Amazon Conservation Team in Osa: Birds of a Feather…

Photo Credit: Crisbellt Alvarado

The Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) recently held a major international, intercultural planning meeting last week in the Osa Peninsula. Attendees gathered from offices in Colombia and Suriname and also the ACT Headquarters in Arlington. Tribal representatives from six different partner communities also traveled from far and wide to participate.

The meeting was the brainchild of Liliana Madrigal, Vice-President and Co-Founder of ACT, who also serves as Osa Conservation’s Board President. A native Costa Rican, Liliana helped found the Nature Conservancy’s International Program and Conservation International. She was also one of the very first winners of the prestigious Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

Liliana and Kogi Elder

Liliana Madrigal passes a reflective moment with Santos Sauna of the Kogi peoples

The Osa Peninsula was chosen for the setting of the meeting because it is “halfway to everywhere” and ideal for bringing together people from Brazil, Colombia, Suriname and the U.S. More importantly, it was decided that Osa was a place where both indigenous (and non-indigenous) people from South America could see first-hand rainforest conservation success stories since Osa has an intricate and complicated mosaic of different landscapes (national park, research station, private lands, etc.) that are managed in sync, thanks primarily to Osa Conservation and other local colleagues.

All the attendees were very impressed: by the forest, the research stations, the infrastructure, and – most of all – the fierce dedication and generous hospitality of the Osa Conservation staff. We will return!

Mark Plotkin, President, Amazon Conservation Team

Aquatic Health, Marine Conservation

Aquaculture: A Sustainable Solution to the Global Seafood Crisis?

By: Clara Gomez

The world’s seafood stocks will have completely collapsed by the year 2050, scientists say.  According to a study done by a group of economists and ecologists, the growth of the human population combined with unsustainable fishing practices and the devastating loss of biodiversity will lead to the collapse of fish populations in the next 35 years, if trends continue on their current path.

If the idea of losing all of the world’s fish scares you as much as it scares me, then you’re wondering how we disrupt the current “trend” of unsustainable overfishing.  One option is through the use of aquaculture.  Aquaculture, also known as fish or shellfish farming refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes and the ocean.  

Although the global community is just beginning to think of aquaculture as a potential solution to the dilemma of depleted oceans, the fact is that it’s not a new practice. In fact, although historians say that the cradle of aquaculture existed in China 4,000 years ago, recent archaeological evidence (2003) suggests that the Gunditjmara tribe of Australia already had a system to raise and cultivate eels in in the southeast of the country 8,000 years ago.  The system was so efficient (after being designed as an alternative method for procuring food) that traditional practices remained stable throughout history!! Or at least not until Stephan Ludwig Jacobi appeared on the scene, at some point in the early XVIII century.

Thanks to Jacobi and his article ‘Von der künstlichen Erzeugung der Forellen und Lachse’, aquaculture became a part of mainstream science due to the success based off of his experiments in the external fertilization of trout and salmon. Not only in terms of self-sustainability, but also of commerce at an industrial level. From then on all manner of projects and investments began, and thus was born the second generation of aquaculture─ the modern aquaculture we all know today, and which is currently reinventing itself to adapt to a society increasingly aware of its impact on the environment.

Part of this shift in the way aquaculture utilized is the utilization of what’s called Integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture.  While it sounds complicated, it’s an idea that involves the raising of diverse organisms within the same farming system, where each species utilizes a distinct niche and distinct resources within the farming complex.  This allows the fish to be raised in a much more biodiverse, nature-like setting. Additionally, this system utilizes a circular economy–the idea that the waste from one product serves as nutrients for another.  So, raising plants and fish together both cuts down on cost and waste. This current of change, in conjunction with the holistic approach that Osa Conservation has in regards to conservation, is what prompted the organization to plan the future fusion between a multi-trophic aquaculture project (still in development), and its already successful sustainable agriculture program. A large number of scientific publications (many published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) support these projects, and the tropical climate of Costa Rica is perfect for local breeding of sea creatures.  What’s the harm in trying?aquaculture, circular economy

If successful, this new project of integrated, multi trophic aquaculture would be extremely beneficial in the following three areas:


The integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture system mimics the relationships among organisms in the natural world (not just by raising aquatic organisms and terrestrial plants together, but also by using one organism’s waste as input for others).  It also ensures both the optimal use of resources and the reduction of water pollution and eutrophication levels.


This new and improved system of aquaculture represents a positive step towards the self-sufficiency of Osa Conservation, and as such also represents a reduction of costs in terms of food imports from San Jose. Likewise, the implementation of a new food cultivation system could mean new employment opportunities for locals.


Not only is the integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture system is easy to understand, but it has the potential  to include human waste as part of its cycle. That means that both the system’s facilities (eg tanks external fertilization, duck ponds, rice fields, etc) as food produced through it (eg shrimp species, and native fish) have potential to serve as educational material for both the local community and visitors of Osa. What better way is there to learn about aquaculture, than to see how everything works and then personally taste the final product?  Adopting a system of aquaculture in the Osa will allow OC to expand upon its teaching capacity and further embody its own standards of sustainability.  



