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Update from the OTS Board of Directors
Guest contributor: George Middendorf, Chair, OTS Board of Directors
(Photo: Laurence Kruger)
Dear Members of the OTS community:
If I might take a few moments of your time, I’d like to offer a few platitudes as we look to 2023 and a return to normalcy.
First, I want to thank all of you for your support for OTS, especially over the past three years.
When the OTS Board of Directors met in person in March 2020, I don’t think that any of us at that meeting had any real idea of the magnitude of Covid’s impact – either its severity or duration. Initially, we met virtually almost every month. As we adjusted and adapted, we were able to slow to bimonthly meetings, and now, with life returning to a calmer state, we’ve shifted to a quarterly meeting schedule. The January virtual meeting combined a regular Board meeting with the Annual Institutional Representative meeting and included a report on past and upcoming activities by the President and CEO. The March in-person Board meeting focused on financial issues and a celebration of OTS’ 60th anniversary. In June, the Board will meet twice, once virtually to discuss educational activities and a second time to hold Member Director elections. In September, the virtual Board meeting will focus on research issues. Board committees will, of course, meet throughout the year to consider issues and to make plans for the future.
I should note here that the Board is very pleased that Dr. Elizabeth ("Beth") Braker agreed in July 2022 to move from an interim to a full-time position as OTS President and CEO. Over the pandemic period, Beth not only kept OTS alive but led the development and implementation of a number of new ideas and programs that will allow OTS to grow in new directions and continue for many decades into the future. I could elaborate here on specifics, but if you’ve been reading e-Canopy over the past several years, I’d only be adding boredom to platitudes. So, I leave additional details to Beth.
I’d be remiss if I forgot to thank the members of the Board. Special thanks go out to those who kept eCanopy going! Additional thanks go to the Board Officers and members of the Board Committees: Advancement, Audit, Communication, Education, Executive, Finance, Governance & Human Resources, and Scientific Research & Field Stations. And, I send another special thanks to two Board members who will be leaving: Kyle Harms and Gabriel Macaya – both of whom contributed greatly over their terms and will be missed. And, in closing here, I extend a warm welcome to three new Board members: Mike Wasserman, William Wcislo, and Javier Mateo-Vega.
And, thank you to all belonging to the OTS community. OTS is indebted for all of your support, not only because of your time commitment, but also because of your financial support. As an aside, I note that Board member donations reached 100%. This important criterion, along with your contributions, is critical when seeking foundation and external funding!
It has been a surpassing honor to serve as Chair this past year, and I look forward to continuing to work with all.
A message from our President and CEO
Dear OTS community,
On March 29, OTS Costa Rica hosted a celebratory event at the University of Costa Rica to commemorate our 60th anniversary. I had the opportunity to address more than 130 attendees, including current and former OTS staff and distinguished guests such as representatives from our member universities, local and national government, other NGOs, and friends of OTS. The comments below are part of my address. Read more about the 60th anniversary celebration in the feature article in this issue.
After 60 years, OTS aspires to another sixty years and beyond. In the near future, we look towards both conceptual and contextual changes in OTS.
Conceptually, we will build on our first decades of data and our research strengths to re-envision our research stations as specialized centers. Rather than a place for researchers and students to come, work, extract data, and then depart, we see Palo Verde, Las Cruces, and La Selva in Costa Rica and Skukuza in South Africa as vital centers for exploration, research, education, and social management. Each center will have a main research focus that reflects historical strengths, regional context, and societal needs. We will generate opportunities for collaboration in research, increase access to research fellowships, and promote the value added of work in our centers.
Contextually, we recognize that, by 2050, more than two-thirds of the world's population will live in urban areas, and most of this population increase will take place in the Global South, including tropical regions. The impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss will be felt most strongly in tropical urban areas. To address the need for science-based and informed decision-making, OTS will launch the Center on Research and Practice for the Urban Tropics, or CETU (for its Spanish acronym), based at the OTS office on the campus of the University of Costa Rica. The CETU will be a meeting point for research and action in tropical urban ecology. It will bring together researchers and actors from all over the world who are already working in these lines of research. This center will take advantage of existing expertise in our member institutions to create international collaborations and build foundations for healthy ecosystems and resilient communities.
