March 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

The vaccine is here, but it is a slow roll out. That and the emergence of variants from South Africa, Brazil, and Britain have thrown a wrench in travel (again). Costa Rica is currently not requiring a negative Covid test to enter the country. They are still requiring all travelers to carry travel insurance that covers expenses related to illness or quarantine due to Covid-19. Costa Rica has approved a vaccine and is in the beginning stages of roll out. All essential services, public transportation, and hospitals are open and operating at normal capacity. Face masks are required in all public indoor and outdoor spaces. All OTS research stations have strict sanitization and social distancing rules. Quarantine rules and mandatory Covid-19 testing may apply to staff and students visiting research stations. 
South Africa is currently struggling with a more infectious variant. However, travel is possible with a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure for all travelers over the age of five years. Curfews are still in place and masks are required. South Africa does have an approved vaccine and began vaccinating its health care workers in January.

Be aware that the United States is now requiring a negative PCR test, when entering the country, for all travelers over the age of two years within 72 hours of travel or proof of recovery.
Sadly, travel restrictions and unknown vaccine roll out has put a stop to this year’s in-person Annual Meeting. We will instead conduct the meeting online. (More information coming soon!) It is amazing to think that a year ago we were watching this situation evolve in real time in Costa Rica. We all look forward to seeing each other again soon. 
Remembering Dr. Pamela Hall
(Photo credit: Dr. Stuart Davies)

OTS and the guild of tropical biologists recently lost one of its members. Dr. Pam Hall, a long-term associate of OTS, passed away on February 22, 2021. She first joined the OTS community as a student in the Tropical Ecology class of 1985. After completing her doctoral work, Pam returned to La Selva and contributed a series of seminal papers on the population genetics of rainforest trees. She is remembered for her critical thinking, passion for sciences, and her love for tropical biology. Pam was an active voice for conservation and environmental education near her home in Tallahassee, Florida. --Oscar Rocha, Kent State University.
In 1990, Pam was in Sarawak, Malaysia to do the final census of the long-term ecological research plots that had been set up in the 1960s by Peter Ashton and colleagues. Pam used the data from these two sites and one other in Sarawak (Bako National Park) for her Ph.D. work under Richard Primack at Boston University. It took a couple of days of travel with forest camping on the way to get to the plot at Bukit Mersing. However, it was one of the most beautiful forests in the tropics with huge, towering emergent dipterocarps. Sadly, it has since been logged. It was my first trip to Borneo. Pam was a great guide and mentor. Many people knew Pam as an analytical whiz, and she certainly was that, contributing important code and training for ForestGEO (formerly CTFS) and others over many years. However, my fondest memory of Pam was in the field, where she was absolutely unstoppable. She worked as hard as anyone in those field teams and garnered their deep respect. Several of the people in those photos continue the long history of forest monitoring in Sarawak, including Mr. Sylvester Tan, front left in the group photo at Mersing, who continues to work at Lambir. The plots at Bako and Lambir continue with most of the Lambir plots nested within the 52-hectare ForestGEO plot. --Stuart Davies, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Have you checked out the OTS TropTalks?

TropTalks is our new monthly online science webinar series featuring OTS scientists, researchers, faculty, and friends sharing their research with the global community. Our public series, Stories from the Field, was kicked-off by our very own, Sofia Rodriguez Brenes. In addition, our most distinguished series invites prominent scientists from the OTS community to share their work and research. This exclusive series will be longer in length and will have a greater emphasis on research and answering questions by guests. This series will occur quarterly. For more information about upcoming episodes of the Keystone series, please contact Brooks Bonner
February’s talk featured Dr. Sofia Rodriguez-Brenes speaking about the nonlethal effects of chytridiomycosis and what long-term studies can tell us about amphibian population declines. The talk also featured exciting upcoming projects students can be a part of during our field courses in Costa Rica.
The next TropTalk was held on March 18 at 7:00pm EDT. OTS South Africa faculty member Tino Pori gave the talk “Avian Haemoparasite in Kruger National Park.” The drivers and implications of avian haemoparasite infection in wild birds are complicated to understand and predict, especially in areas where infections are endemic and the parasites have co-evolved together with their hosts. Attendees heard about the drivers of the prevalence of avian haemoparasite infections in the Kruger National Park and their impact on host immune response. Tino is a faculty member on the African Ecology & Conservation semester program and the newly released Disease Ecology & Wildlife Management online course.

