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A Week in the Life of a Conservation Volunteer

Blogpost written by Sydney Denham, Conservation Volunteer

Underneath Osa's Canopy; photo by Manuel Sánchez

Underneath Osa’s Canopy. Photo by Manuel Sánchez

As a Conservation Volunteer at Osa Conservation, I get the best of every world. I am taking a year off after graduating high school to explore my many interests in an attempt to better understand some of the subjects I am considering studying in college, one of which is biology. What better place to fully experience the life of a field biologist than at a research station in one of the most biologically intense places on Earth, surrounded by scientists in action? By taking a look at just one of my five weeks at Osa, you can get a glimpse of the many fields of study operating in this ecosystem. By participating in many of Osa’s projects, I can see the important connections between various areas of research, and get a taste of what being a field biologist is all about.
One day, I might wake up at 4:30 am to do a turtle patrol. Rain or shine, dark or light, I’ll walk down to one of the two beaches that several species of sea turtles use as laying grounds. Trudging through the sand, we will look for signs of a nest in need of relocating or that has been pillaged by hungry predators. We will put on our gloves and get to digging, then measure, count and carry the sea turtle eggs. In just a single day I will witness some of the most important stages of a turtle’s life cycle.

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Nesting sea turtle on the shore of the Osa.              Photo by Manuel Sánchez

That same day, I might work with the plots, where I tag, plant, and map our future rainforests. I could see spider monkeys climbing through nearby trees, knowing that generations later, their offspring will be eating the fruit and climbing through the now one-meter-tall trees I’ve just measured.

Another day I might go out and observe stingless bees for a couple of hours at the base of a great Ajo tree. I will jot down notes of their behavior, thinking they too will live in the trees of the budding rainforest I recently tagged. During the stroll back to the station, I can see the clear water of Rio Piro and remember the lessons of its importance to the monkeys, bees, and trees that make up a fraction of the peninsula’s biodiversity. 

 

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Volunteer working with Rio Piro; photo by Sawyer Judge

As I continue to help the hard-working scientists in their fields, I gain a better understanding of the interconnectedness of the work done at Osa Conservation. No one field is more important than another, and each step forward in any of the programs is ultimately a success for every project. The regeneration of forests leads to cleaner river water as well as population growth in jungle species. I get the sense that I am momentarily a single muscle in the legs of Osa Conservation, walking toward a greener Earth.

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Collective Action for Conservation: Osa’s Camera Trap Network

Blog written by Juan Carlos Crus Diaz, Feline Program Coordinator

I can clearly remember:  It was a hot but humid morning, which is common in this area during the dry season. As we walk through the rainforest, we struggle to keep our pace on the trail – it is steep and the humidity make us feel like we are running a marathon. We come to the last hill and finally reach the ridge of the mountain chain that goes through Piedras Blancas National Park. We summit the top and can see both the dense forest on one side and the ocean in the other. The views are amazing!

This location on the Golfo Dulce in the Osa Peninsula is part of the property of Saladero Eco-Lodge, where the owners are excited about partnering with us to study Osa’s wildcats. We strategically place a camera trap along their property on the mountain ridge in hopes to obtain photographic evidence of the mammals, especially wildcats, that rely on these habitat routes to travel long distances.

 

First camera trap photo from Saladero Ecolodge of a jaguar on the property.

First camera trap photo (2014) from Saladero Ecolodge of a jaguar on the property.

After leaving the cameras in place for several months, we returned to retrieve the first photographs –  the results were revealing! Pumas and peccaries were easily spotted on the footage, highlighting the ongoing vital predator-prey relationship in the area. There were also an array of different mammals, birds and other wildlife. What biodiversity!

