undergraduate students will visit all three OTS research stations during this four-week course, introducing them to some of the most critical issues facing tropical biodiversity and threatened tropical ecosystems. Discounted tuition rate for member institution students.
Disease Ecology & Wildlife Management Field Practicum in South Africa – This not-for-credit, six-week practicum focuses on disease ecology in and around Kruger National Park. Run in partnership with local veterinary scientists, it is designed to provide insights into challenges faced by wildlife conservationists. Students will develop field research skills and techniques for monitoring disease in different vertebrate taxa across land-use types. Open to upper-level undergraduates and graduate students.

Global Health Issues in South Africa – Undergraduate students, based at OTS’ Skukuza Research Station will spend four weeks investigating the links between health, economics, politics, and anthropology, and their impacts on health access across the urbanization gradient. Discounted tuition rate for member institution students.
Learn about the OTS South Africa experience
(Photo credit: Jessica Rehmann)

Our study abroad programs in South Africa are more than just an academic experience. They are a life-changing opportunity for students to contribute to long-term research projects that influence on-the-ground decision making and impact local communities. OTS is the only U.S.-based study abroad program located inside Kruger National Park, South Africa’s oldest and largest protected area. Get a first-hand look at this dynamic, life-changing, undergraduate study abroad program through our latest TropTalk, “Stories from The Field: Making a Scientific Contribution Abroad,” by Dr. Laurence Kruger, which was broadcasted in October.

From the rural communities of HaMakuya, to the cliffs of Table Mountain near Cape Town, to the wild savannas of Kruger, find out how students make a difference by making significant scientific contributions via participation in long-term research projects and then conducting their own capstone project at the conclusion of the semester. During this session, Dr. Kruger will give you a look into the activities you can experience by joining our programs.

Dr. Kruger is the Director of Curriculum for OTS and is based at Skukuza Research Station in Kruger National Park. His primary interests are functional ecology and how species respond to disturbance. His interests lie specifically on the demography of woody plants in a variety of South Africa biomes, the bottlenecks imposed in each system, and which traits are critical to overcoming them. During his Ph.D., Dr. Kruger focused on the importance of re-sprouting in South African coastal forests, fynbos, and savannas. His current work is focused on the impact that elephants and fire have on savannas and how resilient plants and communities might be in response to this disturbance. Allied to this is work on the impact of the loss of vegetation complexity on resident faunal communities. A large portion of Dr. Kruger’s private consulting work has been in the field of conservation, in particular conservation planning. This work has included surveys of natural habitats (biodiversity surveys), identifying the threats (development, habitat transformation, alien vegetation/faunal invasives), and the setting of conservation targets. This work has provided him with the opportunity to become more actively involved in conservation, while still engaging on a theoretical level.
You can view Dr. Kruger’s TropTalk as well as past talks on our YouTube Channel
OTS Alumni Ambassador Program: An interview with Samantha Marzi
(Photo credit: Samantha Marzi)

Samantha Marzi, OTS African Ecology and Conservation, Spring 2022, College of the Holy Cross, Class of 2023
Samantha Marzi is one of the newest members of the OTS Alumni Ambassador program. As part of the program, she, and other recent OTS alums, will be highlighted on the OTS website and in publications.

Samantha on why she chose OTS:
When I started researching my study abroad options [in my] Sophomore year, I thought I just wanted to do a normal European experience. However, at my school's study abroad fair they had a table for OTS, and I immediately loved the idea. As a biology and history double major, the promise of such a unique, hands-on semester of ecological research in such a historically complicated country was something I couldn't turn down. There is no better way to learn history or biology than being right there, seeing the concepts and landmarks with your own eyes. Combined with the beautiful pictures and fantastic alumni stories, I was sold.

Samantha on her research experience at the Skukuza Research Station:
We wanted to investigate if the impala, a type of antelope, in Kruger National Park are becoming habituated to humans and if this is affecting how they respond to predators. Testing this involved driving around all day (no complaints here; this is how we saw a rhino), looking for herds of impala, observing how they responded to different human, leopard, and "natural" stimuli, and rating their responses on a fear scale. We also marked where we found them - on a tar road, a dirt road, or in/near a tourist camp or staff village - to see if the level of human presence changed their responses. In the end, we did find that in the villages, impala were much less fearful than out along the roads, often choosing to not respond to any stimuli we presented them.
Advice to students thinking about an OTS program:
If you are even considering an OTS program, that means you are ready for it. I know it can seem scary, and it is totally different than what a lot of your friends might be doing for their study abroad experiences, but trust me when I say it will be the best decision you ever make!
The first Environmental and Cultural Fair at La Selva Research Station
(Photo Credit: Marcia Silva Pereira - UNA)

La Selva held the first Environmental and Cultural Fair in August 2022, organized by OTS in collaboration with the National University of Costa Rica (UNA). The event attracted almost 1,500 people from neighboring communities, as well as nature enthusiasts, artists, crafters, students, and OTS friends and former colleagues. For over two days, participants were able to attend educational and artistic workshops, take guided tours through the forest, learn about some of our research projects, buy handicrafts and traditional foods from small businesses, and enjoy cultural presentations from a variety of groups. On behalf of OTS, UNA, and all associates and volunteers, we want to say thank you for participating in this fair and enjoying this wonderful piece of nature. We look forward to welcoming you to next year’s fair.
Introducing Branko Hilje, Scientific Coordinator in Costa Rica
(Photo Credit: Branko Hilje)

