April 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)

When I started writing the December newsletter, Omicron had just been identified in the United States. As we got closer to pushing the send button, the variant was moving so fast I could not keep the information in my opening remarks up to date. It was remarkable. Looking at the Covid maps after the holiday break was depressing. I am pretty sure most news agencies just ran out of colors. One map I looked at had the entirety of the United States in purple. 
Today, I see a map with a range of color. I find hope in that rainbow. It is nice to hear that some areas are (gasp) lifting mask mandates, and there are hopeful reports of Africa moving away from a pandemic to endemism. We just need to make sure that Omicron BA.2 behaves itself, and we have enough immunity to keep it in check. South Africa has moved to alert level 1, which still asks that people socially distance and wear a face mask indoors. The State Department no longer categorizes South Africa in the red (do not travel)South Africa is asking all travelers to present proof of full vaccination or submit to a rapid antigen test. The CDC does recommend that you reconsider travel to South Africa if you are not vaccinated and recommends testing prior to visiting.
Costa Rica is also emerging from the fog of Omicron and has seen a decrease in cases. Although the State Department is still not recommending travel, Costa Rica is open. Be aware that there is a vaccine mandate in place. Travelers must show proof of vaccination to enter most establishments, and masks are required indoors.
When returning to the United States from overseas, unvaccinated individuals are still required to show a negative PCR test. 

It is my sincerest hope that we are looking at the end of this pandemic journey. I don’t know about you, but I am tired. Until boots are muddy again...
Thomas Lovejoy 1941-2021: advocate for tropical nature
Guest contributor: Thomas W. Sherry, Tulane University
(Photo credit: Slodoban Randjelovic)

We lost a colossal advocate for the Earth with Tom Lovejoy’s passing on December 25, 2021, aged 80, but his legacy lives on. Tom pioneered knowledge and solutions at the nexus of the two most consequential crises confronting humankind: loss of biological diversity and climate change. He also understood that tropical forests promise hope for both crises, and his successes in implementing realistic solutions inspires us to carry on ever more assertively.
Thomas Eugene Lovejoy III was born in Manhattan on August 22, 1941 and attended the Millbrook School north of the city in rural Dutchess County. While there, he worked at the Trevor Zoo, founded by Frank and Janet Trevor, which kindled his lifelong commitment to biology. He leaves behind three children and six grandchildren besides his other distinguished accomplishments.
Tom began a lifelong affiliation with Yale University, where he graduated in 1964, notably serving as a zoological assistant in the Peabody Museum of Natural History. He progressed to Ph.D. at Yale in 1971 as one of G. Evelyn Hutchinson’s last graduates, initially studying migratory birds in the Amazon and then switching to resident birds near Belém, Brazil. His earliest publications included a method to net birds in tropical rainforest canopy, reducing the bias inherent in mist net studies. He extracted from these data pioneering insights into the astounding diversity of rainforest birds including their rarity, vertical stratification, and ecological precariousness. His paper in the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s publication Living Bird (1975) was just one early revelation of the uniqueness of tropical rainforest faunas. Russell Mittermeier noted (per NY Times obituary) that, “He really put the Amazon, and in particular Amazonia, on the international conservation map… When the whole conservation business started in the ’60s and ’70s, there was little focus on South America.”

Tom went on to chair the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies. He also published multiple books with Yale University Press: Global Warming and Biological Diversity (with R. L. Peters, 1992), Lessons from Amazonia (as co-editor with R. O. Bierregaard, Jr., C. Gascon, and R. Mesquita, 2001); and as an editor with L. Hannah both Climate Change and Biodiversity (2005) and Biodiversity and Climate Change: Transforming the Biosphere (2019). He authored or edited five other books and over 320 journal articles. [link to full essay]
Remembering E. O. Wilson
Guest contributor: John Tobin, Cornell University
(Photo credit: Jim Harrison, PLOS)

The year 2021 was not an easy one for most of us. Covid-19 stubbornly refused to go away, with the coronavirus mutating more rapidly than vaccine development and distribution could be accomplished. Political discourse in a number of countries, including the United States, continued its descent into outright cacophony, and the refusal by many to accept scientific evidence as an essential tool in policymaking seemed somehow less shocking than it had in an earlier time—sadly, for no other reason than the fact that we seem to be getting used to it. To close out this annus horribilis, one of the finest scientists and, perhaps less well known, one of the gentlest souls to ever marvel at the wonders of tropical life departed for the great rainforest in the sky. Edward O. Wilson died on December 26, 2021 at the age of 92. [link to full essay]
Click to hear Dr. Wilson talk about OTS as part of an interview with Joe Levine for the 50th anniversary of OTS.
New fellowships are available to work at OTS research stations

OTS is pleased to announce a new round of fellowship opportunities for early career scientists and postdoctoral scholars.
Outstanding graduate students or early-career scientists (< 5 yrs post-PhD) are eligible for our Early-Career Research Fellowships. These fellowships will promote research based at OTS research stations in climate change, biodiversity, ecological restoration, invasive species, wetland management, tropical dry forest ecology, and tropical urban ecology.