1.“Aborigines may have farmed eels, built huts” ABC Science Australia:http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s806276.htm

2.“Analysis of the Aquaculture Market in the Costa Rican Metropolitan Area. Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura (2010): https://www.wpi.edu/Pubs/E-project/Available/E-project-121410-115309/unrestricted/Analysis_of_the_Aquaculture_Market_in_the_Costa_Rican_Metropolitan_Area.pdf

  1. “At a Crossroads: Will Aquaculture Fulfill thePromise of the Blue Revolution?” (SeaWeb Aquaculture Clearinghouse report, PDF): http://www.seaweb.org/resources/documents/reports_crossroads.pdf
  2. “Biomass Accumulation and Water Purification of Water Spinach Planted on Water Surface by Floating Beds for Treating Biogas Slurry”Journal of Environmental Protection (2013, PDF): http://file.scirp.org/pdf/JEP_2013111911133739.pdf

5.“Contribución de la pesca y la acuicultura a la seguridad alimentaria y el ingreso familiar en Centroamérica” Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación — FAO  (2014,PDF): http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3757s.pdf

6.“Culture of Fish in Rice Fields” (FAO, WorldFish Center. 2014) PDF:http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/a0823e/a0823e.pdf

7.“History of Agriculture” FAO Corporate Document Repository. http://www.fao.org/docrep/field/009/ag158e/AG158E01.htm

  1. FAO “Animal-Fish Systems: Integrated Fish-duck farming”


9.“Food from the sea. Remarkable results of the experiments in cod and lobster,(Pittsburgh Dispatch. aquaculture, 1890): https://www.newspapers.com/clip/3798097/food_from_the_sea_remarkable_results/

  1. Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture: What it is, and why you should care…..

and don’t confuse it with polyculture. (2006, PDF): http://www2.unb.ca/chopinlab/articles/files/Northern%20Aquaculture%20IMTA%20July%2006.pdf

11.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Atmenistration (NOAA): http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/aquaculture/what_is_aquaculture.html

  1. All Seafood Will Run Out in 2050, scientists Say (Charles Clover, 2006)



This Continga Is On Its Way: To Extinction

Once, the idea that animals would go extinct was unthinkable; it was believed that the world’s resources were so vast that they could never be extinguished.   Yet, the dwindling numbers of so many well-known species such as the ferocious Tiger tell a different story.  Extinction is a natural phenomenon and should occur at about 5 species per year.  However, human intervention, climate change, and other factors, that rate is much accelerated and has been estimated by the Center for Biological Diversity to be 1,000 to 10,000 times the rate that it should be. In other words, the rate of extinction is terrifying and means that thousands of species are going extinct each year.  Because of a few high-profile extinctions such as that of the famed Wooly Mammoth and Carrier Pigeon, people often use these stories as a framework for thinking about human impact.  In fact, the threat of extinction is one of the most powerful drivers to action in the environmental world.  Perhaps it’s power is rooted in our sense of loss, the idea that a familiar animal will be unknown to our children. Perhaps it’s the finality of extinction–the idea that those animals are never coming back.  Whatever it is, extinction is more than a threat–it is rampant in our world.

Extinction is extremely hard to document, and measurements of the overall health of the planet and its inhabitants is much more complex than the binary: “extinct” or “not extinct.” Not only is it difficult to track rare and undiscovered species, but there are many, many factors that go into such a general measurement. As Robert May, a leading extinction-rate expert, put it, “If we are to meet the challenges facing tomorrow’s world, we need a clearer understanding of how many species there are.” So…what to do?

Well, it actually is possible to come up with an estimate of existing species, based on estimates of habitat loss and how many species are known to currently exist, and how many (we think) have existed in history. These estimates are relatively accurate and can be used in all types of research.  Additionally, because thousands of new species are discovered every year, scientists are constantly discovering new ways to track important information about unknown and rare species.  For example, the Yellow Billed Cotinga has been historically difficult for scientists to track, as it is exceedingly rare.  However, thanks to the Yellow Billed Cotinga Sanctuary in the Osa and some hard work, more and more is being discovered about these illusive birds daily!


The Yellow Billed Continga

The Yellow Billed Continga

The Yellow Billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae), the Snowy cotinga (Carpodectes nitidus), and the Black-tipped cotinga (Carpodectes hopkei) are all considered “white” cotingas.  Of these three, only Yellow Billed and Snowy cotingas live in Costa Rica, but in different regions, making it very unlikely that their habitats will ever overlap, as if they weren’t difficult enough to track!

In fact, everything that we know about this highly endangered Costa Rican resident bird species comes from a single source: a series of telemetry studies beginning in 2009.  Despite the fact that the Yellow Billed Cotinga has a population of a mere 250-999 individuals and is found only on the southern Pacific coastal slope of Costa Rica, advanced technology has allowed scientists to conduct some pretty in-depth research.