OTS’ first 60 years would not have been possible without the work and commitment of our staff at the stations and the surrounding communities; in OTS offices in North America, Costa Rica, and South Africa; member institutions; public and private strategic allies; and friends of OTS worldwide. Given the challenges ahead, we call on you to be a part of these efforts to build for the future together and to join OTS in “Connecting people and the tropics for the future of the planet.”
OTS celebrates 60 years of connecting people and the tropics
After 60 years of passionate work, OTS and its community gathered to celebrate the organization's trajectory and look to the challenges of the future. The 60th anniversary ceremony took place in the Great Hall of the University of Costa Rica (UCR) on March 9. For over two hours, the OTS community celebrated six decades of providing education, research, and the responsible use of natural resources in the tropics.
Dr. Elizabeth Braker, OTS President and CEO, gave opening remarks that highlighted OTS' plan to play an active role in understanding the tropics in the context of a growing urban society. Dr. George Middendorf, Chair of the OTS Board of Directors; M.Sc. María Laura Arias Echandi, Vice Chancellor of Research at UCR; and Dr. Marianela Rojas Garbanzo, Vice Chancellor of the National University of Costa Rica (UNA), highlighted the importance of OTS in the promotion of scientific knowledge for the future of the tropics.
Scientific presentations followed, with Dr. Adrián Pinto of the Department of Biochemistry, School of Medicine, the Microscopic Structures Research Center, and Center for Research in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Costa Rica – and friend of OTS – taking the audience on a journey of his career and detailing the support he received from OTS through the years. Then, Dr. Linday McCulloch and B.Sc. Mariana Gelambi, young researchers and OTS fellows, presented the preliminary results of projects they are conducting in La Selva.
You can re-watch the entire 60th anniversary ceremony on our Facebook page.
And, the celebration does not end here! Since January, OTS has been organizing monthly virtual conferences with members of our community, like Dr. Jennifer Powers, University of Minnesota, and Esteban Amador, a member of the Linking Communities and Ecosystems project, which is co-implemented by OTS and the United Nations for Development Program. The next virtual conference is scheduled in April. Stay tuned to our social media to know more about these and other activities so that you can be part of our celebration.
In memory of Eleanor Jane Sterling
Guest contributor: Nora Bynum
(Photo: D. Finnin, CBC-AMNH)
Eleanor Jane Sterling, Ph.D., Director of the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, died on February 11, 2023. Her work transcended a number of fields and had a profound impact on the way we understand environmental and educational issues today.
Eleanor was an amazingly talented and multifaceted person. Her academic work started with primate behavior and ecology. Over the past ten years, she became a leader in the field of biocultural studies with a particular focus on the South Pacific.
Eleanor’s early work was already spectacular, as she took on one of the toughest assignments of field studies – highly reclusive, nocturnal primates that live in remote mountains, specifically the aye-ayes (Daubentonia) of Madagascar. It is quite possible that Eleanor’s work will never be replicated simply because no one else has been as persistent and dedicated as she. The word indomitable has been applied to Eleanor by her graduate advisor, Senior Research Scientist and Crosby Professor Emerita Alison Richard at Yale University.
Eleanor went on to the directorship of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History, a place where she stayed for more than 25 years. Throughout her career, Eleanor found multiple ways of serving, including teaching, sitting on boards, consulting, and mentoring dozens of students.
Eleanor was both brilliant and exceedingly generous, a combination not often found in the same person. Her kindness and sense of humor, combined with her understanding of both the natural and academic worlds, made her an ideal mentor.
Eleanor and her husband, Kevin, recently made a big move to the island of Oahu, where Eleanor was the Director of the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Her commitment to the institution was energizing, and friends could see the joy on her face as she tackled this new challenge with so much richness in both the biological and biocultural realms. She will be sorely missed.