The Dr. Pamela Hall Postdoctoral Fellowship, established by friends and family of Dr. Hall, will elevate and advance the careers of ecologists and evolutionary biologists who are women and/or underrepresented minorities. Scientists from tropical regions or who are under-represented will be given priority consideration.

All of the above fellowships will provide 100-180 nights at OTS stations, up to $700 funding for international or national travel, $500 monthly stipend, and $500 for research supplies.

Contact: fellowships@tropicalstudies.org for application instructions.

Interested in supporting OTS research fellowships? Please contact Jim Boyle.
My research in La Selva: Seed Rain–Successional Feedbacks in Wet Tropical Forests (Alwyn Gentry Award 2021, Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation)
Guest contributor: Nohemi Huanca Nunez
(Photo credit: Nohemi Huanca Nunez)
Much of the original global extent of tropical forests has been lost to deforestation (FAO, 2018), caused by many processes such as fires and conversion to agricultural use. Of all the important processes required for the regeneration of these forests, seed dispersal is a key process that will establish the initial template of the tree composition in the regenerating forests and the animals that will depend on them. At my talk at the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) 2021 conference, I introduced the concept of seed rain–successional feedbacks as a deterministic process in which the seed rain is shaped by successional dynamics internal to a forest site, and that acts to reinforce priority effects. As a result, seed rain–successional feedbacks may generate higher landscape-scale beta diversity by increasing the heterogeneity of species composition in successional forest fragments (Huanca-Nunez et al., 2021). Thanks to this presentation, I was honored to receive the Alwyn Gentry Award by the ATBC for best student oral presentation. [link to full essay]
Applications open for Tropical Butterfly Ecology (Extended Deadline)

   Date: July 17-August 1, 2022
   Deadline. April 15, 2022
   2 credits
You may contact Pablo Muñoz, Education Specialist, for more specific information about this or other OTS courses.
Behind the green wall: two non-scientists look at La Selva Research Station as a destination for nature photographers and birders
Guest contributors: Jeremy Squire and Lou Staunton
(Photo Credit: Lou Staunton)

We only had to walk across the parking lot from the dining hall at La Selva to find the little cluster of true bugs and the egg cases from which they had emerged. And, after taking just a few paces across the Stone Bridge in November, we were able to watch this stunning Rufous-tailed Jacamar — one of the hundreds of gorgeous bird species found at the station. One May evening, we walked down to the second bridge on the Tres Rios trail at La Selva. Light rain made insect photography less than ideal, but it was an excellent evening for frogs. Then, we spotted one of the largest and most charismatic wood-boring beetles on the planet. [link to full essay]
Annual Meeting

It is hard to imagine, but it was two years ago that the Board and the Institutional Representatives traveled to La Selva for our annual meeting. We sat and drank coffee, talked about programs and research, and heard rumblings of a pandemic beginning to take hold. Over those few days, we watched as schools canceled spring break trips, researchers reconsidered field seasons, and we rethought our own travel plans. We watched the world begin to shut down from the serene patio of the comedor. Since 2020, every spring there is hopeful anticipation for an in-person meeting.  Each time we are faced with travel restrictions, variants, and frustration. Once again, we will be planning a virtual meeting. Please stay tuned.
OTS releases its 2021 Annual Report

We think it is fair to say that we are allowed to celebrate surviving 2021. As an organization, we have been able to pivot and shift and morph into something we never imagined. After shifting into survival mode in 2020, OTS has worked to:

  • Commit to the health and safety of OTS personnel and facility users
  • Protect OTS research stations and conservation reserves
  • Pivot OTS education programs to deliver online content consistent with our mission
  • Protect the livelihoods of OTS employees and support them as essential workers
  • Commit to accurate financial reporting and transparency
  • Enact a vision of “One OTS”—unifying operations in South Africa, Costa Rica, and the U.S. to offer new programming

The details of OTS’ evolution through the pandemic can be found in our annual report.
Check Out Our Science!
(Photo Credit: Quinn McFrederick, Vulture bees)

Evidently, pandemics are great for publishing. Enjoy the recent work from OTS researchers. 

La Selva served as a study site to assess Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) to teach environmental sustainability. Embedding CUREs into innovative and high-quality short-term study abroad experiences positively transforms the post Covid-19 era of short-term study abroad.

Two major disturbance events dominated the landscape-scale distribution of canopy heights at La Selva. High-canopy coverage and gap frequency vary substantially across the local gradients and plot-level conditions, and trends differ from landscape-level patterns. Blowdowns decrease aboveground carbon density, increase the number of canopy gaps, alter the gap size-frequency distribution, and initiate a transient sink requiring 24–49 years to recover pre-disturbance aboveground carbon density (ACD). Blowdowns can remain undetected by satellite optical imagery but are likely to alter ACD for decades.