Great Curassow (Crax rubra) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

Great Curassow (Crax rubra) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

 

Collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

Collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

Since placing these first camera traps in 2014, more ecolodges have joined this collective effort. In 2017, partners joined forces around the Osa and launched the “Osa Camera Trap Network” –  one of the most diverse and collaborative research efforts in Central America. Year after year, more people have started to notice the importance of monitoring mammal populations that serve to maintain the integrity of these ecosystems. Communities that once only saw ecotourism development from afar, are now becoming a part of it. Community groups have formed important fauna monitoring projects and more locals have brought ecotourism to their communities where more people can benefit. And, most exciting, these local communities –  along with ecolodges, private owners, universities, governmental institutions and tourism agencies-  have joined together to study the wildcats as part of  this important Osa Camera Trap Network.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from “Rancho Quemado” installing camera traps.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from “Rancho Quemado” installing camera traps.

 

But studying wildcats is difficult. It requires covering large areas and a great amount of manpower.  Four years after the installation of the first camera trap in Saladero Ecolodge, I find myself walking through the dense forest in the boundary of Corcovado National Park and the community of “Los Planes.” Guided by two members of the community, we look for a suitable place  to install their camera trap station. As we sit on a fallen tree and discuss placing a camera trap at this location, I think how much we have achieved in the past four years in order to make this collaborative region-wide initiative a reality.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from the community group of “Los Planes” installing camera traps.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from the community group of “Los Planes” installing camera traps.

This year, the Osa Camera Trap Network is setting up more than 200 camera traps all over the Osa Peninsula!  This is the biggest array of camera traps ever carried out in Central America and importantly, it does not just belong to a single institution but rather to a collective group of stakeholders pursuing the same goal: to generate the scientific information necessary to conserve wildcats and prey.

 

2017 camera trap photo of a jaguar on Osa Conservation's property

2017 camera trap photo of a jaguar on Osa Conservation’s property

Times are changing and methods and approaches for research should change as well. We are in a special time to show that collective efforts can bring good results when it comes to solve problems that concerns to everyone. There is a saying in Costa Rica “Union makes force” but the one I like the most states “An image says more than a thousand words.

To learn more about Osa’s Camera Trap Network, as well as Osa Conservation’s Wildcat Conservation Program, please visit our program website.

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Dutchman’s Pipes: Velvet Traps and their Pollinators

Blogpost written by Marvin López, Botanical Specialist

Flowers of Aristolochia goudotii, commonly called pipevine, in its natural habitat. It is a woody, evergreen, twining vine of the birthwort family that produces unusual apetulous flowers, each of which features a calyx resembling a dutchman’s pipe.

Flowers of Aristolochia goudotii, a plant commonly called pipevine, in its natural habitat. It is a woody, evergreen, twining vine of the birthwort family that produces unusual apetulous flowers, each of which features a calyx resembling a dutchman’s pipe.

I have lived most of my life here, in the Osa Peninsula, one of the places with the most extensive forest cover of my country, Costa Rica. It holds a vast diversity of plant species, some of which are still unknown to the scientific world. There have been many changes in the region but, unfortunately, some of them like the population growth and soil degradation have not been good for the local flora and fauna.

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Aristolochia leuconeura, growing in the nursery. This plant is characterized by its pretty glabrous cordate leaves with leaf veins in white.

I started working in the forest almost 9 years ago and since my first day, I have not stopped learning about the flora of the region; every day I learn something new. Last year, I had the honor of joining the staff of Osa Conservation to work on the conservation of plants and their ecological processes. I have spent every New Year’s Eve in this unique place, in the middle of the rainforest, because I like to give myself lots of time to admire the vast diversity of plants. One of them is a vine full of flowers, the genus Aristolochia, commonly known as Dutchman’s pipes.  The species in this genus are characterized by a stunning pollination process. It is also said that these plants are carnivorous, but they only trap flies and other insects for a day then release them.

Birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae) section in the nursery.

Birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae) section in the nursery.

