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Nature’s Waterpark! Exploring Osa’s watershed with students

We have the best staffers at our stations! They really go above and beyond to involve themselves in the environment and to inspire others to do the same. Osa Conseravation enables high schools, universities and school groups to learn, hands-on, in our field courses. Students get an amazing chance to actively learn important lessons with dedicated researchers in the paradise that is Costa Rica! Read below for the unique perspective of an OC Resarch Field Assistant leading these educational excursions.

One of the greatest pleasures of working at Osa Conservation is being able to inspire the young school groups that visit.  Students from all overcome to Osa to learn about environmental science and conservation, and there is no better way to learn about these things than through hands-on methods in the field.  Osa Conservation provides these students the opportunity to do just that.

IMG Watershed students

We conduct workshops with the students, providing them with the necessary background information about the different systems we have here in the Osa.  We teach them sampling methods and teach them theories and principles to allow them to form their own conclusions using the data they collect.

One such system that we extensively study here are the different watersheds in the peninsula.  Before heading into the field, I give a presentation in the lab on the different variables we measure to determine water quality and overall watershed health.  We go over the appropriate methods and discuss why watersheds are important and the broader impacts they have on the ecosystem as a whole and to humans who drink this water.

Then we head into the field. After strapping on our boots, we tromp through the jungle to a nearby river.  Here, the students get the chance physically implement the methods we discussed in the lab, measuring variables such as the amount of dissolved oxygen in the river, the pH of the river, and the amount of suspended solids in the water.  After measuring the chemical and physical properties of the river, we do a macro-invertebrate survey.  These animals are used as bio-indicators of the quality of the water as certain species can only survive in certain quality of water. It is by far the students’ favorite part.

Exploring Osa's watershed

I pass out sieves and nets and the students are unleashed into the river to sample all the micro-habitats within the river to catch as many macro-invertebrates as they can.  They excitedly exclaim “I’ve got something! What is it?  It’s jumping!”  We collect all the samples in buckets, physically  sitting in the river as we do so, and go through and identify their findings.  Throwing back the non-invertebrates, like tadpoles and fish, we keep the snails, shrimp, and insects like dragonfly, caddisfly, stonefly, beetle, and mayfly larvae.  The presence and absence of certain species then indicates the health of the river ecosystem and the quality of the water.   By the end, we’re all soaked from head to toe, but the students are always reluctant to go back to the station.

Through these workshops, they learn valuable field methods, but mostly, they gain a deep appreciation for nature, the interconnectivity of different ecosystems, and the impact humans have on them.  Though not all of the students want to become conservationists or scientists when they get older, by giving the kids an opportunity to interact with an environment they would otherwise not have access to, we are inspiring the generation by educating them about these crucial issues.

Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

A Night with Bats

Bats. These nocturnal creatures tend to get a bad rap. Associated for centuries with mythical creatures of the night, and used as Halloween decorations to add eeriness to a haunted house, the real life mammal often gets overlooked. OC aims to change that by collaborating with experts and educating the public on the crucial role bats play in restoration.

Recently, Osa Conservation was honored with a visit from 2 remarkable scientists in the bat world: Cullen Geiselman, bat biologist and board member of Bat Conservation International & Gloriana Chaverri, a University of Costa Rica professor and respected bat biologist who conducts ongoing research at OC’s properties.

Chaverri and Geiselman visited Osa Conservation to brainstorm with OC on how we can help make people aware of how crucial this magnificent animal is to the Osa and the myriad ecosystems they inhabit.

Along with OC Science & Education Director, Jim Palmer, they explored Chaverri’s research sites and visited Osa Conservation’s newest property, Osa Verde. Osa Verde will, among other things, be the site of experimental restoration plots where researchers and students will study the process of forest succession in the Osa to help improve reforestation efforts. (For more information, please visit http://osaconservation.org/visit-the-osa/volunteer/tropical-reforestation/). This site will be important for bat research and conservation efforts as we study their impact on regeneration through seed dispersal and monitor their presence in strategically placed bat boxes.

One night of the visit, under the cover of the dense canopy and the starry Costa Rican sky, these expert bat wranglers set up mist nets to capture and study bats. Volunteers and visitors watched in awe as they collected data on the bats and released them.

It was a fun, successful visit. OC staff and station visitors learned a lot from hearing about the work of Geiselman and Chaverri and taking part in an evening of mist netting. We all gained a great appreciation for these cute mammals and OC looks forward to sharing this information and spreading the message! Bats rock!

Fast Facts About Bats!

  • Bats eat bugs! In the U.S. bats are estimated to be worth more than $3.7 billion a year in reduced crop damage and pesticide use.
  • Bats are important pollinators! Some of the commercial products that bats help provide include: bananas, peaches, cloves, carob, and agave.
  • Bats play a key role in reforestation! Fruit-eating bats help repopulate tropical forests by dispersing the seeds of fruiting trees over wide areas. Bats are important seed dispersers for avocados, dates, figs, and cashews – to name a few.

Source: Bat Conservation International

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Environmental Festivals in the Osa

World Environment Day, 2nd Anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

In early June, we had three important celebrations: World Environment Day, the 2nd anniversary of the Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and the inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

World Environment Day was celebrated in early June, and had participation from diverse groups of people. We had students from various educational centers participate as well as people from organizations and businesses with various fields of focus, like mangroves in the case of Fundación Neotrópica, sea turtles in the case of LAST (Latin American Sea Turtles) and sustainable forest plantations in the case of LACT. The support and participation of local farmers and artisans with the exhibition and sale of their products topped off a great turnout.