In order to conduct this research, researchers captured three separate Yellow Billed cotingas (one adult female and two adult males) from a small population living in the mangroves of the Osa Peninsula and fitted them with small radio transmitters.  This allowed ornithologists (in collaboration with Osa Conservation as well as the American Bird Conservancy) to follow all three birds using nothing but their radio frequency signals and a hand-held GPS unit.  From these studies, scientists learned the actual distribution, habitat use patterns, daily behavior, and even spatial/temporal movements during the reproductive and non-reproductive times of the year.  


We will not compile all of the data from those studies here, but there were a few interesting findings.  The Yellow Billed cotinga grows to about 8 inches or 20 centimeters long and is often described as looking somewhat like a dove.  These birds spend most of their time in the tops of trees and move in relatively small groups.  Additionally, they eat mostly fruit and possibly some insects.  Mating for the Yellow Billed cotinga is very interesting. In fact, courting rituals are fairly complex and, like a gymnast on parallel bars,  males perform fancy flying maneuvers between leafless branches.  After mating, the real teamwork kicks in and as the female becomes a 24/7 housewife, males spend time feeding and making their territorial rounds.  


Another major finding about the Yellow Billed cotinga is the fact that it uses two habitats: mangroves for nesting, foraging, and roosting; and lowland forests for foraging.  This finding is perhaps the most significant as it is critical information for conservation purposes.  If we understand where these guys live and what is special about that specific habitat, then we know the most significant pieces of the rainforest to protect.  Coincidentally, the Pacific coast of the Osa Peninsula is a perfect habitat for the Yellow Billed cotinga, as mangroves and lowland rainforests are in close proximity to each other.  The fact that the Yellow Billed continga depends on the mangroves for nesting, foraging, and roosting is no surprise. In fact, the more research done about mangroves, the more scientists discover the specific and crucial role that these plants play.


A mangrove forest is a coastal forest made up of salt tolerant trees (halophytes) that are specifically adapted to life in harsh coastal conditions.  The roots of these trees contain a complex salt filtration system in addition to an interesting root system to cope with salt water immersion and wave action.  Not only do mangroves provide an important erosion buffer on coastlines around the world, the complex system of roots is often used as an ideal location for many types of animals to lay eggs, create nests, raise young ones, and even hunt.  


The Yellow Billed cotinga also depends on the lowland ‘moist’ rainforests, also present  in the Osa.  This is a very specific habitat that exists only in areas that bet between 1500 and 3000 mm of rainfall annually.  Because of the specific climate, lowland rainforests contain taller trees than other forests and has a unique animal species distribution that changes rapidly over short distances.

Mangroves as well as lowland rainforests are microclimates with high specificity and massive importance to many species not only in Costa Rica, but around the world.  Research on the organisms that rely on these microclimates is critical to understanding the real impacts of climate change and habitat destruction for future prevention as well as rehabilitation.


It is with this research and other studies like it that conservationists have the knowledge they need to effectively make a difference in long term conservation efforts.  Understanding the threats to the Yellow Billed Cotinga as well as their key habitats, behaviors, and preferences has allowed their final remaining stronghold, the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce to become a Yellow Billed Cotinga Sanctuary.  This is designed to protect the cotinga from threats such as habitat degradation due to deforestation and agricultural runoff.  The sanctuary itself is located near the town of Rincon on the eastern side of the Osa Peninsula and is a 11.8 hectare property frequented by more than just the Yellow Billed cotinga. The Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush and Yellow-throated Vireo have all been seen by birders on site.

The Yellow Billed Cotinga Sanctuary helps connect the mangrove forests of Rincon to the lowland forests located more inland.  Additionally, its location near the Rincon River helps ensure passage of Cotingas moving from their nesting grounds in mangroves to their feeding grounds in the rainforests.


With efforts like the creation of the Yellow Billed Cotinga Sanctuary, Osa Conservation hopes to conserve critical biological regions of the rainforest and begin working towards the stabilization of the Yellow Billed cotinga population, currently so low that the species is listed as endangered by both the IUCN’s Redlist and Birdlife International.  With the help of research and a comprehensive understanding of the deeply interconnected nature of the rainforest, we can strategically map out a plan for effective and cohesive conservation for the many animals, plants, and insects facing extinction.

yellowbilledcontiga3Note: Osa Conservation conducts annual avian monitoring and surveys in the YBC Sanctuary and its other properties in order to have a record of species and change over time, and to measure the success of their efforts.