Luchas Ganadas, Batallas Perdidas, a memoir by Rodolfo Silva Vargas
Luchas Ganadas, Batallas Perdidas, a memoir by Rodolfo Silva Vargas, Emeritus Member and Chair of the OTS Board of Visitors and former Costa Rican Ambassador to the United States, was published in January 2023 by EUNED, the publishing house of the National Distance Education University in Costa Rica (UNED), an OTS member institution.
Silva presented the book in San José on February 9 before an audience that included former president of Costa Rica José María Figueres Olsen and Vice Presidents Luis Libeman and Rodrigo Oreamuno, as well as Rodrigo Arias Camacho, Rector of UNED, and OTS friends Pedro Leon and Gabriel Macaya.
Covering over fifty years of a career in public service, the book includes first-hand narrative of contributions to the creation of the Braulio Carrillo National Park and a biological corridor connecting the park and La Selva, as well as a recollection of Silva’s connection to OTS and his great friendship with former OTS Executive Director Don Stone.
The book is now available at EUNED bookshops in Costa Rica and through its virtual bookstore. An e-book version is expected to be ready this month.
Catherine Cardelús climbs into the canopy, uncovers insights about epiphytes
Guest contributor: Rachel Damiani
The rainforest is home to many secrets hidden from the eyes of the common visitor, and Dr. Catherine Cardelús knows this very well! For more than 27 years, La Selva has been a privileged place for Dr. Cardelús to come and climb up into the canopy to understand the wonders that it hides.
The story of Dr. Cardelús revolves around great memories from field trips in Costa Rica, research on epiphyte plants in the canopy, and support from OTS to become a prominent scientist, professor, and researcher.
Read the full story here.
The fates of fern fronds
Guest contributors: Kate Seeger, Macalester College, and Christopher Krieg, University of Wisconsin
(Photo: Deedra McClearn)
The ever-revolving doors of a research station provide a unique setting for collaboration and exploration, catalyzing discovery and interdisciplinary science for researchers across disciplines and career stages. These collaborations can have synergistic outcomes that become greater than the sum of their parts. In 2017, a serendipitous meeting of researchers forged a spontaneous investigation at the La Selva Research Station.
The group included Dr. Deedra McClearn, a long-time OTS course coordinator, researcher, and former station director, who had been recording Saccoloma inaequale fern frond ages for the past 12 years at La Selva and Dr. Christopher Krieg, now a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was conducting hydraulic research on epiphytic species with Dr. Eddie Watkins, Dr. Courtney Campany, and others. Finding themselves together at La Selva, they struck up a conversation and idea for a project using Dr. McClearn’s knowledge of S. inaequale frond ages.
Dr. Krieg and collaborators, Dr. Campany, Prof. Watkins, and others took morphological and physiological measurements of the S. inaequale ferns and measured variables relating to photosynthetic rate and resource acquisition and allocation. Dr. McClearn’s research provided a baseline knowledge of fern frond ages to contextualize the physiological trait variation across developmental stages. Their data demonstrated that middle-aged fronds (>1<2 years) maximized efficiency in regards to photosynthetic returns on nitrogen and carbon investments compared to older, mature fronds and maximized water-use efficiency relative to younger fronds.
Fast-forward to 2023, and their research has been recently published in the American Journal of Botany. Their paper, "Functional Traits and Trait Co-ordination Change Over the Life of a Leaf in a Tropical Fern Species," is the product of this chance meeting and provides rare insight into the physiological mechanisms that underlie life history and population demographics in ferns.
Check out our science!
Photo: Marius Roesti
Dolph Schluter (Tom Lake, Canada)
James Raich (Iowa State University) and co-authors examined soil carbon emissions from several sites, including La Selva Research Station, to understand how environmental factors might limit CO2 emissions from respiration by soils, which is a major source of atmospheric CO2. The authors analyzed measurements from tree plantations established in 1988–1989 on newly abandoned pastures at La Selva (see citations in Raich et al. 2023). In the new analysis, local-scale soil-CO2 emissions were limited by a complex set of factors across, including vegetation complexity and air temperature.