Their flowers have a tubular shape with a wide base that allows them to capture insects. The first flowering day, the flowers emit an intense perfume that smells like rotten meat to attract their pollinators. The flies then travel down the flower tube to where the receptive female part is located. The flies will get trapped inside of the flower, unable to escape due to the hairs that cover the inside. The second day, only when the flower have been pollinated, the smell disappears and the hairs wither as the floral tube widens, freeing the flies that get covered in pollen on their way out. Then, the flies will go inside another flower with fertile female organs, get trapped and pollinate the flower thanks to the pollen they were carrying. Finally, they escape the next day to start the process from the beginning.

Marvin labeling Aristolochia goudotii, in the nursery.

Marvin labeling Aristolochia goudotii, in the nursery.

In the Osa Peninsula, there are approximately 6 species of Aristolochia. We have been able to collect 3 species and plant them in the greenhouse. We will keep looking for more species in order to learn more about this wonderful plant and its ecological interaction with flies.

I would also like to encourage all of you to come and visit the Osa Peninsula during this season because, like this plant, many others develop flowers with beautiful and striking colors. It is a present that nature gives to our eyes. During these hot months, there is nothing better than finding a tree with good shade to lay down under, rest and enjoy the beautiful landscapes and sunsets of the Osa.

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Why Everyone Should Care About Rainforests

Post by Philip Przybyszewski, DC Office Intern.

A view of the far-reaching canopy and the Pacific Ocean from up above.

A view of the far-reaching canopy and the Pacific Ocean from up above.

No, this isn’t just an issue for raving environmentalists. This is a big deal for everyone. Even though they only cover 2% of the Earth’s surface, they are of utmost importance to all species, particularly humans.

Tropical rainforests are the wettest, most vegetation-intense biomes in the world, so densely-grown that a canopy is formed that weaves together the ecosystem into a far-spanning green landscape. Incredibly, this ecosystem is said to sustain over 50% of the world’s species. Often, these species are endemic, meaning they only inhabit these specific regions covered by rainforest. The diversity in the kinds of species present is unbelievable: from primates to felines, amphibians to insects.

A Capuchin monkey scours the tall trees and swing through its habitat in the canopy. Photo by Manuel Sánchez.

A Capuchin monkey scours the tall trees and swings through its habitat in the canopy. Photo by Manuel Sánchez.

For humans, rainforests are vital in diminishing the impact of climate change, as the dense vegetation absorbs CO2 and produces oxygen. Rainforest plants store the carbon emitted from human economic activity and offset the key negative impact of fossil fuels on the environment. Despite the clear service provided by this ecosystem to all species on Earth, their presence is dwindling, with an estimated 78 million acres lost every year, deforested to make room for hydroelectric dams, agricultural development, and mining operations. In the process of these globally-significant economic activities, humans destroy carbon-holding vegetation and simultaneously release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while eliminating one of the Earth’s best ways of storing it away.

The tropical wet forest of the Osa Peninsula is incredibly rich in vegetation. Here is just one angle covered by a camera trap.

The tropical wet forest of the Osa Peninsula is incredibly rich in green vegetation. Here is just one angle covered by a camera trap.

The Osa Peninsula is predominantly classified as a tropical wet forest, the biome most conducive to the flourishing of a rainforest. This small part of Costa Rica, alone, has over 300 species found nowhere else in the world and has the most intact system of mangrove forests and wetlands in all of Central America. Protecting tropical rainforests has been a local priority with global significance: rainforest health not only preserves the habitat of thousands of species, but also mitigates the negative impacts of unsustainable human economic development. The decisions of a geographically-limited few affect everyone, in the sense that Osa Conservation’s mission to preserve and protect the tropical rainforest of the Osa plays a small, but important part in the reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Massive, rain-carrying clouds form and unleash torrents of water daily in this topical environment. The intensive growth of the rainforest would be impossible without the sustenance provided by the beautiful thunderheads in the distance.

Massive, rain-carrying clouds form and unleash torrents of water daily in this tropical environment. The intensive growth of the rainforest would be impossible without the sustenance provided by the beautiful thunderheads in the distance.

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