Encyclopedic Entry, National Geographic: http://nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/rain-shadow/

How many animals are really going extinct?: The fierce scientific debate over whether our estimates are right, and whether even discussing it could hurt conservation efforts (The Boston Globe, 2014): https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/10/04/how-many-animals-are-really-going-extinct/ZBURDtG4MxGHiRAPQRTafP/story.html

Osa’s Yellow-billed  Cotinga http://osaconservation.org/projects/wildlife/birds/osas-yellow-billed-cotinga/

Planet of Birds: Yellow-Billed Cotinga http://www.planetofbirds.com/the-yellow-billed-cotinga-sanctuary-in-costa-rica

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Yellow-billed  Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae)  http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22700907/0

Trees of Panama and Costa Rica, by Richard Condit, Rolando Pérez & Nefertaris Daguerre http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9289.pdf

Race Is on to Study Rare Costa Rican Bird : Discovery News, 2011 http://www.seeker.com/race-is-on-to-study-rare-costa-rican-bird-discovery-news-1765195108.html

Sighting of Yellow Billed Cotinga (2014, OC Blogpost) http://osaconservation.org/2014/10/sighting-of-the-yellow-billed-cotinga/

Yellow-billed Cotinga Conservation and Research (2011, OC Blogpost): http://osaconservation.org/2011/06/yellow-billed-cotinga-conservation-and-research/

WWF: Central America – Western  Costa Rica http://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/nt0119


Wonder-Bats: Answering the Call for Conservation

Bats Around the World

When you hear “bat”, what do you think of? A small, hairy creature that is active  in the darkest hours of the night and who sleeps upside down? (That’s what I think of!)  And it’s true! But there is so much more to bats than that. Did you know that bats are the second largest order of mammals in the word? In fact, there are more than 1,300 bat species worldwide and they represent about 20% of all classified mammal species! And, they play a huge, often underappreciated role in ecosystems across the globe.  Humans may have a lot to learn from these nighttime predators as they are critical to pollination, reforestation, and even pest control.

First, a little background.  Bats are categorized into two groups.  The first are the fruit-eating megabats (also known as flying foxes).  This group makes up 30% of bat species, and, as their name suggests, they consume various types of fruit.  The second group is the echolocating microbats, which makes up the other 70% of bat species.  The bats in this group use echolocation, a sort of  night vision to hunt and consume small insects.



Not only do bats make up a huge chunk of mammals, but they are found worldwide.  34% of all bat species are found in Asia, 26% in Latin America, 21% in Africa, 13% in Oceania, and 6% in the US/Canada and other regions. While often overlooked, bats are key to the ongoing success of many ecosystems–both as pollinators and predators working to keep insect populations under control.

Bats in the Tropics

The warm weather and constant availability of fruit in the Tropics makes it a paradise for fruit-eating bats who live there in abundance.  However, insectivorous bats, vampire bats, and nectar-feeding bats are also very common in the rich, warm, biodiverse ecosystems of this region.

Fruit bats vary in size, from around two inches in length up to a whopping 16 inches with a wingspan of over five feet at their largest! The tiniest bats weigh a few ounces while the biggest ones can even weigh a few pounds. Additionally, fruit-eating bats have very large eyes and excellent vision, so they depend mostly on sight and their sophisticated sense of smell for daily activities such as foraging for fruit.

Photo by Merlin D. Tuttle

Photo by Merlin D. Tuttle

Non-fruit-eating bats, or the echolocating microbats eat mostly insects.  Insectivores and other carnivorous bats lack the superior eyesight of the fruit-eating bats and rely on echolocation to find and consume their prey.  Surprisingly, this lack of eyesight is not at all a disadvantage for these bats.  In fact, a single echolocating bat can consume over 3,000 insects in one night!  

Nectar-feeding bats are important pollinators of tropical rainforest plants. Like fruit-eating bats, nectar-feeding bats rely on sight to locate their primary source of food: flower nectar. To gain access into those hard-to-reach flowers, these bats are equipped with a long, thin tongue, like that of a hummingbird!  As they rub up against the flowers to reach the prized nectar, they become vital pollinators for the rainforest.

Vampire bats have a reputation as the scary creatures from horror films, but in reality they feed on farm animals in tropical regions.  They use their chisel-like incisor teeth to make a tiny incision in the animal’s skin in the darkest hours of the night to avoid predators.

Why are Bats Important as Pollinators?

Plants Need Bats

Bats pollinate many ecologically and economically important plants around the world. In fact, there are at least 500 species of flowers that rely on bats as their pollinators. While more common pollinators like butterflies and birds are general pollinators (meaning they collect pollen from many different plants), bats have specific preferences when it comes to which flowers they pollinate.  Many of these unique flowers have even evolved to attract bats as opposed to other, general pollinators.  Some of these adaptations include always being open at night (ready for pollination and closed during the day), large in size, pale in color, and very fragrant with a fermenting or fruit-like odor.  Often times, the flowers offer a copious amount of dilute nectar to attract the bats.  

Long Nosed bat

Long Nosed bat

In addition to the beautiful flowers, bats do great favors in pollinating other plants. In Australia, flying foxes, nectar, and fruit eating mega bats, pollinate the dry eucalyptus forests that produce timber and oil for human use. Mexican agave plants, a source of fiber and a key ingredient for tequila, are additionally dependent on the pollination services of several types of nectar-feeding bats. Thanks to bats, we have a variety of excellent resources.


Not only do bats love eating fruit, but they are also crucial in providing humans with a variety of fruits.  Mangoes, bananas, guavas, and peaches are just a few of these delicious fruits that are predominantly pollinated by bats.