You can register for Trop Talks and find upcoming talks on our website.
Our boots are muddy again
(Photo credit: Sofía Rodríguez)
With lots of expectations and enthusiasm but also lots of rigorous protocols, on January 15 ten students from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, Venezuela, and Spain, together with one coordinator and two teaching assistants, started their journey into the graduate course Ecologia Tropical y Conservación (ETC 21-2). After the pandemic forced us to cancel many courses in 2020, seeing the socially-distanced group of students heading to Palo Verde with masks, hand sanitizer, and excitement to be in the field definitively brought renewed hope to everyone at OTS. Together with twelve invited faculty, the students visited our three research stations in Costa Rica, developed individual and group projects, and took workshops in statistics, scientific and proposal writing, and science communication. The experience was rewarding for everyone involved.
We paid attention to every detail (Covid-19 tests, quarantine, masks at all times, grab-and-go dining, etc.) to help make sure the students, faculty, and our staff were safe. We also had all the necessary resources in place in case of medical emergencies, all to ensure to a successful course. Negative Covid-19 tests were required for anyone joining the group. These strict protocols at our research stations, in combination with a group of responsible and thoughtful students and staff, led to an enjoyable and transformative experience for our students, the same as this course has offered to hundreds of alumni before them.
At OTS we are delighted to welcome back our students and researchers from Costa Rica and abroad. Along with our flagship courses, Ecologia Tropical y Conservación and its equivalent in English, Tropical Biology, we are eager to restart our full portfolio of "muddy boots" courses complemented with our online classes and workshops developed during the lockdowns of 2020.
Tropical Biology in Costa Rica Application Deadline Extended

The undergraduate summer field course’s application deadline is now April 1. This four-week course will visit all three OTS research stations in Costa Rica, while implementing strict Covid-19 health policies. Discounted tuition rates are available for students from OTS Member Institutions, and scholarships are available too. Click here for more information 
Online Disease Ecology & Wildlife Management Approved
(Photo credit: Lisa Nupen)

OTS is partnering with the University of Connecticut to offer a new online undergraduate course that will center around the emergence of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19 and the links between animal, human, and environmental health. This six-week virtual course includes live field lectures from in and around Kruger National Park and the Skukuza Research Station. The course will run from June 7 - July 16, 2021, and the application deadline is May 1. Scholarships are available. Click here for more information
OTS joins the Organization of Biological Field Stations in Support of the RISE Act
The Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS) president Chris Lorentz 
recently sent a letter to the three science-related House subcommittees. Several field station-based organizations assisted in drafting the letter, including OTS. The letter requests Congress consider targeted measures to support field stations and pass the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act (H.R.869 - To authorize appropriations to offset costs resulting from reductions in research productivity in connection with Covid-19). To quote the letter, “Field stations sit on the front lines for research involving the environment and ecosystem services that support food security and water quality. Field stations help safeguard human health by understanding emerging diseases and serving as a source for drug discovery. Furthermore, field stations support education and training of students and early-career scientists, maintaining the next generation of STEM professionals.”

On February 27, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the latest Covid-19 relief package - the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319). The package includes $600 million for the National Science Foundation and $150 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, but it does not include research relief provisions at the levels requested by the scientific community. The RISE Act has been reintroduced in the new Congress with bipartisan support. It would authorize approximately $25 billion across federal science agencies. The bipartisan group of lawmakers who introduced the RISE Act are requesting their colleagues in Congress to sign on as cosponsors. The American Institute of Biological Sciences has released an action alert, requesting that U.S. citizens contact their representatives to urge support of the RISE Act.
OTS is also a signatory on a letter to the National Science Foundation introducing a petition to protect funding for field stations and field courses. The petition has over 2,000 signatures from scientists, station directors, educators, and others. You can find the petition and add your name at this link.
BBC highlights Caribbean tent-making bat (Ectophylla alba) at La Selva
(Photo Credit Marisol Luna)

