Our Faculty

OTS Faculty

(In alphabetical order)

Mauricio Bonifacino de León, Ph.D

Botany, Plant biology and Plant systematics, Universidad de la República in Uruguay


Mauricio Bonifacino works at Universidad de la República in Uruguay where he teaches botany, plant biology and plant systematics both to undergraduate and graduate students. Mauricio obtained his PhD in 2003 from La Plata University in Argentina and conducted  postdoctoral research at Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC (2008). His main interests include systematics, biogeography and floristics of several groups in the Compositae, mainly those with Andean-patagonean distribution. Mauricio has been involved in the course several times, either as an assistant, invited professor or coordinator.

Bernard Coetzee, Ph.D.

Ph.D. Zoology, Stellenbosch University


Dr. Coetzee is fascinated by the patterns and processes structuring biodiversity, and how these change with human activity, both for better or more regularly, for worse. He combines ecology, biogeography and community ecology with a strong quantitative statistical focus. While his focus is often on birds he has a broad taxonomic interest. He has a passion for protected areas, their optimal designation and their ecological efficacy – whether they achieve the conservation goals set out for them, especially given the socio-economic and political realities of the landscapes in which they are embedded.

His research has a strong applied science and policy emphasis, and he endeavors to design research with stakeholders that are relevant to their needs. He also analyses conservation policy, and aims to structure his research to feed into global environmental decision-making.

Dr. Coetzee hopes to further develop his interest in how large spatial scale processes interact with smaller scale processes in savanna systems, and vice versa, as their interacting dynamics are rarely well quantified. This is of particular interest to ensure that protected areas such as Kruger National Park deliver on its potential conservation benefits. He aims to use a range of techniques at the disposal of the modern ecologist, ranging from remote sensing platforms and spatial modeling, to fine scale observational and manipulative field studies.

Program: African Ecology and Conservation, South Africa

Darko D. Cotoras, Ph.D.

Ph.D. Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley


Darko is an evolutionary biologist interested in the historical processes that create biodiversity, particularly looking at oceanic islands. He combines field surveys with museum work to answer questions about phylogenetics, population genetics and genome assembly. Currently, he is a Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences and previously did a PostDoc between that institution and the University of California, Santa Cruz. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley studying the temporal dynamic of an adaptive radiation of Hawaiian spiders. His Master in Ecology and Evolution, and Bachelors in Biology are from the Universidad de Chile. He has been faculty on several OTS courses and co-coordinated the 2018 REU program at Las Cruces.

Carissa Ganong, Ph.D.

Ph.D., University of Georgia


Carissa is an aquatic ecologist and invertebrate zoologist with a strong interest in anthropogenic impacts on aquatic ecosystems, and her research integrates in situ field studies, laboratory mesocosm experiments, and analytical chemistry techniques. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, and her dissertation work examined the effects of precipitation regime on stream pH and stream macroinvertebrates at La Selva Biological Station. She is currently an assistant professor of biology (and all things invertebrate) at Missouri Western State University. She has coordinated the summer NSF-OTS La Selva REU program since 2014 and also coordinated the OTS field ecology course in 2017.

Carlos Alberto Faerron Guzmán, M.D., M.Sc.

M.Sc., International Health and Development, Queen Mary University and Vrije Universiteit
M.D., University of Costa Rica


Dr. Faerron is the Academic Director for OTS. He began his career as a primary care doctor in a rural area of Costa Rica where he worked closely with migrant and indigenous populations. After obtaining his graduate degree, he returned to the same community and co-founded the InterAmerican Center for Global Health (CISG). The center is the first global health hub in Central America and seeks to redefine the meaning of leadership and global health through innovative educational approaches.

Dr. Faerron’s work follows a health equity and human rights framework as a guiding principle and firmly believes in progress in health through community empowerment, research and education. Dr. Faerron has successfully placed Costa Rica on the map as a new location for global health education and research. Through his work the center became well connected in all areas within the Costa Rican nonprofit, for-profit, and government systems related to health and human rights.