Bats and Reforestation

Deforestation of the Tropics is a huge, worldwide issue. And, believe it or not, fruit-eating bats play a critical role in dealing with this issue!  Bats are super effective in that they widely disperse seeds to degraded, deforested areas.  The bat world is exceptionally diverse and abundant, with a variety of canopy and understory feeding habits.  Their ability to fly (and quickly!) allows them to cover large distances during their nightly foraging flights, allowing them to reach deforested and degraded areas of the forest more easily than any human.

Some German scientists have done related research, further reiterating the fact that bats are crucial to reforestation efforts.  In one study, artificial bat roosts were installed in some deforested areas to attract  more bats to the region.  Evidence from the study showed that that there were, in fact, significant increases in seed dispersal over this wide range of sparse forest!  Bats are a fantastic and natural way to help us speed up forest regeneration.

Bats in the Osa!

There are many bat species in Osa. According to the research done by Doris Audet at Osa Conservation’s Piro BioStation, 33 species of bats from six families have been identified over the course of  32 nights of sampling. Phyllostomidae (leaf-nosed bats) were the predominant family in the captures. The presence of a diverse bat population in Osa Conservation’s old growth properties demonstrates that the forest is strong and healthy.  Additionally, their presence will be a huge aid in the regeneration of some of the previously degenerated areas.


Bats are potentially some of the most overlooked and forgotten about creatures of the forest, yet they play a huge role.  Not only do they keep pest populations low, but they also pollinate our plants and help restore the forest.  Understanding their role in both the ecosystem and the human world is crucial to their conservation and continued success and appreciation.  Thank you bats!!


Relationships Are Tough: Orchid Bees and Orchids.

Have you ever seen the Exaerete, the bright green bee as long as your finger?  What about the Euglossa, known for it’s metallic blue, green, or red body? These insects and many others like them aren’t just any bees—they’re Orchid Bees.  The Euglossini (the umbrella term for Orchid Bees) are some of the most important pollinator insects of the Neotropics, known for their unique coloring, size, and even shape.  Their bodies can be partially metallic or covered in brown or black hair.  From Mexico to Argentina (and Florida where they were accidentally introduced), Orchid Bees rule the bug world.

E. Frontalis

E. Frontalis



Euglossini collect nectar, pollen, and resin from plants just like any other bees, with an added special trait—they collect “odoriferous compounds”!  What, you may ask, is an odoriferous compound? Well, it’s just a fancy way of saying that Orchid Bees collect fragrances from very specific species of orchid.  Each species of Orchid bee has a fragrance preference and each orchid has a specific fragrance.  Ultimately, this means that specific species of Orchid bees are attracted to specific species of Orchid! Not only does the Euglossini collect the fragrances, but it also uses them for courtship purposes.  In other words, the male Euglossini has evolved to be extraordinarily picky in the smells that it collects and uses to attract a female to mate with.  Additionally, because the orchids are pollinated as the bee collects the fragrance, some orchid species are more likely to be pollinated than others.

Aglae caerulea

Aglae caerulea

        Unfortunately for all you Orchid enthusiasts, this is potentially bad news.  Orchids have evolved to specifically cater to an Orchid Bee’s preferences, meaning that many orchids can only be pollinated by one or two species of Orchid Bee!  Additionally, estimates say that the survival of around 700 species of orchid (equivalent to 10% of the Neotropical Orchidae) is dependent solely on the existence of these insects! Yep, you heard me—no orchid bees means no orchids. Think twice the next time you have the urge to swat a bee!

Despite this risk, orchids are relatively self-sufficient and have some amazing (and creative) adaptations to ensure pollination.  Enticing bees with scents of vanilla, cinnamon, and even rotting meat is just the beginning.  As a bee crawls into the flower of an orchid to collect the perfume, the orchids actually glue packets of pollen (called pollinaria) onto the bees in places where the packets will not easily rub off.  Now, the pollinaria will pollinate the next flower of the same species that the orchid bee visits.  In this way, the bee’s pollination is more efficient and more orchids are pollinated!  This relationship is often described as asymmetric mutualism, which means that both species benefit from each other without completely relying on the symbiotic partner for survival.  Even though some relationships between Orchid Bee and orchid rely more on each other, for the most part there are multiple pollinators for every orchid and additionally multiple orchids for every Orchid Bee.  This asymmetric relationship isn’t just mutually beneficial, but it actually has really influenced the evolution of the orchid bee, allowing a male Euglossini’s preferred fragrance mixture to evolve rapidly when there is a disturbance to the system, such as an environmental disturbance, allowing both the bee and orchid populations to be resilient. The relationship between Bee and orchid attests to the power of nature to overcome challenges and evolution as nature’s problem-solver.

orchid beeflower




“Asynchronous Diversification in a Specialized Plant-Pollinator Mutualism” (PDF, 2011): http://www.eve.ucdavis.edu/sanram/pubs/Ramirez_et_al_2011_Science.pdf

Evolution, adaptation, and speciation of plant-pollinator mutualisms. Comparative and population genomics of bees and their associated host plants. Phylogenetics, chemical ecology, neuro-ethology, and natural history of insect-plant interactions. (University of California. Costa Rica based project). http://www.eve.ucdavis.edu/sanram/index.html

“The Role of Asymmetric Interactions on the Effect of Habitat Destruction in Mutualistic Networks” http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0021028


Kinkajou Rescue: The Cutest Animal in Costa Rica

Written by: Holly Fagan

When I left England on a cold, dark morning in June I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I touched down in Costa Rica. I knew there was rainforest, but I didn’t really know what that was, and I knew I was going to do sea turtle conservation, but I had never done anything like it before. Now, back in England and reminiscing on my experience, I can say whole-heartedly that it was the best thing I have ever done.