Dolph Schluter (University of British Columbia) is the 2023 Crafoord Laureate in Biosciences. Schluter has studied the process and rate of speciation across a range of species, including fish and birds, and environments. He has published extensively on speciation gradients, no doubt in part inspired by time spent at Las Cruces Research Station.
The NSF-funded Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) REU resulted in impressive scientific productivity in 2021 and 2022, with fourteen different publications from La Selva and Las Cruces. Each of these publications had one or more student REU participants as authors. The subjects of these publications include carrion consumption by keel-billed toucans (A. Romero, U. Wisconsin, Whitewater); “scuba diving” by lizards (Swierk lab, SUNY Binghamton); spider web structure (led by D. Cotoras), lizard thermal tolerance (B. Putman lab, California State University San Bernardino, and L. Swierk), and tropical stream structure and function (M. Ardon and A. Ramirez labs, North Carolina State University, and C. Pringle lab, U. Georgia).
OTS is pleased to announce recipients of the Early Career Fellowships for this year. Each awardee will receive a stipend, 100 days of station fees at an OTS research station, and a research allowance. These fellowships were made possible by the generosity of many donors, including those giving to the Pamela Hall Early Career Fellowship, the Emily Foster Fellowship, and other fellowship funds.
- Cecilia Prada Cordero (Harvard University): “Response of woody species to eCO2 using CO2 top-open chambers in the field”
- Ezequiel Vanderhoeven (Subtropical Biology Institute and Brown University): “Health and nutrition of anteaters, armadillos, and sloths (Order Xenarthra)”
Laura Bizzarri (University of Connecticut): “Experimental demography and the effect of climate change on vital rates and fitness in tropical hummingbird flower mites”
- Lindsay McCulloch (Harvard University):“Light Gaps and Nitrogen fixation”
Mariana Gelambi (Virginia Tech University):“Fruit bats as agent of forest regeneration: effectiveness of synthetic chemical lures to attract bats”.
Introducing Donovan Tye, Director of Conservation Technology
We are excited to announce that Donovan Tye, Field Director at our South African office, will be taking on a new role as OTS Director of Conservation Technology. In this post, he will work with our education, science, and information systems to leverage emerging conservation technology in our field stations and training programs.
Donovan joined the OTS South Africa office in 2012 as a savanna ecologist after completing a MSc in Ecology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Over the past ten years, he has worked in field ecology across Southern Africa, teaching and developing field training courses in African ecology and field research. As an OTS alum (African Ecology and Conservation, 2010), he started with OTS as a teaching assistant on the African Ecology and Conservation program, later becoming a resident lecturer. He has worked in a range of ecosystems outside of savannas, including Cape fynbos, marine, freshwater, and desert ecosystems. Prior to joining OTS, Donovan worked as a systems and database developer. He has incorporated this experience in research projects aimed at field testing emerging conservation technologies in biodiversity monitoring. With the opening of the Skukuza Research Station in 2017, he took on the Station and Operations Manager role and, shortly thereafter, Field Director.
In the coming months, this post will focus on developing new conservation technology sector partnerships for OTS and identify applications for emerging technologies across OTS field sites and in our education programs
We are excited to be making new steps toward driving and supporting innovation in field research and training across our field stations.
OTS Alumni Ambassador Program: An interview with Martin Stoner
(Photo: Martin Stoner)
Martin ("Marty") Stoner
Tropical Biology in Costa Rica, Summer 2022
Macalester College, Class of 2025
Marty Stoner is one of the newest members of the OTS Alumni Ambassador program. As part of the program, he, and other recent OTS alumni, are highlighted on the OTS website and in publications.
