October 2020

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

Is it over yet? Not yet. We sure do miss having the stations full of visitors. It was a lonely summer. We never thought we would say it, but we miss meetings, real ones with people in uncomfortable chairs and with bad snacks. Costa Rica has several Covid restrictions in place. Currently, U.S. citizens are allowed to enter, depending on state of residence. Residents from many states are not allowed entry into the country until November 1. Travelers may be asked to conduct a digital screening and must produce a negative PCR-RT Covid test, which has been administered 72 hours prior to departure. Permanent and temporary residents of Costa Rica can travel but will be required to complete a 14-day quarantine. Several in-country restrictions are also in place, based on local infection rates, and some business may be closed. Currently, the tourist operations are open but may have limited hours. OTS research stations in Costa Rica are currently open to visitors. Travel is not recommended to South Africa at this time. For the latest Covid updates and OTS station protocols, please check our website. If you have any questions about traveling to Costa Rica or South Africa with OTS, please let us know.
Many upcoming online programs
Photo credit: Laurence Kruger

We have seen an amazing amount on interest in our online courses. Bioacoustic Analysis in R filled so quickly we had to offer another section. We have three new courses being offered this fall – Google Earth Engine for Ecology and Conservation, Redacción Científica, and Multimedia Science Communication – and several additional are in development. Continue to check our online offerings page for upcoming and currently enrolling courses.

OTS had planned to run two veterinary internships this summer. Since some of the students remained fully committed to learning about disease ecology in an African savanna context, we ran an online practicum instead. The students’ experience was led by Lisa Nupen and Tino Pori, both disease ecologists on the OTS South Africa staff. We linked the students with various specialists in the field, and they assessed the effects of vegetation structure and herbivore abundance on tick load and disease prevalence. We combined the Women in Science fieldwork with the mammal, vegetation, and tick collection fieldwork for the Veterinary Field Practicum, thereby getting the in-country students to help the online students. The online students attended workshops and lectures by local veterinary scientists and then assisted in the identification of mammals (from the camera trap data) and ticks (photographed by our staff) as well as the data analysis. The students then spoke at the same mini research symposium as the Women in Science participants, presenting their work to local research specialists. Ultimately, the students were able to gain valuable experience in disease vector dynamics as well as research skills.
Face to face with muddy boots and all
Photo credit: Laurence Kruger

OTS is currently accepting applications for several upcoming face-to-face semesters and summer programs. We have offerings for undergraduates and graduate students in South Africa and Costa Rica, including Tropical Biology in Costa Rica this summer. We understand everyone’s concerns and the uncertainty of upcoming travel. We are taking additional steps to ease the uncertainty that students, parents, and colleges may feel about traveling. To ease fears, we are making the deposit, which is normally nonrefundable, and any payments made to OTS for tuition and/or program fees fully refundable up to 30 days prior to the program’s start date. If you have further questions, please contact us. You can apply for upcoming courses here.
Women in Science course, 2020
Photo credit: Laurence Kruger

Despite significant social and cultural advances, women, particularly women of color, face significant challenges in entering STEM fields. OTS, in partnership with the South African National Parks and the Nsasani Trust, run six-week programs aimed at dismantling the barriers that early career women face in entering the biodiversity sector. The students, many of whom come from conservation agencies, typically arrive with enthusiasm and intellect, but they lack experience in the field and the confidence to carry out their own research. The courses start with skills workshops, which cement the fundamentals of effective science but also scaffold the writing and analysis skills many of the students already possess. We also pay particular attention to developing “soft skills,” such as environmental leadership and conflict resolution. However, a key component of the course is to identify the barriers that our students have faced, but particularly the strengths that helped them overcome these hurdles, and focus on how we can build these strengths.