I spent one glorious month at Estaciόn Piro on the Osa Peninsula. The surrounding rainforest is one of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever been. I saw two nesting Olive Ridley turtles, Coatis, Agoutis, countless birds, reptiles and insects and even a juvenile Cayman! But there is a special place reserved in my heart for Fleur, the baby Kinkajou.

Charlie and I were walking back from a morning patrol on Pejeperro beach when we were stopped in our tracks by a tiny ball of fur curled up in the middle of the trail. At first we were startled, not knowing what it was, thinking it was going to run off at any moment, but she was completely oblivious to us. We checked to see if she was breathing, she was. We tried making a few little noises to see if she would get up and move away as we thought she might be hurt, but she would not be disturbed from her sleep. They are nocturnal after all! There was nothing Charlie and I could do for her on our own so we dragged ourselves away and headed back to base for a well-earned breakfast.

We returned a few hours later with Manuel, the animal whisperer, to rescue her if she was still there. It was about 10 am so the chances of her mother coming back in the midday heat were next to none and the chances of her dying of dehydration, exposure or getting eaten by a bird, cat, or even ants, were very high. So we scooped her up and took her back to the station.k2

Kinkajous have a long tongue so they can feed off the nectar in plants. We started by trying to feed her a little sugary water but that didn’t go down too well so we gave her goats’ milk instead, which  she liked. She was very relaxed and animated. She stretched out and scratched her belly. They have the most amazing hands and feet, like humans but with big claws for gripping the branches. And she chewed her tail, like a child when it’s teething. I think she was too young to know fear because she was not nervous around us at all.



Our plan was to take her to a sanctuary that afternoon but alas the unpredictability of life in the jungle was no different that day so we nursed her overnight. She was so little and it was a cool and very wet night, so I got up to check on her and feed her twice. Once at midnight and again at about 3.30am when she started making a bit of a racket, a high pitched squeaking sound to be precise.

We took her to the Sanctuary the next day. She was strong and healthy, a spunky little survivor, and I am confident that they will be able to rehabilitate her back into the wild. I had many amazing experiences in Costa Rica but I will treasure my time with Fleur the most.



Sea Turtle Conservation – It Just Takes One

There is an often cited estimate that only 1 in 1000 sea turtles that hatch and make it to the ocean will survive to adulthood. With odds like that one can sometimes feel like the work is futile and has little impact. As Olivia points out in her blog this week – it just takes is one brush with success to remind us that every individual counts.

By: Olivia

Upon arriving to Osa to start my position as a Research Field Assistant (RFA), I was so excited to start a new life that involved working in my field of study and a new place to call home. To say each category has surpassed my expectations within the time I have been here would be only an understatement.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.56.23 PMComing from Canada, life in Costa Rica was going to be a massive change for me, however one that I was going to greet with open arms. I had my final exam for my Biology Degree at the end of April, and not two days later I was on a plane headed for my new life abroad. I finished University knowing I wanted to enter the field of conservation straight away, and am willingly missing my own graduation to do so.

Ever since I arrived for my first day on the job, I have been working and learning collectively with my fellow Research Field Assistant and Program Coordinator Manuel Sanchez Mendoza. Beach patrols are done everyday, at morning or at night, and our job as Sea Turtle RFAs involves monitoring the beach for sea turtle nesting activity. Our job is to record data on turtle observations from both our beaches, Playa Piro and Playa Pejeperro. On my second day and first patrol on our longer beach Pejeperro, Manuel and I found a group of green turtle hatchlings and I was ultimately able to help them reach the ocean.

I’ve come to realize that as unpredictable as the nesting turtles are, their hatchlings are just as much so. Only last week, I was taking a walk along Pejeperro in the mid-afternoonScreen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.56.34 PM and felt something brush against my foot. Looking down, I watched an Olive Ridley hatchling crawl along the top of my foot and shuffle as quickly as it could to the ocean – asymmetrically of course. Looking up along the sloping sand, I saw many siblings following behind. That afternoon, I was able to help around thirty hatchlings reach the ocean and avoid the majority of the scorching sun. After spending most of my time trying to save predated nests and rescue as many eggs as possible, it was incredibly rewarding to see what exactly I’ve dedicated my work here towards with the oddest timing.