The variance in foliar N:P and P is best explained by total soil P, variance in foliar N is best explained by soil pH, and area-basis foliar N and P increased with height in the canopy. Vertical nutrient enrichment was driven by increases in leaf mass per area. Even in tropical rainforests, foliar chemistry may reflect environmental constraints.

Climate change conditions were simulated in situ in a tropical rainforest under story using active air warming and CO2 addition.

The concept of seed rain–successional feedbacks as a deterministic process was described and seed rain is shaped by the successional dynamics of the forest. With successional age, large-seeded, shade-tolerant species in the seed rain increased, and animal-dispersed species did not change.

Water conservatism in both epiphytic and hemi-epiphytic ferns is due to selection for anatomical and structural traits that avoid leaf water stress.

Epiphytic Anthurium species with a rosette growth form are highly successful in Costa Rican rainforests.

Functional traits of ferns growing across terrestrial epipetric and epiphytic habitats were explored. Some species can grow across the epiphytic/terrestrial divide, while others explore these habitats with little to no shift in functional traits. There is potentially a new function for the nest in nest-forming epiphytes. A monograph of 13 species of the ferns, Elaphoglossum sect. Polytrichia subsect. Apoda (Dryopteridaceae) was published.

When asked where to find bees, people often picture fields of wildflowers. However, vulture bees slice chunks of meat from carcasses in tropical rainforests. Microbiomes of closely related bees vary by diet; and vulture bees lost ancestral “core” microbes, retained others, and entered into novel associations with acidophilic microbes, which have similarly been found in other carrion-feeding animals such as vultures.

N. python, millipedes prefer wood to rocks, wood to leaves, and rocks to leaves. While Spirobolida prefer leaves to rocks, leaves to wood, and wood to rocks. When both species were together where they shared a preference, they chose to cohabitate. Co-occurrence is facilitated by differences in microhabitat preferences and not because of competition.

Male Micrathyria atra dragon flies have shorter interactions with individuals of other species than with conspecifics.

Leaf-cutting ant (Atta cephalotes) nests are hotspots of methane, and carbon dioxide emissions in tropical forests and may have implications for tropical C budgets.

Burkholderia from fungus gardens of fungus-growing ants produces antifungals that inhibit the specialized parasitic micro-fungi, Escovopsis. Organic extracts of cultured isolates exhibit antifungal activities that inhibit Escovopsis.

Streptomyces sp. M54 is an actinobacteria associated with a neotropical social wasp with high potential for the discovery of novel antibiotics.

Short tailed fruit bats prefer compounds which evolved as a unique feature of two Piper species. The compound evolved in tandem with seed dispersal by bats.

Tent roosting bats, Artibeus watsoni, exhibit a preference for various umbrella tent designs on two sympatric Carludovica species (Cyclanthaceae, a family of small palms). Six umbrella tent designs were described: semicircle, combined, heart, triangle, spatula, and partial.

Indirect abiotic effects on forest structure underlie links between rain and the spatial and temporal differences of sexually selected lekking behaviors in White Ruffed Manakins.

There is a overlap in the signal characteristics of tropical wet forest bird communities in Costa Rica and Hawai‘i. There is competition for acoustic space in these signaling communities which results in temporal partitioning of the soundscape.
Experience Costa Rica with OTS!
(Photo credit: Marisol Luna)

Worried that you missed the OTS trip to Costa Rica? Well, you are in luck! The trip is now scheduled for July 11 – July 18, 2022, and a few spaces are still available. This a special tour of Costa Rica for friends of the Organization for Tropical Studies. For trip details, please visit the Holbrook Travel website.

Get your rubber boots dirty as you experience the biodiversity of the tropics and explore one of the most complex environments on earth. Your tour will combine natural history with a behind-the-scenes look at critical tropical research. Your trip will give you the opportunity to:

·        Learn about the ecology of tropical rain forests at the iconic La Selva Research Station.
·        Experience bird walks, river tours, and night walks with world renowned naturalists.
·        Gain an insider’s look into groundbreaking research on climate change in the tropics.
·        Tour family-owned Costa Rica Best Chocolate farm and factory.
·        Explore the Caribbean coast with the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

To register, please visit the Holbrook Travel website.
For more information contact Jim Boyle.
Help us grow!

All of us at OTS are tremendously happy to have students, researchers, and other visitors back at our stations and filling our classes. 

Over the next few months, we are offering field courses in Costa Rica, including Sistemática de Plantas Tropicales, Biología de la Conservación en Latinoamérica, Tropical Biology, Tropical Ferns and Lycophytes, and Tropical Butterfly Ecology. In South Africa, we are offering Global Health Issues and a Pre-Veterinary Disease Ecology Field Practicum. Program dates and details are found on the OTS Education website.
Your donation to our scholarship fund can expand opportunities for students to have a life-changing experience in an OTS course! If you want to help, please use the button below.

Thank you,
Beth Braker
President and CEO
Can you help us reach more people?

We hope 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