Dr. Faerron’s areas of research include adolescent pregnancy, gender, intercultural approaches to care, and migration and health. He also has developed and taught courses in the fields of Planetary Health, Global Health, Tropical Diseases, Interculturality, Human Rights, Oral Health, Primary Care, Health Systems among others, for CISG, for the Organization for Tropical Studies and for Harvard University, NYU, University of Southern California and EARTH University. He obtained his medical degree at the University of Costa Rica, and his MSc. in International Health at Queen Mary University in Edinburgh and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Additional studies include Social Justice at the International Institute for Health and Development in Scotland, and Social Innovation for Health from INCAE Business School. Dr. Faerron is a Fellow of the Central American Healthcare Initiative and adjunct faculty at the Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at Harvard University.

Alvaro Idarraga Piedrahíta, Ph.D

Associated Researcher, Universidad de Antioquia in Colombia


Alvaro Idarraga Piedrahíta works at Universidad de Antioquia in Colombia where he is an associated researcher at Universidad de Antioquia’s Herbarium. His main interests lie in the systematics of Araliaceae, as well as in biogeography and floristics of Colombian flora. Alvaro has published many plant field guides and is an editor of the Vascular Plants Catalog for Antioquia Province. He is currently conducting his PhD, focusing on understanding the distribution patterns of dry forest taxa in Colombia. Alvaro has taken part in the course several times, either as an assistant or coordinator.

Laurence Mohr Kruger, Ph.D.

Ph.D. Botany, University of Cape Town


Dr. Kruger is the Director of Curriculum for OTS and is based in Skukuza, Kruger National Park. His primary interests lie in functional ecology and how species response to disturbance. His interests lie specifically on the demography of woody plants in a variety of SA biomes, the bottlenecks imposed in each system, and which traits are critical in overcoming these. 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, whilst still engaging on a theoretical level.

Born into a family of biologists and humanitarians, Dr. Kruger has followed his passion for both by running field based, experiential learning programs in and around South Africa. Given the challenges facing education institutions (lack of resources, limited access to the field) and the barriers to education many students face, he sees our goal as OTS to be the dismantling of these obstacles.

In delivering life changing, academically rigorous field courses, Dr. Kruger aims for OTS programs to provide experiences that allow for growth in aspirations for students and academics alike. He feels strongly that we need to rethink our role in society and return our focus to humanity rather than self-actualization and how we could contribute to others. Aside from focusing on quality, integrity and creativity, Dr. Kruger has found that the single most important ingredient in education is to have fun.

Robbin Moran, Ph.D.

Ph.D. Systematic Botany, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Robbin Moran is coordinator and will be with the course for its duration. He is the Nathaniel Lord Britton Curator of Botany at the New York Botanical Garden, and his main interests are the evolution, geography, and ecology of ferns and lycophytes. He has published four books and over 120 papers on ferns. Robbin was the main writer, editor, and organizer for the pteridophyte volume of Flora Mesoamericana, a work that treats the ferns and lycophytes (nearly 1400 species) occurring from southern Mexico to Panama. He has co-organized eight OTS Tropical Plant Systematics courses and several Spanish-language versions of the course. You can view Robbin’s web site at https://www.nybg.org/person/robbin-moran/.

Lisa Nupen, Ph.D.

Ph.D., University of Cape Town


Dr. Nupen’s professional interests span Conservation Biology and Molecular Ecology, with strong emphasis on the various ways genetic techniques can be used to help solve conservation problems. Teaching on OTS allows her to combine her passion for science-based conservation with fieldwork and knowledge-sharing. Over the course of her travels, studies and teaching, she has learned to appreciate the complexity of biodiversity quantification and conservation, and the importance of local communities benefitting from conservation programmes. She believes that hands-on in situ field-time and learning is the best way to effectively impart the necessary knowledge and skills to future natural scientists and conservationists.

Dr. Nupen has worked on research projects investigating various aspects of marine ecology, mammalian diversity, avian biology, frog and reptile population dynamics, and the floral and faunal rehabilitation of disturbed areas. Her current work focuses on conservation breeding, wildlife diseases in birds and mammals, conservation genomics and phylogeograophy.

