The History

OTS established the La Selva Research Station in 1968. Before it was under OTS leadership, La Selva was a farm dedicated to sustainable forest research owned by Dr. Leslie Holdridge.

La Selva’s influence on tropical ecology is immeasurable and of great cultural significance, having served as a key training and research site for numerous professional scientists. La Selva Research Station pioneered private forest conservation in Costa Rica, as it was the first of what is now a large network of private forest reserves in the country.

The species richness of La Selva is outstanding, with more than 2,077 species of plants; 125 species of mammals (72 of them bats); 470 species of birds; 48 amphibian species; 87 species of reptiles; 45 species of freshwater fish; and tens of thousands of insects, arachnids, and other arthropods.

Ecological Uniqueness

La Selva Research Station offers 1,600 hectares of well-preserved old-growth and recovering wet lowland tropical forest that abuts the Braulio Carrillo National Park. The 4 to 6 km wide forested corridor that connects La Selva at 35 m above sea level to the Barva Volcano at 2,906 m is one of the best-preserved elevational gradients in the tropics.

La Selva sits within a complex biological, socioeconomic, and political landscape that has been significantly transformed over the last 40 years by a continuously expanding agricultural frontier, burgeoning human population, and accompanying major infrastructure. Protected areas, such as La Selva, provide a rich opportunity for studying how natural ecosystems respond to a broader landscape matrix of human uses.


La Selva has some of the longest running ecological data sets in the tropics, spanning up to 40+ years. Long-term research of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems has generated data on nutrient cycling, plant and animal demography (e.g. birds, trees, frogs, etc.), community interactions, and their responses to a changing climate.

Key Research Themes

  • Forest dynamics and nutrient cycling
  • Forest succession
  • Global change and human-nature interactions
  • Agroecology
  • Aquatic ecosystems


La Selva’s juxtaposition of protected ecosystems and well-developed facilities is unique in the world’s wet tropics.

  • Friendly and helpful staff, including a science team, is available to answer questions.
  • La Selva can fully accommodate 180 overnight visitors.
  • We offer a dining hall, laundry service, store, wireless internet, library, all-access trail, and on-station security.
  • Our extensive network of paved and dirt trails (61 km) provides convenient access to a wide range of terrestrial and aquatic habitats.
  • The station has several buildings that house laboratories and offices. There are two air-conditioned laboratories with basic equipment and several specialty areas including analytical, microbiology, and ambient labs.
  • The herbarium houses more than 10,000 specimens of dried, pressed plants including fruits and seeds, as well as wet specimens, and several other reference collections.
  • The Academic Center includes a conference room, four classrooms, four laboratories, and temporary offices for course faculty.

Local partners:
San Juan-La Selva Biological Corridor

Visitor Information

La Selva is approximately a 2-hour drive from San José.

Directions: Take the “Zurqui” Route 32 Highway through the Braulio Carrillo National Park towards Guapiles. After approximately 45 minutes, you will drive over the Sucio River; continue for 7 Km to a major intersection at a restaurant called Rancho Robertos. Turn left, and continue towards the town of Puerto Viejo in Sarapiquí. Follow the highway (Route 4) approximately 30 km to the entrance of La Selva (on your left). The entrance is 3 km before the intersection of Puerto Viejo.

Buses leave from the “Caribeños” terminal in San José throughout the day. Make sure to take the bus to Puerto Viejo in Sarapiquí and not the bus to Puerto Viejo in (Talamanca) Limón!

How to book your travel to the field station: Visit this page.

Additional activities: Birding Walk, Night Walk, Natural History Walk, Educational Modules, Boat Tour (with third-party provider). Many cultural and tourist activities in the area.

Contact us for more information: info@tropicalstudies.org

Information Resources

Species List:

Species lists for La Selva include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and vascular plants. Click here to access information on vertebrates. See the Digital Flora for information about vascular plants. Please contact Orlando Vargas if you have any questions about the species lists from La Selva.


OTS Plant Database

Dried plant specimens collected from the three research stations in Costa Rica are stored onsite at the herbarium of the respective research station. Researchers have built these collections as they have deposited duplicates of their specimens in the stations’ herbaria. OTS staff have also expanded these collections for research reference and study. These specimens are available for study and loan.

