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Rewilding Ants: Conserving Endangered Interactions

Blog by Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya, Botanical Projects Coordinator
(Translated by Amaris Norwood, DC office intern)  


One of Osa Conservation’s objectives is to support the conservation of at-risk trees through the conservation ex-situ program  (such as the creation of a botanical garden) which is a supplement of the in-situ ecological restoration and rewilding program that we continue to pursue.

About the Cornizuelo

It has been more than a year since we planted the seeds of a Vachellia allenii tree, locally known as a cornizuelo (the tree of the horns).  This tree can be found growing abundantly in both primary and secondary forests and can reach heights of 25 meters. The cornizuelo, characterized by spines that grow in twos, looks like a pair of horns. This species is endemic to Costa Rica and is categorized as endangered (EN) by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Its greatest risk is the loss of habitat, which is a common consequence of deforestation.  

 Arbol de cornizuelo (Vachellia allenii) creciendo en un bosque protegido (Saladero Ecolodge)

Cornizuelo tree (Vachellia allenii) growing in a protected forest (Saladero Ecolodge)

The Relationship Between The Tree and Ants

The tree coexists with a specific species of ant, the Pseudomyrmex sp., with whom it has established a very special relationship.  In this case, the cornizuelo brings refuge and food to the ants and their offspring. The large, hollow spines grow to become an ideal site for the ants to live, reproduce, and feed. The plant produces small, yellow bodies containing sugar and proteins that serve as abundant and delicious food sources.   

Hoja de un cornizuelo mostrando los cuerpos alimenticios que produce ara alimentar a sus hormigas (foliolulos modificados de color amarillo)

Cornizuelo leaves showing the alimentary bodies that produces ara to feed ants (modified yellow leaflets)


The ant by its part protects its host plant against the attack of herbivores, particularly insects, and further prevents other plants from becoming its competitors for sunlight, space, and nutrients.  When something touches the plant, hundreds of furious ants appear, dispersing to protect the plant from intruders. The
 furious ants produce a free space of vegetation around the cornizuelo by using their jaws to cut vines and eating seeds and seedlings that attempt to grow around them.  Living together has become a matter of survival as much for the plant as for the ants.

Our Rewilding Efforts

Over the course of 9 months, we noticed that our cornizuelos did not develop. They hadn’t been colonized by ants, and possibly, were never colonized. Such was the case with a cornizuelo we planted in the station after throwing away the previous flowers. We then undertook a trip through Saladeros Ecolodge in the National Park of Piedras Blancas, where we found an area with many cornizuelos. As a first attempt, we decided to bring a sample of a seedling with all of its ants.

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Newly colonized cornice seedling. The horn-shaped spines show a hole recently made by an ant (Pseudomyrmex sp.).

 

One time in the nursery, we collected the plant with ants besides our cornizuelos. The ants immediately started to explore and eat from the yellow bodies.  After a few hours, they started to make holes in the thorns, and on the following day, all of the thorns had holes. Our cornizuelos started to grow rapidly, looking vigorous and filled with life.  However, the ants disappeared in a month, probably due to the absence of a queen ant, or because the ants got lost while leaving to explore.

When you destroy a forest, you also destroy the mutualistic interactions between plants and animals that have spent hundreds of years developing. These interactions are very delicate and are difficult to recuperate and restore.  Though our first attempt at rewilding this interaction did not do as well as we hoped, we continue to do more research so that the cornizuelos and their ants stay together.

 

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Ruth monitoring the newly colonized Cornizuelo seedlings

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BREAKFAST AT AGUSTIN’S HOUSE

Blog Post by Marina Garrido, Restoration Research Field Assistant

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Growing Trees in the Osa’s Forest Floor. Photo by Frank Uhlig

Recent Restoration Success at Osa Conservation

Over the past months, the Osa Verde Restoration Plots have been the liveliest place on our property. Wondering why? During this time, we have worked and successfully planted 14,000 trees! A large hard-working team is behind this incredible project. But one of the main pillars of our restoration success is Agustin Mendoza.  

