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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.

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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.

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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!!

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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

 

 

Sources:

“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

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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!

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Osa Verde and Vanilla Farming

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Osa’s Healthy Rivers and the Future of Water in Costa Rica

The Nation: http://www.nacion.com/vivir/ambiente/Ticos-agua-persona_0_1550044983.html

“Costa Ricans will have 65% less water per person by the year 2020”

March 22, 2016, Michelle Soto M.

 

Osa’s Healthy Rivers has been working to conserve the water quality in the Osa Peninsula.

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Figure 1. Group from The Gamba School monitoring The Gamba River, close to the Golf, May 2016.

This march in 2016, The Nation published an important article about the quantity and quality of water in Costa Rica, the critical theme in the work of Osa’s healthy river project, which monitors the quality of water in the river and ravines of the Osa Peninsula with the help of the participation from community groups. The article titled “Costa Ricans will have 65% less water per person by the year 2020”  shares the incredible news that each costa rican will use 19,000 m3 when in 1970  they used 55,000 m3. This critical decrease is due to all of the changes in the climate, the deterioration of the environment, and the growth in demographics. It is not only the quantity but also the quality of the water is diminishing, as Gueillermo Calvo of the Institute of Technology of Costa Rica show us in his two year experiment. He and his team of scientists took samples in the 10 river basins of the country, using the dutch index to measure the biochemical demand of oxygen, dissolved oxygen, and ammonia nitrogen in the water. They also measured phosphates, nitrates, turbidity and fecal coliform, this type of analysis also are carried out by the groups from Osa’s Healthy River Project.

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Figure 2. Members of Osa’s Healthy Rivers participating in a workshop in Osa Conservation’s Piro Biological Station, December 2015.

The results indicated a relationship between the population density and the contamination of water. They discovered that there was a notable exception with the Ricon and Tigre rivers on the Osa Peninsula, which do not have big populations around them but are contaminated by the produced pollution of fertilizers and human activity. Those two rivers are monitored usually by members of Osa’s Healthy Rivers, who monitor the state of the rivers in the time. Calvo’s experiment emphasizes the importance of Osa’s healthy river, not only in monitoring the rivers and streams of the Osa Peninsula, but also in educating and gain the participation of the members of communities in that region.  

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Figure 3. Group from the Piedras Blancas School monitoring in the Piedras Blancas River, April 2016.

Today, Osa’s Healthy Rivers monitors 10 rivers and includes 8 community groups monthly,  it is expected that this number will increase in the future with the interest and participation of more people. The members of Osa’s Healthy Rivers perform visual, chemical, and biological monitoring, measuring parameters such as dissolved oxygen, turbidity, nitrates, conductivity, temperature, pH and coliform bacteria. The groups also evaluates the biological health of the monitoring sites using an index to measure the diversity of the species of macroinvertebrates in the river. With the support of a coordinator, who assists a lot of the monitoring, the groups collect high quality data and learn how to analyze and communicate the results.

The last discussion in The Nation article emphasized the role that the trees play in the quality of the water. The roots of the trees maintain the water in the soil and trap contaminants and nutrients before they arrive at the rivers and ravines. A new direction for the Healthy Rivers Project will focus more on the aspect forests and planted trees on the bank of the rivers. The members of Healthy Rivers, with the support of Osa Conservation, hope to continue and expand their work around the peninsula. Monitoring monthly in the rivers, planting trees, educating our young and neighbors… Healthy Rivers is fighting against pollution and wear of the water of our region, which are so important to the human race and their own environment. Please help us in this fight!

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The Return of the Jaguar

The lush and enchanted forests of Piro, Osa Conservation saw the return of their majestic King of the Jungle after two long years.

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The Jaguar Is Back!

In the late hours of 23rd March 2016 the first images of this beautiful creature was captured on the camera traps on the Ajo trail. Since the last sightings of the jaguar on the camera traps here was back in 2014, his return is very exciting. Especially for the big cat programme and its researcher Tabea who ran out screaming “JAGUAR JAGUAR” when she was processing the data. With this hard evidence that the big cat was on Osa property and probably somewhere close by I suddenly had a strong desire to go hiking in the hope to witness this rare beauty of this endangered animal. So a few other volunteers and I planned numerous ‘jaguar hunts’ on most of Osa Conservation’s forest trails.