Digitized versions of these specimens are stored in the OTS plant database in a tab called “Herbarium Specimens.” In addition to the digitized herbaria, the database includes additional plant collections like seeds, fruits, or pollen. The data types for the station of interest will appear in additional tabs. For both Las Cruces and Palo Verde, images of live plants for a subset of species are available in the database. For La Selva, find the live images in the La Selva Digital Flora. Please click here to access the OTS Plant Database. For more information about the OTS Plant Database, please contact Oscar Madrigal.

Digital Flora of La Selva

The La Selva Digital Flora catalogs the vascular plants found at La Selva. Click here to access Digital Flora.

Leslie Holdridge Arboretum

The 3.5-hectare Holdridge Arboretum is located at La Selva Research Station. Leslie R. Holdridge, the original owner of the property, created the arboretum in 1968. Initially, it was a small cacao grove with an exceptionally rich overstory of native shade trees. To facilitate research in the arboretum, staff later removed the cacao. In 1970, Gary Hartshorn continued to plant seedlings of many native tree species. OTS continues to plant, tag, and measure trees. OTS maintains the arboretum by regular mowing and pruning to facilitate safe access. Courses, natural history visitors, students, and researchers use the arboretum for a wide range of observational studies, manipulations, dendrological practices, and taxonomy classes.

See Holdridge Arboretum PDF. For more information about the arboretum, please contact Orlando Vargas.

Long-Term monitoring:

Biophysical monitoring

At OTS stations in Costa Rica, we have collected long-term meteorological and hydrological data. Please contact each station for a description of the instrumentation and data collected at each station. For La Selva, contact Bernal Matarrita. For Las Cruces, contact Rodolfo Quiros. For Palo Verde, contact Juan Serrano.

The biophysical data is available here. The first page will display a listing of the stations with data available, and a place to enter the data range you would like to retrieve. Once the data displays, you can sort by each column, and the column header displays the units of the measurement. Please note that OTS stations record data at half-hour intervals and data retrieval can take some time. Please contact Oscar Madrigal with questions about the data interface.

La Selva Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) at La Selva began in 1985 as an official circle of the Audubon’s CBC. Every year since, the data has been complied and submitted to Audubon, but it is also available on a website created by La Selva staff here.  On this website, in Spanish, you will find information on the routes in the La Selva and Braulio Carrillo Circle, as well as information about each species. If you have any questions about the La Selva CBC, please contact Orlando Vargas or Enrique Castro.

Long-term research

OTS research stations have been the site of long-term research that has generated some of the most extensive data sets published about tropical ecosystems. Many of these long-term data sets were collected at permanent plots installed by scientists at the OTS stations. Please contact the station where you would like to work to request information about these studies and related publications.

One example of a long-term study at OTS is the Carbono project, led by Dr. Deborah Clark and Dr. David Clark. Click here for more information.

OTS Library System:

OTS´ library collection contains over 10,000 titles including theses, bibliographical collections, and course books from OTS education programs in Costa Rica.  Please contact Oscar Madrigal about how to access the titles of interest from the catalog.  At La Selva and Las Cruces, we maintain small onsite libraries; please ask at reception about how to access these collections.

An additional resource of the OTS library collection is an extensive searchable database of information published about Costa Rica biology, named BINABITROP (National Bibliography on Tropical Biology). The database catalogs over 41,000 publications in English and Spanish (books, selected chapters, thesis, articles, reports, and multimedia) with more than 10,000 open access full-text publications linked to the database entries. You can access BINABITROP here.

You can go to our From Our Library section where you can find our recent scientific publications records.

Geographical Information:

OTS maintains geographical information about the research stations and surrounding landscapes in Costa Rica.

The available information varies by station, but in general, the GIS data layers we have include the station boundaries, trails, infrastructure, rivers/streams, elevation/contours, soils, vegetation types, and other station specific information (i.e. grid system at La Selva, Wilson Botanical Garden, etc.).

Regional information may include hydrology, topography, locations of other forest reserves or protected areas, socioeconomic variables, and climatic variables. We have also amassed data from other sources like aerial photographs, satellite images, and atlases.

Please contact Wagner Lopez to request specific GIS information or go to Geographic information page to see examples of maps and lists of data.

La Selva Research Station, Costa Rica

La Selva Photo Gallery

La Selva Video Gallery

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