June 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 let us know.

Stay connected to students and researchers in the tropics. Get social with OTS!
Covid-19 Update
It was about three months ago that the OTS Institutional Representatives met at La Selva. We visited, shared ideas, brainstormed for future OTS courses, and heard about research at our stations. On the last day of our meeting, the agenda was adjusted to add a discussion about the growing concerns regarding the novel coronavirus. Even as we were meeting, the situation was rapidly evolving as researchers and academic groups began to cancel their travel plans. It was unsettling and confusing to watch these events unfold. On the last day, as we sat around the dining hall, there was a sense that things were changing fast. Covid-19 caused a pause in international travel, cancelling our spring and summer courses and suspending field research at the request of the Costa Rican government. The virus has generally put a strain on, well, everyone. In situations like this, there are two options: sit and wait for things to change or do something. OTS is doing…a lot.
A Note from the CEO
Our first commitment during this pandemic is to the health and safety of the OTS community. Student participants on courses in South Africa had to return to their homes and finish out the semester remotely. At the research stations, we instituted comprehensive measures of hygiene and safety procedures, implemented staggered work schedules, and promoted telecommuting for many employees. Our facilities were closed to outside visitors per government regulations. During this time, staff have been working hard on a backlog of projects, ranging from organizing old data files, conducting inventories of supplies and equipment, and completing a backlog of maintenance projects. Even with the challenge of safer-at-home recommendations and restrictions to wildlands, OTS has been able to facilitate ongoing research projects within newly imposed norms.

We look forward to improvements in health and safety protocols as well as new services to offer to researchers and educational groups.
Participants in the Ecología Tropical and Conservación Course Remained at La Selva During Covid-19 Border Closures
When the Covid-19 pandemic began to unfold, a lot of things happened quickly. Many countries began to restrict travel and close airports. As a result, three Ecología Tropical and Conservación students on post-course fellowships at La Selva found that their time at the station was extended by several months. They spent their time working on their own research (projects which began during their OTS course). They also helped with OTS projects, such as herbarium maintenance, creating a new trail map, checking all trail signs, and creating the new mural, “The Beauties of La Selva,” on the outside wall of the dining hall. Follow this link to hear directly from these students on the value of their OTS experience.
Research in the Time of Corona
To protect biodiversity, the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment placed a moratorium on field-based research in most regions of the country. No research permits will be issued or renewed until June 1. In addition, no incoming international travel is allowed until June 30. This means that there has been a lull in scientific activity at our research stations during April and May. We expect to hear from the Costa Rican government very soon about their guidelines to protect biodiversity, conservation personnel, and researchers as restrictions are lifted.

If you have an approved project but are unable to travel to the field, OTS is ready to help get your project ready to go when field sites and stations resume operations. Please contact OTS scientific staff if you would like to learn more (La Selva: Orlando Vargas and Enrique Castro; Las Cruces: Rodolfo Quiros; Palo Verde: Juan Serrano).
OTS Research Highlights
Long-time La Selva researchers Danielle Salcido, Matt Forister, Beto Garcia, and Lee Dyer (University of Nevada, Reno) published a provocative and disturbing paper , “ Loss of dominant caterpillar genera in a protected tropical forest,” in the January 2020 issue of Nature Research's Scientific Reports . Their analysis of 22 years of data on abundance of caterpillar genera and associated parasitoids showed profound and marked declines in abundance and diversity. This paper was widely reported and was featured as the cover story in the May 2020 National Geographic with several photos taken at La Selva, including one featuring Beto Garcia at work. For more on this story, visit National Geographic.
Las Cruces researcher Karen Holl (University of California, Santa Cruz) and Pedro Brancalion (University of São Paulo, Brazil) published a recent perspective in Science based on their work on forest restoration in tropical regions globally. In " Tree Planting is Not a Simple Solution," Holl and Brancalion argued that, while planting trees is an important part of the actions that can mitigate climate change, there are other actions, which are potentially more significant and should be implemented immediately. An interview with Holl was featured in the Science podcast on May 7, 2020.
If you want to suggest a research brief for a future OTS newsletter, please contact OTS Board Member and volunteer editor Chelsea Ward.
The Future of OTS Education
Covid-19 has already left its mark on education and research. Since OTS anticipates more transformation in years to come, we are currently developing online and hybrid education opportunities for current and future OTS students. This effort requires a creative rethinking of OTS’ educational programs. We will restart our outstanding field courses and research station services as soon as possible. To that end, we are developing and adopting novel teaching strategies and alternative ways to facilitate field education. We are redesigning online education opportunities for current and future OTS students and shifting to programs that can be taught partially online and also link with future field courses. While we will maintain a high level of engagement with instructors and students, we cannot replace the experience of conducting collaborative research with world-famous field biologists. However, by taking advantage of communication technologies, we can provide an innovative, current, and compelling alternative learning experience. We are working to ensure that this captures the transformative, collaborative experience for which OTS courses are so recognized. The first attempt using a number of online tools and learning platforms was recently implemented for the final part of the OTS African Ecology and Conservation (AEC) undergraduate semester program when it was forced to end a month early.