Saplings in our Tree Nursery. Photo by Frank Uhlig

Agustin Mendoza has worked for Osa Conservation for 8 years as our reforestation manager. One of his roles is to collect the seeds that will make up our future forests. But this is not always an easy task. To collect a biodiverse range of seeds, he must gather them from all levels of the tropical rainforest.  This requires climbing trees to collect those hard to find seeds. Once gathered, he plants the seeds and cares for them until the saplings are strong and healthy.

A Conversation with Agustin Mendoza

Early Experiences with Forest Restoration

Variety of Trees, in Age and Size. Photo by Frank Uhlig

Agustin is someone I  have been amazed by since I joined the Osa Conservation family. Every time I talk with him, I learn something new about Osa’s forests. Thus, I couldn’t resist joining him for a cup of coffee:

  • When did you become interested in reforestation?

I was very young, when I was just seven years old. My father taught me how to plant and take care of trees. I used to plant different native fruiting tree species on my family’s farm. This is when I realized how beautiful and rewarding it was to plant a tree and watch it grow.

  • Your passion for reforestation started at a very young age: How did you come to join the Osa Conservation team?

Before Osa Conservation, I worked on reforesting Cerro Osa for the founder of Osa Conservation; Adrian Forsyth. Then I started working on every reforestation project I could, planting different native tree species across the Osa. One project took to another and then I began to lead the reforestation efforts at Osa Conservation. The first trees I planted for Osa Conservation are currently 30-40 meters tall.

Looking Forward

Diverse Species of Trees in the Osa. Photo by Frank Uhlig

Diverse Species Growing to Build the Canopy. Photo by Frank Uhlig

 

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  • This year, the reforestation project has taken on an innovative project with the balsa experiment. What do you think about this project? Do you like the idea of focusing restoration efforts on an experiment in hopes of future reforestation successes? 

    Augustin Mendoza with a Balsa Sapling.

    Augustin Mendoza with a Balsa Sapling.

I like it a lot.  I love the idea of trying new ways to speed up forest recovery and bringing back the ecological interactions you would normally find in a healthy forest. Also, with the species we have planted, they will require more care, and there is nothing I would love more than to help these little trees grow.

  • Do you have a particular project you would like to accomplish in the future?

I would love to share my knowledge with more local people. Give them seeds and show them how to grow them so they can reforest their farms.                                                                Then, everyone will see how beautiful reforestation is.

  • Would you like to send a message to everyone who is reading this?

Take care of the forest, it is our responsibility to protect it. The forest gives us everything we need without us asking; in exchange, we have to help, for nature’s well-being and our own. It’s easy, we just need to take the step and be conscious of our actions.

A Young Spider Monkey Exploring the Dense Forest of the Osa; Photo by Frank Uhlig

A Young Spider Monkey Exploring the Dense Forest of the Osa; Photo by Frank Uhlig

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An Underappreciated Ally

Blog Post by Lawrence Whittaker, Osa Conservation Field Researcher

A Spider Monkey Observing the Osa Canopy

A Spider Monkey Observing the Osa Canopy; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Elusive Subjects of Study

The Osa Peninsula is a stronghold for the Central American spider monkey, an arboreal acrobat adapt to navigating the rainforest canopy. Studying these dynamic mammals can be a challenge, as they don’t give up their secrets easily.

To study spider monkeys, one must track them from the moment they wake to the moment they fall asleep. With the closed canopy that blocks out fading daylight from those on the ground, the arduous adventure must start the day in the dark and end it in the dark.  However, the spider monkeys have a  few extra precious moments of sunlight in the treetops, which ensures their escape from the prying eyes below before settling in for the night.

The Spider Monkeys and the Trees

Spider monkeys love fruit.  In fact, 83% of their nourishment comes from a multiplicity of jungle fruit trees. Furthermore, the future of these trees depends on the spider monkey. Unlike mammals, trees in the tropics must grow far away from their parents. Because of the spider monkey, their seeds are spread over hundreds of kilometers.  This co-dependency feeds the spider monkey’s appetite and ensures that the fruiting trees are able to flourish.