Marty on why he decided to do an OTS program:
I decided to do the OTS program, because I am super interested in ecology, and I wanted to get a feel for real field work and hands-on experience. I was curious how I would like this kind of scientific work since I didn't have much experience with it before. Come to find out, I loved it!
What Marty would tell a prospective student thinking of joining an OTS program:
Be ready to work hard and dive into the activities. It's going to be busy, but take advantage of every opportunity to get to know your fellow course-mates and to get to know the places you are staying. Also, if you have any experience with Spanish at all, this can be a great course to practice! People are so friendly, and there are plenty of opportunities to meet someone new.
His final piece of advice:
Bring binoculars and a camera!!! The birds are amazing, and other wildlife is incredible too. Also, if possible, take a few days or a week at the end of your time to explore Costa Rica a bit more, maybe with friends you met on the course. This worked great for me!
You can learn more about Marty and all our newest Alumni Ambassadors here.
African Ecology & Conservation deadline extended to May 1
AEC students take a selfie in the largest tree in the Southern Hemisphere
The application deadline for the African Ecology & Conservation (AEC) Fall 2023 semester program has been extended until May 1, 2023. Interested students can apply online here.
During the semester, students will travel through national parks and reserves and visit historical sites from the far north of the country to the Cape. Students spend much of the semester in Kruger National Park, one of the largest conservation areas in Africa and the oldest national park in South Africa. Students are mentored by local and international academics, conservation managers, and other practitioners in ecology and conservation. By designing research projects with their professors, students will contribute meaningful scientific data to issues faced by managers in South African National Parks.
From Alana, on the current AEC program: “For one of our research projects...we set up camera traps. We got actual, usable data from this that we not only used to practice writing a scientific report but will also be used for long-term monitoring of the park, so what we did will have a long-term contribution to helping Kruger NP.”
Water in the Binational Basin of the Sixaola River: Transform the paradox
OTS, together with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), conducts the project "Conectando Comunidades y Ecosistemas – Cuenca Binacional del Río Sixaola."
The Sixaola basin is at risk because of the effects of serious environmental problems generated by human activity. We face a great paradox. The basin has a lot of water, but hundreds of people and communities do not have fair access to the resource, which is contaminated by agrochemicals of banana monocultures, waste, and other crises.
Advances with the Análisis Transfronterizo (AT)
In March, we developed the Análisis Transfronterizo (AT), which is a technical analysis of the environmental problems shared by Costa Rica and Panama in the basin, including their impacts and causes. The group that developed the AT recently met to discuss thematic reports on five key issues: gender perspective, governance, key actors, climate change, and access to health and water. We are working on this process with a team from the Programa Estado de la Nación (PEN).
In the coming months, we will begin the Programa de Acción Estratégica (PAE), which is a 10-year action plan to face priority problems and must be adopted at the highest level in both countries. To learn more about the AT-PAE, please see Video 1, which outlines the project and its methodology, and Video 2,which identifies the problems and their prioritization.
The role of women
A recent study developed to examine the participation of women and their organizations in the Binational Basin of the Sixaola River revealed that women are not generally involved in the management of water or decision-making around it. Few women are associated with the Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA, Costa Rica) and the Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados Nacionales (IDAAN, Panama).
The study has created a baseline to measure how projects and institutions promote the active participation of women in water governance.
You can follow the "Proyecto Conectando Comunidades y Ecosistemas" on its website, Facebook and Instagram.
Seven years ago, OTS launched an ambitious effort at the La Selva Research Station to improve energy efficiency, reduce energy consumption, and transition to solar power. These efforts were spearheaded by Drs. David and Deborah Clark, long-term researchers and former La Selva Station Directors.
The project made significant strides in 2018 when it received its first award from the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) initiative, a program within USAID. The USAID/ASHA initiative provides assistance to overseas schools, libraries, hospital centers, and centers of excellence to highlight American ideas and practices, to provide concrete illustrations of the generosity of the American people, to further U.S. Government public diplomacy, and to catalyze collaboration between U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries. ASHA works to promote a better understanding of the United States among the people of the world and to enhance cooperative international relations by strengthening local capacity and leadership.