Dr. Lisa Nupen, Resident Lecturer on the AEC program, comments on the experience of shifting to an online platform, “Although we faced unprecedented challenges to completing the African Ecology and Conservation course in South Africa, we quickly adapted our assignments and lectures so that they could be conducted via online platforms. Students were disappointed about having to leave South Africa prematurely, but they embraced the new online mode of teaching better than we anticipated.”

The Education Committee of the OTS Board of Directors (Muriel Poston, chair, Chelsea Ward and Andre Kessler, members) is working with staff to help shape undergraduate and graduate education for 2020-21. Given the transition to online courses that many of you accomplished this past spring, we would like to know if you would be interested in helping shape the future of tropical biology education by offering a course or a module on behalf of OTS or participating in the design of OTS online educational programs. If so, would you please respond to the survey at this link so that we may gather information? (Note that t his survey expires 8 calendar days from today. )

If you have questions regarding OTS Education, would like more information, or would like to take part in an educational program, please contact Sofía Rodríguez.
Plan Ahead!
This pandemic will not last forever. Travel and research abroad will resume. Let us help you plan your return to the tropics. Contact us to explore options for your next faculty-led academic group visit or your research project. OTS´ academic logistics staff has assisted hundreds of faculty members throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Costa Rica to enhance their course trips by arranging everything from hotel reservations, transportation, meals, day activities, and research permits. Click here  to learn more about how OTS can enrich your class today!
This Year in OTS History
Fifty years ago, Dan Janzen and Joe Connell independently proposed their field-defining hypothesis, and Janzen helped create the "OTS Model" of field education. Kyle Harms reflects on these historic events in his essay:
Go out and observe tropical organisms with all of your senses, possibly aided by tools that add modalities or that otherwise expand beyond human limits. Notice patterns. Ask why these patterns exist. In other words, what are the underlying processes that generated these interesting patterns? With all the creativity, clarity, and hardcore logic you can muster, generate mechanistic hypotheses to answer, “Why do these patterns exist?”
Help OTS to Expand its Online Community!
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 to provide us with content or material for use in our social networks, please contact us .
# Missing OTS
For many of us our semester just ended and for some of us we would be looking forward to our field season starting soon. The itch to put on muck boots and be in the field will begin in earnest over the next few weeks. We have some ideas to fill the void. Please share your best field stories with us! You can email them to ecanopy@tropicalstudies.org or post them to our social media accounts, use #MissingOTS to ensure that we can share. Bonus points for vintage photographs! We will share them across platforms and online, so we can all ‘be in the tropics’ this field season.
OTS on YouTube
Visit our YouTube channel for cool video reminders of the flora and fauna of OTS and a little OTS history:  https://www.youtube.com/tropicalstudies
OTS on iNaturalist
For those looking for a project, consider uploading your past photos of organisms from our research stations to iNaturalist. If you are not familiar with iNaturalist, the social media platform was developed by the California Academy of Sciences. It collects observations of organisms uploaded by users to create concept and distribution maps. Data can be used for all sorts of projects including phenological changes. Lena Struwe (Rutgers University) currently manages the data sites for all three of the Costa Rican OTS stations. 

Uploading your photographs is easy, and iNaturalist has a great tutorial.

If you are already an iNaturalist user or don’t want to share your photos, you can improve the database by translating posts or identifying organisms.

Links to all of the OTS citizen science projects can be found on our citizen science page.
Field Notes: The New Education Blog
Want inside knowledge about OTS courses? Want to know more about what our students value and learn from their OTS experiences?

The newly redesigned Field Notes blog for OTS undergraduate and graduate courses gives you an inside look into our students’ educational adventures.

The blog will combine posts from students, staff, and faculty about all things related to OTS education courses. In addition, the new design fits nicely within the current OTS website layout and will make it easier to connect our courses with student and staff experiences. Check out the Field Notes blog here.
Can You Help?
Covid-19 has impacted all of us. It has also reminded us that we live in a global community. The actions of one person, one community, or one nation impact all of us. The outbreak has also heightened our awareness of the importance of open space, healthy ecosystems, and science-based decision. If possible, we would greatly appreciate your extra financial support at this time to ensure OTS has the resources needed to maintain critical operations and our research infrastructure. These last couple of weeks have made it abundantly clear the interconnection of all life and the smallness of our world. OTS’ mission is now more important than ever, and we need you now more than ever.
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Donate to OTS while shopping on @amazon with @amazonsmile. A portion of your purchase supports OTS. Click here to begin shopping.
Organization for Tropical Studies | 919-684-5774 | info@tropicalstudies.org | https://tropicalstudies.org