Aside from gaining skills and experience in independent research, the course also provides opportunities for students to work with a broad range of research mentors, which goes a long way towards demystifying the relationships with senior academics/researchers. The hope is that the students may identify both potential graduate supervisors but also find out about career advancing opportunities.
OTS mourns the loss of our dear colleague, Scott Mori
by Dr. Lena Struwe, Rutgers University
Photo credit: Carol Gracie

Scott Mori (1941-2020), from OTS student to distinguished neotropical botanist

The botanical community has suffered a deep loss with the death of Scott Mori, maybe most famous for his taxonomic work within the plant family Lecythidaceae (the brazil nuts) and floristic work in French Guiana. For most of his career, he worked at the New York Botanical Garden, initially mentored by Sir Ghillean (Iain) Prance, and that is where I got to know him about 25 years ago. Scott’s enthusiasm for and dedication to neotropical botany is famous, and he leaves behind a legacy of monumental and important discoveries. Less well known is that Scott’s fascination with tropical floras started when he took Richard Pohl and Cleofé Calderón’s graduate course on tropical grasses, offered by OTS in 1966. His course companion from University of Wisconsin was Roger Anderson, and they spent time traveling around in Costa Rica before the course. This was the first time Scott encountered the Brazil nut family, which became his major study object for the rest of this life. Scott recounted his experience in studying a Raphia palm swamp near Puerto Viejo and his encounter with Dr. Leslie Holdridge of the Holdridge Life Zone system and original owner of Finca La Selva, later to be OTS’ renowned research station, in a career profile for the Botanical Society of America. This OTS experience impacted his career choice and a love for the tropics so great that OTS was included among his charities of choice in his obituary.

Scott wished for other young biologists to have the same opportunity as he did to develop and carry out a research project at one of OTS’ field sites. Scott felt that the OTS experience as a student provided him with a good foundation for doing fieldwork in the tropics, lessons that he put into practice throughout his career. He transferred this knowledge further by writing the book, Tropical Plant Collecting: From the Field to the Internet. He and his wife, Carol Gracie, also led multiple tours to the tropics, including to the OTS La Selva and Las Cruces Research Stations. The world of tropical biology and botany has lost one of its great researchers, and also a great colleague and friend of mine. 

To make a gift in Scott Mori's memory, please visit our donations page.

Please note that we have tried to piece together Scott’s early OTS experience from a variety of sources, with special thanks to his widow Carol Gracie and Gary Hartshorn, so some of this information is second- and third-hand.

Scott's full obituary is posted online.
La Selva’s Holdridge Arboretum made the grade 
By Gary Hartshorn, Nora Bynum, and Deedra McClearn 
Photo credit: Marisol Luna

In June 2020, La Selva’s Holdridge Arboretum received accreditation as a Level II Arboretum from ArbNet, an international arboretum accreditation program dedicated to: 

  • recognizing arboreta at various levels of development, capacity, and professionalism;
  • fostering professionalism of arboreta worldwide;  
  • enabling collaboration in scientific, collections, and conservation activities; and
  • advancing the planting, study, and conservation of trees.  
To put this achievement into perspective, there are currently only 122 arboreta worldwide with this level of accreditation out of 2,050 arboreta listed in the Morton Register of Arboreta. 

Those of you with ties to La Selva will know the “Arboleda” as a landscape on the SURA trail with many tagged trees and a cleared understory for ease of access. It is considered “an open classroom to facilitate the dendrological studies for hundreds of students and researchers visiting the station every year.” There are currently 929 individuals of 247 native species and 3 exotics, representing 63 families and 168 genera. The tree tags are keyed to a document that is available online. This is the perfect way to learn about the important (and sometimes elusive) characteristics of the amazing diversity of La Selva’s trees.
Talamanca Earth Snake, Geophis talamancae (Culebra de Tierra de Cola Negra)
By Jeisson Figueroa, Naturalist Guide, Las Cruces Research Station
Photo credit: Jeisson Figueroa 
It is always exciting for naturalist guides to find a snake. Even more emotion is generated by finding something that is rare or has not been described for a particular site. The most exciting of all is to find a specimen that is not only outside its known range of distribution but also exhibits some morphological variation. The Talamanca Earth Snake, Geophis talamancae, was described in 1994 by Karen Lips and Jay Savage in material collected at the Finca Jaguar in the Las Tablas Protected Zone, near the border with Panama, at 1800 m elevation. Subsequently, this snake has also been found in western Panama. The original description is of dark individuals, but individuals found in Panama have groups of red scales along the body.