After two weeks and with more and more images capturing the jaguar on nearby trails we still had no luck finding him for ourselves. So being very unsuccessful at tracking the jaguar I decided to stop looking. I believed in the philosophy that if I stopped trying to find him, he would find me. And so with my new profound realisation, I carried on with my normal routines of morning and night sea turtle patrols.

Early last week a volunteer, Kate, and I were walking along the beach around 10pm after a rather successful turtle night patrol where Kate was able to see her first nesting Green turtle. We were still on the beach so we weren’t using our flash lights, there was only a slight glimmer of moonlight lighting up the beach ahead. Nearly 100 metres from the exit of the beach is Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 4.52.33 PMwhen I stopped. I noticed a large dark silhouette only five or so metres in front of me. Moving fast up from the ocean to the vegetation. I cry out to Kate “What was that?!” grabbing her arm and experiencing a weird sensation of all the hairs on my legs standing up at once. We stood in silence for a couple of seconds allowing our brains to figure out what our eyes had just witnessed, trying to conjure up different possibilities.

“It’s too big to be a dog….it is too small to be the water buffalo?”

We both turn our white lights on and scan the sand, hoping to not find anything and to accept being fools of our own imagination. Alas, we walked forward and discovered large, rounded big cat prints that had been prowling the beach ahead of us. By now all fear had disappeared or turned into pure amazement and adrenaline. Still in disbelief we thought it would be a good idea to take pictures of the prints for identification and to have as evidence of our encounter.

Once we were back at the station we were able to compare our pictures and measurements with that on the track board which gave us enough reason to believe it was the jaguar we had been searching for. Later that week we collected the images from the camera trap by the beach and we got 100% confirmation it was a jaguar that night.

Hopefully this particular jaguar will stick around for some time as it is a great sign that our forests are heathy and diverse!

It’s safe to say that my philosophy does work. If you are looking for something …Don’t look for it!

 

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Healthy Soil for Healthy Food

Bokashi: Improving the Soil through Solid Waste

By Yngrid Espinoza

In a time of unparalleled consumption, intensive agricultural production, mass exploitation of raw materials and countless other activities that advance ‘development’ – we in Costa Rica are generating an enormous quantity of solid waste daily. According to the University of Costa Rica, each individual produces a staggering 1.3 – 2.4 pounds of waste daily. 45% of this ends up in illegal dumps and approximately 50-60% of this waste is biodegradable material.

With this in mind, the vision of Osa Conservation’s Sustainable Agriculture Program is utilize organic waste to generate organic fertilizer for our farm. It is essential to consider the sufficient input of nutrients to the soil and rather than reply on external inputs (like non-organic and chemical fertilizers), we are working with bokashi. Bokashi is a Japanese word that means “organic fermented material ” and is a method that differs from traditional compost.

 

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Figure 1: production of bokashi at Osa Verde Farm

To prepare Bokashi, we add substrates from the rainforest soil to the organic waste in order to inoculate the waste with beneficial microorganisms that accelerate the organic microbial diversity, improve the chemical and physical conditions and maintain a healthy soil that supplies nutrients needed for crop development (Shintani, et al. 2000). In order to accelerate the decomposition process or fragmentation of the waste particles, we will be using a chipper.

In this way, soil nutrients are cycled through each growing season, taking advantage of waste that otherwise would end up in landfills. With this model we are using an integrated system of production with less dependence on external sources for nutrients and are more sustainable.

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Figure 2: diagram of nutrients in the soil

Healthy soil is vital to creating healthy food and we aim to demonstrate that farmers can create great, productive soil without having to purchase agricultural inputs that are damaging to ecosystems and to the health of wildlife and humans.

Sources:

UCR, 2011. Expertos analizan el manejo de la basura en Costa Rica. Información on line [http://www.ucr.ac.cr/noticias/2011/11/17/expertos-analizan-el-manejo-de-la-basura-en-costa-rica.html].

Shintani, 2000. BOKASHI: Tecnología Tradicional Adaptada para una Agricultura Sostenible y un Manejo de Desechos Modernos. Costa Rica 24p.