We just finished building our sea turtle hatchery where we relocate nests in danger of being washed away by the river or of predation. The eggs from these nests are placed carefully in our nursery to ensure safety and healthy growth. Once the babies are ready to leave, we will release them early in the morning to avoid the day’s heat and many predators. This week we have been working diligently to finish the construction and hopefully in a couple days we shall be placing our first nest in the hScreen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.56.41 PMatchery. The nursery has had major success over the past two years with over 20,000 baby turtles released last year, and I cannot wait to see how many hatchlings we will have this year.

Entering the field of conservation, especially sea turtle conservation, I knew the difficulty of working against so many factors and having such little chance of rewarding results in the short term. I spent some time questioning how much of a difference one person can make in conservation with so many oppositions. All of that changed though, and all it took was one baby turtle crawling over my foot!


Osa Verde and Vanilla Farming


The beneficial mycorrhizal fungus found in large amounts in wild plants on Osa Verde. This fungus is one that gives several benefits to the plant.

Beginning four months ago, the National University, Osa Conservation, and University of Costa Rica have been uniting forces in order to carry out the establishment and development of organic mother vanilla plants in the Osa. Since the cultivation is very profitable, it would be a good economic opportunity for the farmers in the southern part of the country, many of whom do not have job opportunities. A trial plot has been placed on Osa Conservation’s Osa Verde farm.

One of the problems facing the cultivation of vanilla is that of pests and diseases that affect a part or all of the cultivation. Often the use of agricultural chemicals has controlled these problems but we are undertaking a completely organic trial. Beneficial microorganisms from University of Costa Rica’s Agricultural Microbiology laboratory strains bank and other beneficial microorganism that already have been isolated from Osa Verde’s forest soil are being utilized for this trial. The microorganisms will be multiplied and evaluated in the trial. In this work, one creates an organic techno12688270_764387100362270_4366647257822921076_nlogy packet, a base of bacterias and and fungi that serve to control the pests and diseases.

Additionally, we intend to provide local farmers that are interested in sowing vanilla with high quality cuttings for the plant with the desired characteristics of vanillin. These cuttings can be purchased on the market, but the sales of these species of vanilla is often of poor quality. In order for the farmers to undertake their own production and gain access to the market, both nationally and internationally, the National University will help by serving as a guide and collaborator.

In order to carry out this research, the following objectives have been defined:

  1. Develop and establish organic mother plants of vanilla, so that the IMG_20160219_091546farmers in the area have high quality and healthy vanilla cuttings for the establishment on their own farms.
  2. Establish a vanilla farm that is demonstrative and educational for the farmers in the southern area, where a protocol for growing organic vanilla in agroforestry systems is implemented.
  3. Determine the main phytosanitary problems present in vanilla plants found in the wild and identify potential biocontrol found in association.
  4. Identification of vanilla plant species that are isolated in the forests around Osa Verde.

This exciting research happening on Osa Verde is just on example of how we are partnering with academic institutions and researchers to conserve the Osa and it’s biodiversity; create a sustainable and local food production system; demonstrate best practices to visitors; and also provide economic alternatives to locals.


Alvaro Ugalde Scholarship Fund Updates

A little over one year ago conservation lost one of its finest and both the Osa and Corcovado National Park lost their greatest champion.

The founding of Corcovado National Park, the so-called jewel of the Osa, and other national parks was spearheaded by a few tenacious conservationists and visionaries, among them Alvaro Ugalde Viquiz. The contribution Alvaro Ugalde made to conservation extends far beyond this one park and the Osa – but he made no secret of the fact that Corcovado was his favorite park and the Osa was his most cherished place in Costa Rica.


To that end, he stayed involved as a board member of Osa Conservation and continued to be a voice advocating for the protection of the Osa until his final days. Both the parks and the man behind them hold a place in history and in the hearts of many in Costa Rica and abroad. Alvaro’s legacy will be celebrated by furthering his work and his vision of empowering others to make a difference in the fight to protect Osa’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

With the support blue moon fund and other individual donors, Osa Conservation created “The Alvaro Ugalde Scholarship Fund” as a means to engage young people in conservation of the Osa.

The scholarships will enable young people to work side by side and learn with conservation biologists, environmental educators, community activists and other stakeholders working to safeguard the future of the Osa Peninsula that Alvaro so loved and dedicated his life to.

We are very proud to announce this year’s recipients of the Alvaro Fund Scholarship Award, Cristian Castillo Salazar, Phoebe Edge, and Laura Robleto Villalobos.

Cristian Castillo Salazar is dedicated to bat conservation and will study how humans living in urban environments have impacted the local bat population. He intends to determine the most effective artificial shelters for these bats living in urban areas and to educate the community of La Palma via workshops and presentations about the importance of bat conservation on the peninsula.

Phoebe Edge will provide important technical training in data collection, biological inventory techniques, and environmental stewardship to students in a variety of studies. Students will learn routine research principles and maintenance in the sea turtle hatchery on Playa Carate and provide COTORCO with much needed assistance on nightly beach patrols.

Laura Robleto Villalobos will use her award to purchase a GPS unit to document the land cover in Rincón National Park subwatershed. She would also like to integrate with a GIS (geographic information system) and obtain water quality data. Using this information, Laura will be able to make suggestions for land use that will benefit the water quality of the Rincón River basin and create a conservation model that will be able to benefit other basins in the Osa.