Spider monkeys have a particularly dependent genus of tree called Dialium. The Dialium grows slowly, and meticulously intakes atmospheric carbon into its broad trunk, resulting in the hardiest of hardwoods.  But the Dialium seeds can only hope to start their voyage of growth if they pass through the turbulent acidity of a spider monkey’s stomach.

A Dialium Tree

A Dialium Tree

Findings and Tracking

After spending a great amount of time tracking the elusive spider monkeys, we found their secret sleeping spots.  So what happens when the spider monkey settles down on a buttressed branch for the night after filling their bellies with fruit?  The result is not the prettiest, but completely natural: a heap of feces and seeds are scattered sporadically over the rainforest floor and understory.  Though to the eye the spots where a spider monkey sleeps may be subtle, the smell won’t be.

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Seeds in Monkey Droppings that will Eventually Sprout on the Forest Floor

Determining the sleeping sites of spider monkeys is part one of mission ecology accomplished; part two begins the strenuous journey of climbing the trees. Unfortunately for the climber exploring the spider monkey’s domain, these monkeys call the tallest trees in Central America’s rainforests home.  In these trees, the climbers place camera traps, our artificial forest eyes, to record the spider monkey’s activity at all hours. By doing this, we no longer solely rely on the human observer to track these important primates.  

Flourishing Tree Growth on Osa's Forest Floor

Flourishing Tree Growth on Osa’s Forest Floor

Though the nature of spying on spider monkeys can sound a little creepy, we must consider their endangerment.  By learning more about their behavior, we can further work towards their preservation.  In fact, spider monkeys are our allies in the fight against ecosystem degradation and climate change.

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Our New Collaboration with NASA DEVELOP

Blog Post by Hilary Brumberg, Rios Saludables Program Coordinator

Osa Land Cover Maps from 1987 to 2017.

Osa Land Cover Maps from 1987 to 2017.

 

Good news for Osa’s forests and wildlife! Over the past 30 years, the Osa has seen an 11% increase in vegetation and a decrease in grassland.

This year, Osa Conservation started an exciting new partnership with NASA DEVELOP and the University of Georgia (UGA). NASA DEVELOP partners with local organizations to apply NASA Earth observations to address environmental issues around the globe. Through this partnership, we gained insight regarding land use and vegetation changes and threats to watershed health in the Osa between 1987-2017. 

The results from this collaboration indicate policy and conservation efforts over the past few decades have had tangible impacts on Osa’s landscape and wildlife. From 1987-1999, Osa’s forest cover decreased 11%. However, from 1999-2017, forest cover increased 24%, which coincides with the installment of the national Payment for Environmental Services program. 

Nearly all of this new forest was originally palm and grassland.  Of the land covered in palm in 1987, 37% was converted into forests by 2017, and 49% of grassland in 1987 became forest by 2017.  High rates of conversion of grassland to forest also coincide with economic and consumption trends, relating to the fall of the economic value of beef in the 1990s. While natural palm and oil palm plantations are not distinguished in these analyses, we will be further investigating them in upcoming projects to discern trends in oil palm agriculture.

Preliminary Results of the Normalized Difference in the Vegetation Index (NDVI) - NASA-DEVELOP

Preliminary Results of the Normalized Difference in the Vegetation Index (NDVI) – NASA-DEVELOP

 

Time series analysis also indicates that the northern Osa is the most degraded area of the region and has seen the largest land use change. This northern corridor isolates the Osa from mainland Costa Rica, thus reducing ecosystem connectivity and wildlife ability to travel across the country. These maps will help Osa Conservation investigate potential biological corridors in the region, through the Osa Camera Trap Network and our Restoration and Rewilding projects.