Reena Shah, a freelance writer currently living in Costa Rica, recently traveled to Sarapiquí and began her search for what she argues is one of the most adorable mammals.  Caribbean tent-making bats are the smallest of the fruit eating bats and weight in at only 6g. Her search began at Tirimbina Biological Reserve, where she was lucky enough to find a roosting colony. Shah highlights OTS’ conservation efforts and the importance of La Selva in the Braulio Carrillo corridor and its role in inspiring smaller reserves. Her essay suggests La Selva is a good location to see not only E. alba but the 60 other bats that inhabit the region. Shah’s essay is part of the "Nature’s Curiosities" travel series for BBC and can be found at this link.
La Selva gets some improvements
(Photo credit: Marisol Luna)

A lull in visitors has meant some leeway for upgrades at La Selva. Several infrastructure improvements included:

  • The student dormitories were remodeled to improve energy efficiency, sanitation, and privacy. Additional bathrooms were added with solar heated water, slanted windows for good light, and a design to allow for good air flow. Rooms also received ceiling fans.
  • The visitor center was expanded to include a space for environmental education displays and improved visitor services.
  • The Herbarium was upgraded to protect the plant collection and provide much needed office space for staff and researchers. 
OTS online
When the pandemic hit, everyone stopped and then pivoted, including OTS. Many of us cringed thinking about an OTS course online, but that is just were we went. The creative education staff built a robust and interesting suite of classes with the help of alumni and friends, and OTS online was born. With six current offerings (Bioacoustics in R, Ilustración Científica y Naturalista, Multimedia Science Communication, Redacción Científica, Google Earth Engine (UCR credits), and Disease Ecology & Wildlife Management) and four upcoming offerings (Reproducible Science, Applied Herpetology, Data Visualization, and Camera Trapping for Conservation), OTS has staked out a formidable online footprint that will persist long after the pandemic. Our online courses have made OTS a virtual global classroom. In the past year, we have hosted students from 45 countries!
The fee for an online course ranges from $500 to $800, and several come with credit from the University of Costa Rica. Our staff is working hard to provide credit for all the online offerings. For a list of upcoming course offerings, visit our website.
Check out our science
(Photo credit: Jason Folt)

Birds eat (and defecate more seeds) from ficus trees than fruit eating tent bats (E. alba of BBC fame). However, bats are better seed dispersers. Demography of the Rhinoclemmys funerea (Black River Turtle) population in La Selva was published in the hopes that it could serve as a reference for the rest of the country. A new genus (Tico) and two new species of planthopper (T. emmettcarrii  and T. pseudosororius) in the tribe Cenchreini (Hemiptera: Auchenorrhyncha: Derbidae) were described from La Selva. The new genus incorporated a leaf hopper from the genus Cenchrea. Rove beetles (Phanolinus sp.) were observed predating rolled-leaf beetles (Cephaloleia kressi). Stingless bees (Apidae: Meliponini) are noted to visit carrion. Data indicates that bees are primarily seeking sodium rather than other tested mineral nutrients. Not to be left out, in the world of slime molds (Phylum Myxomycetes) diversity indices were measured from boreal, temperate, and tropical regions of North America. The greatest number of slime mold genera are found in boreal forests, while the greatest number of species are in temperate forest. The diversity of slime molds at the tropical forest site (La Selva) was relatively low. The researchers noted that slime molds remain an understudied group.
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!
A One Year Update…
(Photo credit: Donovan Loh)
As you know, virtually all students and researchers canceled their planned visits to OTS stations last February and March. Along with those visits, the tuition and fees that keep the stations running were lost too. 
Over the last year, OTS has been able to keep the vast majority of our staff in Costa Rica and South Africa on the payroll, take care of essential maintenance (just barely), and position ourselves to quickly reopen the stations once travel is possible. A few natural history visitors are beginning to visit the stations again.
Frankly, we were only able to do this because of friends like you, who stepped up to the plate and made contributions.
Over the last year, we received nearly $1M in donations, and we continue to be floored by the generosity of alumni, friends, visitors, and institutions who have helped. The gifts we received did not completely cover the shortfall caused by the pandemic, but they allowed us to survive. We can never thank you enough!
You already know what is at stake: OTS stations provide researchers with a protected environment to work in and give students a taste of fieldwork that may inspire them to pursue a career in science.
Today, we see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The next 12 months will likely be a little easier as students begin to return in late 2021 and early 2022. But we urgently need continued financial support from friends like you. If you can, please help. You can donate at this link.
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