Dr. Nupen’s passion is conducting research that contributes to conservation efforts and protecting the environment. At OTS she can feed this passion by participating in a wide range of research projects while training future conservation leaders. The rich animal and plant diversity of the ecosystems that we visit during the OTS African Ecology and Conservation (AEC) Programme provide wonderful teaching opportunities that are not usually available in traditional university settings.

She finds it rewarding to help students build an authentic appreciation of the complexity of African ecosystems, and believes that students find great satisfaction in learning about African Ecology.  This extends to understanding the challenges of implementing effective conservation measures in the southern African sub-region and learning how to problem-solve using evidence-based approaches. Dr. Nupen loves being outdoors and finds the study of nature to be an inspiring and endlessly fascinating pursuit. She believes strongly that OTS’ AEC program provides a range of skills that will allow students to make informed choices and make valuable contributions to society and conservation in whatever field they choose.

Program: African Ecology and Conservation, South Africa

Sofia Rodríguez-Brenes, Ph.D.

Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, The University of Texas at Austin


Sofía studied biology at the University of Costa Rica, and earned a doctorate in ecology, evolution and behavior at The University of Texas at Austin. At UT Austin, she studied the spread of a devastating fungal pathogen (better known as chytrid or Bd) in populations of the túngara frog in Panamá, and how infections with this pathogen affect the frog’s behaviors and reproductive success. Her continuing research interests are at the intersection of animal behavior, sexual selection, and disease ecology, especially changes in behavior caused by disease. Sofia is also passionate about teaching, especially in the field. Throughout her career she has taught at high school and university level, in Spanish and English, and with organizations from Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States. At OTS she coordinates the graduate course Tropical Biology: an Ecological Approach.

Fernando Soley, Ph.D.

Ph.D. Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia


Fernando studied Biology at the University of Costa Rica, and then specialized in Animal Behavior in Australia. Currently, Fernando is investigating the morphology and behavior adaptations of different insects in Costa Rica and Australia, and serves as an interim professor at the School of Biology of the University of Costa Rica, teaching courses in the area of Evolution and Zoology. Fernando has participated in the field courses with the OTS since 2014.

Jenny Stynoski, Ph.D.

Ph.D., University of Miami


Jenny Stynoski studies the evolutionary development and behavior of poisonous frogs and toads in Central and South America using chemical, ecological and genomics approaches. She is a research professor at the University of Costa Rica with joint appointments at the Instituto Clodomiro Picado and the Schools of Animal Science and Biology. Jenny has been teaching field courses with OTS in Costa Rica since 2009.

James E. Watkins, Jr., M.S., Ph.D., FLS

Ph.D., University of Florida


James (Eddie) Watkins is co-coordinator and will be with the course for its duration. He is an Associate Professor of Biology at Colgate University where he also directs the Center for Learning, Teaching, and Research. Eddie’s main interest is the ecology and physiology of ferns, specifically of the gametophyte generation. He has published dozens of papers on functional ecology of ferns across temperate and tropical regions. Eddie has worked in Costa Rica for over two decades and has served as a resource person for the OTS Tropical Plant Systematics and Tropical Ecology courses. He has also co-coordinated all four of the OTS Tropical Ferns and Lycophytes courses with Robbin Moran. You can view Eddie’s website at https://eddiewatkins.com/.

Amanda Wendt, Ph.D.

Ph.D., University of Connecticut


Amanda is the Education and Research Liaison at La Selva Research Station. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut, where she studied tropical forest regeneration and ecology. She has also worked extensively as a researcher, professor and educator, restoration project manager, conservation professional, land manager, and mentor. Prior to joining OTS, Amanda directed a wildlife refuge in Sarapiquí, the province in which OTS’ La Selva research station resides.

Amanda’s interests include forest landscape restoration, integrated landscape management, plant-animal interactions (especially mammals and seed dispersal), patterns of seedling regeneration, forest disturbance, resilience, and how ecosystem health affects human well-being. She volunteers in Costa Rica with the Biodiversity Partnership Mesoamerica, San Juan-La Selva Biological Corridor, and Sarapiquí Conservation Learning Center.

Program/Course: Tropical Biology, Costa Rica