Last June, Jeisson Figueroa, a naturalist guide at Las Cruces Research Station, together with Henry Sandí and Dionisio Paniagua, found two individuals of this species in Cerro Paraguas (8° 46' 31'' N 83° 02' 46''W). This site is located near the Las Cruces Research Station in San Vito, Coto Brus, about 40 km and 300 m lower from the site where the species was originally identified. These individuals had the coloration of those found in Panama. Interested in checking to see if there are more individuals with that coloration in that area, they returned in July and only spotted one more individual crossing a path between a patch of forest and a pasture. In this case, what they found was better than they expected: an albino* individual of the species with red spots along the body. "We were ecstatic to see so much beauty and rarity at the same time, as finding an albino snake in nature is uncommon," Jeisson said.

*Note: the terms “albino” and “leucistic” refer to animals that lack different classes of pigments. This individual in particular apparently lacks melanin but has other pigments that produce the red-orange spots.
Anna María Sepulveda, an extended research trip

There is no doubt that the pandemic has shaken our lives in many ways. However, it has also motivated us to rethink the way that we operate, be creative, and find opportunities in places we would not have otherwise looked.  
This could not have been truer for three students from the January 2020 Ecología Tropical y Conservación graduate course. Agostina Juncosa and Valentín Zarate from Argentina and Ana María Sepúlveda from Colombia had one-month research internships at La Selva Research Station under a new model of a post-course fellowship that we implemented for the first time with this course. Unanticipatedly, the pandemic extended their stay for much longer. 
Although we had some understandable concern at first, we were delighted to see how they truly took advantage of a difficult situation. When life gives you a lockdown, you develop a project to monitor wildlife in areas normally occupied by humans. There is probably no better place to conduct such research than La Selva, where our classrooms and labs are surrounded by forest, and you do not need to go far to start seeing wildlife. Agostina and Valentín designed the monitoring plan and started collecting data, but they could not finish the project on site, because two months later they had to return to Argentina. Ana María, for whom La Selva turned into a rather long-term home, followed up, supported them throughout, and she finished the project after nearly four months. 
On August 25, Ana gave a virtual presentation from La Selva to share the amazing wildlife captured by the camera traps: ocelots crossing the Stone bridge, great curassows, and, of course, lots of peccaries. There was even a coyote that definitively felt more comfortable to wander closer to the areas where our staff work every day. We thank Agos, Valen, and Ana for their initiative in collecting this invaluable data and for improving our appreciation of the wildlife around us. Check out Ana’s presentation about her time at OTS.

Dr. Jennifer Powers, Associate Professor in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota, was recently elected as an Ecological Society of America (ESA) Fellow for contributions to long-term research in ecosystem ecology, restoration, and conservation, and for training the next generation of tropical ecologists. ESA fellows are members, who have made outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields served by the society. They are elected for life. Dr. Powers is an OTS resource person and two-time OTS alumna. Please join us in congratulating her!
Dr. Víctor Arroyo-Rodríguez, a Full Researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, recently published an article, “Ecology Letters.” Dr. Arroyo- Rodríguez’ research focuses on the impact of land use change on tropical plants and animals across different spatial scales. This information is to inform conservation plans. His publication, “Designing optimal human-modified landscapes for forest biodiversity conservation,” combines the concept of appropriate landscape management with empirical data to support optimal landscape scenarios for forest-dwelling species. His group argues that landscapes should contain at least 40% forest. The forest patches should be embedded in high-quality matrix for an optimized balance between preserving forest wildlife and continued delivery of goods and services to humans. Dr. Arroyo-Rodríguez has served as an invited professor for several OTS post-graduate courses.
Help OTS to 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 that 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.
Building a Better Future

OTS is an inclusive, vibrant, passionate community of research scientists, educators, and natural history enthusiasts. We are linked together to foster a deeper understanding of tropical ecology and promote sustainable ecosystems and communities. Decades of unsustainable habitat loss and environmental damage on a global scale are now accelerating OTS’ drive toward Global Capacity Development (GCD), which for OTS can be defined as helping develop the skills people need to improve their lives and their communities through enhanced conservation efforts.
We invite you to be part of this effort with a gift of your time or dollars! Your support will allow OTS to more fully develop our ongoing GCD efforts and more mindfully integrate our work across all of OTS’ operations and programs. By strengthening our core functions, OTS can dramatically advance our impact on the most pressing issues of our time, such as climate change, species extinction, deforestation, and social/environmental justice.

To learn about other ways you can become involved in OTS’ mission, please contact Jim Boyle by email or by calling 360.920.6302. Thank you!
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