Furthermore, this y11011808_442506935917583_1591210675148998070_near we celebrated two important events in forest culture. First, the second anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum was on June 14. This museum of trees on the Osa Peninsula includes emblematic and threatened species like the ajo negro (Anthodiscus chocoensis), the camíbar (Copaifera aromatica), the nazareno or purpleheart (Peltogyne purpurea Pittier), the cristóbal (Platymiscium pinnatum) and the breadnut or Maya nut (Brosimum alicastrum).

Lastly, on June 15 was the inauguration of the Centenary Forest. This day pays homage to the 100 years of the institutionalization of National Tree Day by President Alfredo González Flores, and also to honor the people and institutions that have worked toward the conservation of the forests like Don Álvaro Ugalde, Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwach. This has been and initiative of the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, as a strategy to promote forest culture in the communities of the Osa and to promote an appreciation for the forests and their ecosystem services.

Celebrations like these are crucial to community outreach, especially to the younger generations. By celebrating how far we’ve come and our accomplishments in conservation, we get people excited about nature and inspire more action to protect it in the future!

Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Golfo Dulce Poison Dart Frogs

Submitted by Steven Waldron; Seattle, WA

Twenty years ago, I backpacked and hiked along the wild beaches and coastal rainforests of the Osa peninsula and became acquainted with some of the fantastic wildlife that the region is well-known for. Near the Sirena station at Corcovado National Park, I became intimate with the loud squawks of Scarlet Macaws sailing overhead, the crash of surprised tapirs bolting through the forest, and the pre-dawn chorus of Howler monkeys. One of the sensory aspects I appreciate most about exploring this region is the rich array of sounds that greets the rainforest naturalist. The forests of the Osa are alive with every kind of exotic screech, hoot, cry, whistle and howl. However, there was one voice that alluded me during that first trip many years ago; that of a little poison dart frog unique to the region, Phyllobates vittatus, the Golfo Dulce poison dart frog. Though the call of Phyllobates vittatus was certainly in the mix of the rainforest cacophony that greeted me back then, I just didn’t know how to identify it and discover its secrets within the complex mystery of the jungle matrix. On a recent trip to the Cabo Matapalo region, I was focused on encountering this beautiful red/black/green jewel of a frog and to document some of its natural history and beauty in photos.

From my research, I knew that Phyllobates vittatus is endemic to southwestern Costa Rica and found from Domincal in the north to (likely) the Boruca peninsula in the south. Due to its limited distribution, P. vittatus is listed by the IUCN as an endangered species. P. vittatus is known to inhabit primary forest microhabitats near streams; it’s diurnal and dwells in the leaf litter of the forest understory. Phyllobates vittatus is one of the true poison dart frogs with another sister species found in the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica and Panama (Phyllobates lugubris) and three other known relative species in the Chocó rainforest of Colombia (Phyllobates aurotaenia, Phyllobates bicolor and Phyllobates terribilis). The evolutionary links to the Chocó appear to be a common theme in Osa natural history.

19881843978_7859cdbac4_oDuring our first day in the Matapalo forest, my wife and I went for a late afternoon walk along a perennial creek with a rocky stream bed covered in fallen leaves. It seemed like the ideal habitat for Phyllobates vitiates, and it was! My wife found our first Phyllobates vittatus hanging out in a sheltered spot below a fallen log. Interestingly, I found this very frog in the same spot during my informal surveys over the course of the next week. P. vittatus appears to be fairly territorial in its habits. As the night was approaching quickly, my wife and I decided to resume our Phyllobates search for the following morning. A few hours after the next dawn, we were rewarded with the discovery of several vocalizing males singing from the creek banks. Luckily, I was able to photograph the frogs in their microhabitat and witnessed several courting male/female pairs.

Despite their toxic nature and bold coloration, P. vittatus is a fairly shy frog that is more often heard than seen. Once you learn the song of this frog, you realize that they are locally abundant in the Osa forests. However, the calling males will usually quickly fall silent and retreat into rock crevices or leaf litter when they feel threatened or discovered. Without this interruption, the typical reproduction process would proceed as follow:

The male P. vittatus serenades the female as she looks on. If all goes well, and both parties are mutually interested, the pair will retire to a sheltered spot in the fallen leaves where they will lay 7 to 21 eggs. The eggs will hatch in a couple of weeks; during that time period the male will periodically return to the developing embryos and moisten them with water shed from a specialized patch of vascularized tissue on his posterior. When the tadpoles hatch, they will then be visited by their father, climb onto his back and he will hop off into the forest to find a small pool of water for them to complete their development into little frogs some forty-five days later.

As our days of birding, botanizing and frogging unfolded during our relaxing week in Cabo Matapalo, the song of Phyllobates vittatus was a constant companion as it greeted us cheerfully from nearly every creek, spring and stream bed along the forest trails we visited. I came to look forward to hearing it as much as I enjoyed the raucous call of the macaws, the screech of the parakeets, the complaints of monkeys and the crashing of waves along the wild beaches. I realized that Phyllobates vittatus presence in these forests is a small but critical voice in the rich tapestry of biodiversity that gives southwestern Costa Rica its unique and charming character.