Branko is a Costa Rican tropical ecologist and naturalist with many years of experience in conducting research, lecturing, and designing courses for the classroom, online, and field courses. He is interested in the processes behind tropical forest recovery and wildlife response to human activities (e.g., agriculture, deforestation, and cattle ranching). He has experience in managing and coordinating academics, research, environmental education, and ecotourism programs for academic NGOs. Branko was previously involved with OTS in various capacities – as a student, teaching assistant, guest faculty, and as an independent researcher carrying out projects at OTS stations. Some of his duties at OTS will include supporting and collaborating with national and international researchers, academics, and planning and managing OTS’ emerging and long-term research projects according to the OTS strategic plan.
The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives supports a new project at Las Cruces and Wilson Botanical Garden

OTS started a project, funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CLFI) and the Canadian Embassy in Costa Rica, titled “Forest Gardens and Traditional Knowledge: Building Dialogues and Connections with Indigenous People from Environmental and Social Sustainability Innovation in Southern Costa Rica.” The initiative aims to connect conservation efforts between Las Cruces Research Station and Wilson Botanical Garden, the Ngäbe Buglé indigenous people, and local communities from San Vito. Long-term, the project seeks to establish a network of collaboration that supports an area inside the Wilson Botanical Garden that can help strengthen capacities for conservation.
As a first step, the project is organizing a medicinal plant exchange on December 11 at Las Cruces. This event will gather the Ngäbe Buglé people from La Casona, OTS personnel, and neighbors of the community to exchange knowledge and experiences about the plants and their uses. Throughout the event, the participants will be able to bring their own medicinal plants, which will be planted in the new garden. 
Art exhibition at La Selva Research Station

Rosella Matamoros, a world-renowned contemporary artist and Fulbright Alum, just finished an art project funded by the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica. During the project, called “Green in our Hands,” Rosella was able to merge various artistic approaches, with climate change and naturalist viewpoints, with more than 25 high school students of several levels from Sarapiquí, Costa Rica.  

For seven months, the group gathered once a month at La Selva Research Station to learn from invited faculty specialized in topics ranging from classical music to environmental sciences in order to create artwork based on these concepts. Some of the faculty that collaborated with this project are Dr. Sofía Rodriguez (climate change)*, Joel Alvarado (birds, trees and their environment)*, María Clara Vargas MSc, Dean of Arts at UCR (classical music and nature), Dr. Julieta Carranza (fungi), and Orlando Vargas (the river and its environment).* 

The "Green in our Hands" exposition will be open to the public until November 20, at the La Selva Research Station Visitor Center.  

*OTS Faculty and Staff
Celebrate with OTS!
(Photo Credit: Jeisson Figueroa)
In celebration of the OTS 60th Anniversary, we have a variety of events currently under consideration in 2023 that both honor OTS’ legacy and celebrate its future.

Southern Costa Rica Adventure, May 3-13
Based at the Las Cruces Research Station, this trip features a behind-the-scenes look at tropical restoration efforts, the Wilson Botanical Garden, and 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.                               

Board of Visitors Reunion at La Selva, late summer/early fall 
Save the date for a rare opportunity to gather with past friends and to make new ones at the iconic La Selva Research Station. The weekend will highlight the more than $1M infrastructure investments recently made at the station, as well as provide an update on current research initiatives.

APGA Symposium at Wilson Botanical Garden, late summer
The Wilson Botanical Garden will serve as the backdrop to the first ever symposium of the American Public Garden Association held in Latin America. The symposium will feature garden enthusiasts from around the world with presentations on topics such as the public garden's role in global restoration efforts or incorporating indigenous knowledge in public gardens.

Botanical Garden Tour of Costa Rica, late summer
After the symposium, join OTS for a special tour of the gardens of Costa Rica including the Green Ark Botanical Garden, the Lankester Botanical Garden, and private gardens rarely open to the general public.

OTS Research Station Tour, early December
End the year with a truly special trip to Costa Rica. The exact itinerary is still in the planning stages, but our hope is to offer a unique opportunity to visit all three OTS research stations in Costa Rica – Palo Verde, La Selva, and Las Cruces – as well as OTS’ headquarters in San Jose.

For more information on the above events/tours, contact James Boyle.
Curious about adventure travel?

What does a giraffe, sea turtle, and sloth have in common? The answer: You can see them on an OTS-sponsored tour! Please join us on Thursday, January 12, at 4:00 PM EST for an informal presentation on OTS’ travel program.

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be part of an OTS tour to Costa Rica or South Africa? Well, now you can hear directly from the people who organize, lead, and participate in these intimate, science-focused tours. In this webinar, we will take the mystery out of adventure travel and show you how to make the most of your experience, while staying safe and healthy.

OTS works in some of the most amazing places in the world, and we would like to share the experience with you. Please join us for this interactive discussion. For more information or to register, please contact James Boyle.
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.
Let's indulge in a bit of anthropomorphism

If they could, the tapir, paca, iguana, great curassow, tinamou, and guan at La Selva would undoubtedly thank the many kind friends who are helping protect them from illegal hunting. Thanks to you, we can now hire two additional forest guards and upgrade the radio system at La Selva. 
Costa Rica has progressive wildlife protection laws and extraordinarily high public support for conservation. But as stewards of the forests and wetlands used by the stations, we share the responsibility for ensuring animal populations' viability.
We rely on friends like you to help fund these conservation and protection projects. Thank you so, so much for your help. Once again, you came through.
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