With the first ASHA award, the solar panel project was expanded to double solar power production. A second ASHA award in 2020 increased solar power production at La Selva to over 75% of the station’s energy consumption.
With funds from ASHA, OTS has been able to lower our overall energy needs by replacing air conditioning units with efficient equipment, insulating the walls and ceilings in several buildings, and installing LED lighting. We have also been able to reduce water usage by upgrading faucets and installing low-flow toilets and water-free urinals. Scientists and students from around the world now have state-of-the-art equipment and facilities in the middle of a tropical forest. Their research is carried out in climate-controlled workstations and labs, and they have comfortable sleeping quarters and hot showers. They can experience the tropical forest first-hand with a minimal carbon footprint, thanks to American generosity and innovation.
By partnering with ASHA, OTS was able to leverage private support and expertise in order to accomplish tremendous change in our operations that aligns with and advances our water and energy conservation values.
Recently the solar panel project at La Selva was featured at the ASHA’s annual meeting. Click to see the video.
For more information about the work at La Selva, please contact Jim Boyle.
Wilson Botanical Garden: a place for medicinal plants and vibrant alliances
On February 14, the Las Cruces Research Station and Wilson Botanical Garden (OTS) was the meet-up point for enthusiasts of medicinal plants to celebrate the conclusion of the "Reconnecting with Plants of Traditional Use" project. The initiative was funded by the Canadian Embassy in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras, through the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), and implemented in alliance with IISAAK OLAM Foundation and Naa’Waya’Sum Coastal Indigenous Gardens (IOF). The project aimed to examine the indigenous cosmovision for education, conservation, and protection of the environment; strengthen collaboration between stakeholders; and promote ancestral knowledge about medicinal plants.
Thanks to the Ngäbe Buglé indigenous territory’s valuable knowledge, the team was able to identify and label more than 30 species of medicinal plants found in the Las Cruces forest. In addition, the project selected a group of 40 plants to establish a new medicinal garden. Both collections are now open to educate visitors to Las Cruces about the qualities and potential uses of these plants.
The final event also served to strengthen alliances and collaboration. Terry Dorward, IOF Director, expressed his interest to continue this dialogue and reconnect with indigenous communities’ legacies throughout the American continents. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed, designating the IOF and OTS locations as Sister Gardens.
"Reconnecting with Plants of Traditional Use" attracted new and old allies of OTS. The IOF-OTS partnership promises to benefit the community and ecosystems surrounding the garden for the future of the tropics.
Do you want to see incredible places with wonderful people, deepen your understanding of local ecosystems and cultures, and support an amazing cause? Then join one of OTS’ Member Tours!
Into the heart of South Africa: A social-ecological journey through ecology, conservation, and social justice. August 10 – 21, 2023.
60th Anniversary Member Tour: A visit to all three OTS field stations in Costa Rica. December 2023.
For more information about either trip, please contact Jim Boyle.
Help create a better future
It is easy to get depressed by population declines in birds, insects, and other wild creatures. Habitat loss and illegal collection for the pet trade often play a part in these declines.
This is a reminder that for 60 years Las Cruces, La Selva, and Palo Verde have done more than facilitate research and education. The stations protect wildlife and rare plant species by acting as stewards to thousands of acres of forest and wetland. This effort has been matched at OTS’ Skukuza Research Station in South Africa for nearly 20 years. It is that simple.
OTS supports the work of local governments and local communities with wildlife corridors, strict protection areas, education, antipoaching patrols, and more.
But the stations need continued help from friends like you. Donations and in-kind gifts from former students and faculty, friends, and our station neighbors play a central role in ensuring OTS conservation efforts are enduring and effective.
You can make a credit card gift using the link below.
We are also ready and willing to work with you if you want to discuss a gift of real estate, appreciated stock, or another non-traditional form of donation. Since this type of donation may require some planning, now is an excellent time to start. Please contact Jim Boyle.
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