Bananas: The Spotty Past and Precarious Future of the World’s Most Consumed Fruit

The banana is one of the most popular fruits in the world. However, since each banana is genetically identical it is highly susceptible to disease. The Osa Verde Farm is able to combat such disease by planting genetically diverse bananas, not using chemical inputs, and maintaining other sustainable practices.

By: Holland Cathey

The banana. A fruit that we have grown to love, rely on, and ultimately take for granted may be in danger of going extinct.  A seemingly incurable fungus called the Panama Disease is rapidly spreading to plantations around the world and wiping out the banana crops there.

        Despite the fact that there are thousands of varieties of banana worldwide, more than 95% of the bananas produced for export and over 40% of bananas total are the Cavendish variety.  The Cavendish is the variety that we are all familiar with.  This variety is tailor-made for export.  Not only is it mildly sweet, soft, and seedless, but it also continues to ripen after being harvested and has a thick skin that makes it both cheap and easy for companies to transport.  However, in order for the Cavendish to remain consistently viable for export, each is a clone.  This means that there is absolutely zero genetic diversity within the beloved Cavendish.  Additionally, strict monocrop agricultural techniques and lack of crop rotation make the Cavendish extremely vulnerable to threats such as the Panama Disease and pests.  Genetic diversity within a species is usually nature’s defense system against these type of threats, as it allows the organism to adapt to new and changing threats. However, with human intervention and domestication, that first line of defense no longer exists.

        Because the Panama Disease is a fungus, it stays in the soil and infects the plant through its roots.  Because each banana plant is biologically 1559300_10152980088081998_5301024009236505569_oidentical, the plant itself is defenseless.  The Panama Disease has the ability, and often succeeds, in wiping out entire plantations.  Then, the fungus stays in the soil for years after, making it difficult to plant a new crop.  Additionally, there are multiple variations of the Panama Disease spreading around banana-producing countries. One such strain is called Tropical Race 4, or TR4.  Panama Disease and TR4 are currently most prolific in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia; but it’s spreading.  Randy Ploetz, Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Florida has called it the “worst threat to sustainable banana production worldwide” and noted numerous social and economic implications in the collapse of the banana industry.

        Believe it or not, this is not the first time that the world has seen such a pressing threat to its favorite variety of banana.  The Gros Michel is the sweeter, more-easily transported equivalent of the Cavendish and it practically went extinct in the 1960s when a fungus similar to the Panama Disease attacked it as well.  In fact, the Cavendish is a hybrid banana, bred for its fruit and immunity to the fungus that plagued the Gros Michel.

        Why is history repeating itself?  While the fungus has, over time, continued to evolve and change, the Cavendish has remained genetically exactly the same.  In effect, the Panama Disease and the banana are playing an evolutionary game of “Tag”—and the Cavendish is “it”!  In order to keep the Cavendish alive, banana companies have to use a huge amount of chemicals including pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to keep threats at bay.  Ultimately, there is a limit on the effectiveness of even the most toxic chemicals– not to mention the detrimental  impact of the chemicals themselves on both those consuming the bananas and the environment around the plantations.

        Banana companies have a long and dark history of exploitation and big business around the world and especially in Costa Rica.  Despite the fact that Americans annually consume more bananas than apples and oranges combined, there are surprisingly few regulations governing human rights issues in banana production.  Historically, the industry is notorious for its use of child labor, anti-union measures, substandard pay for workers, and exposure of workers to harmful chemicals.

        In response to the big banana businesses, smaller-scale companies have cropped up; making the commitment to use 11836844_10206183056766771_6671090466082792692_nfewer chemicals, treat workers fairly, and protect biodiversity.  Osa Conservation is doing just that! On the Osa Verde farm, we are committed to mastering the art of sustainable farming and teaching it to others.  Rather than grow the now-popular variety of Cavendish, our team is growing the previous favorite, Gros Michel without chemical inputs.  

If the Gros Michel is also susceptible to fungal infections, how is it growing in the Osa? And with no chemicals?  The small-scale agricultural practices that are utilized at Osa Verde allow our talented agronomist, Paola Vargas, to focus her attention on keeping the plants healthy.  According to Paola, preventing too much moisture and removing old leaves are some simple yet labor-intensive things that keep the bananas safe and the farm running without the input of chemicals.  Osa Verde is committed to maintaining the farm organically — and according to Paola, it’s not as difficult as it seems.  As long as the plants get the proper nutrients, then the farm is stable. The farm requires constant maintenance, but no more than an industrial farm working with a delicate balance of toxic chemicals.

Osa Verde has a group of 4-8 people that are responsible for all of the work on the farm including planting, harvesting, maintenance, and any other tasks that may arise.  The work being done here has huge implications for the future of sustainable agriculture.  The Osa Conservation team works in the hopes that people around the world can learn to make more sustainable choices when it comes to responsible food production, healthy food, and food security around the world.