Osa Conservation’s programs each tackle a different angle to conserve Osa’s incredible ecosystems and wildlife, which are threatened by deforestation, agricultural pollution, resource extraction, and human settlement. This is no small task and requires many boots on the ground.  Thanks to NASA Earth observations, we now have forest eyes from above, helping us address conservation issues on a larger scale across the Osa.  We can use these results to target and amplify the impact of our conservation efforts in the field, such as our Rios Saludables water quality monitoring, tracking mammal diversity with the Camera Trap Network, and identifying suitable habitat for birds and amphibians.  

I’m looking forward to launching into a second term working with NASA DEVELOP and UGA to highlight the rivers at risk and determine the health of Osa’s mangroves. Stay tuned over the summer to learn what we find out!

Learn more here!

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In Light of Earth Day

Blog Post by Amaris Norwood, Intern in our DC Office

A Couple of Purple Passion Flowers; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

A Couple of Purple Passion Flowers; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

It’s Almost Earth Day!

As Earth Day approaches, we can take this time to reflect on the current environmental state of the planet.  From habitat loss to climate change, from poaching to illegal animal trade. Over recent years, we have seen species decline.  At the same time, we’ve seen habitats and species regenerate. Marine restoration, reforestation, and other conservation and preservation efforts are to thank for this.  At times, we’ve even been fortunate enough to discover new species.  

A Serene Sloth Sleeping in a Tree; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

A Serene Sloth Sleeping in a Tree; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

In knowing that the natural world experiences both regression and progression, we can examine the current threats that the planet is facing while learning how and why certain areas have recovered or remained successful.  By staying in tune with current environmental events, whether positive or negative, we can strategize for the future. While understanding how and why certain areas experience success, we can apply this knowledge when finding solutions for struggling areas.

What Can We Do?

There are several approaches individuals, communities, institutions, and governments take when celebrating successes and managing environmental issues.  Some choose more focused, local approaches, where others expand their mission across borders.  When choosing an approach, we must decide how to pave our courses of action.  In my studies, I’ve repeatedly found how the most successful projects incorporate well-rounded knowledge of the issue at hand.  The question that remains is how can we, or a group or an institution of some sort, expand our knowledge on specific ecological issues?

A Puma Gazing Towards the Tree Tops

A Puma Gazing Towards the Tree Tops; Photo taken by Manuel Sanchez

A simple way is staying updated with news reports and further comparing the current environmental state with that of the past.  Other ways include becoming involved in conservation or other environmental quality projects.  Volunteering or other hands-on learning opportunities, for example, provide more immersive educational experiences.  Furthermore, hearing and learning about the perspectives of people living in areas that face or have faced environmental threats is invaluable.  First-hand accounts are crucial for a well-rounded understanding of the current state of the environment.

What’s Happening at Osa Conservation?

In my time at Osa Conservation (OC), I’ve learned how the organization works to educate people, whether through on-site volunteering opportunities or through updating social media followers and subscribers on various environmental successes and projects.  But something I consistently see as a factor in all of OC’s projects is a collaboration with different fields and groups of people.  

A Released Baby Sea Turtle Reaching the Shore; Photo by Frank Uhlig

A Released Baby Sea Turtle Reaching the Shore; Photo by Frank Uhlig

Osa Conservation works with local communities to increase the organization’s understanding of issues the Osa Peninsula faces, as well to properly educate people about these issues.  Furthermore, the organization wouldn’t be able to achieve its conservation successes without its volunteers.  OC’s volunteers, visitors, and research assistants help carry out the organization’s mission and goals by working with projects at the biological station. 

A Green Lizard Lurking on a Branch; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

A Green Lizard Lurking on a Plant; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Because of these efforts, Osa Conservation can say that within the last year, they’ve planted over 40,000 native trees, helped release 14,700 baby sea turtles, dedicated 46,000 hours towards river education, and are leading one of the largest camera trap networks in Central America.   Though combatting environmental issues can seem intimidating, especially for an individual, we must remember how success cases have triumphed over threats.  As seen above, staying educated on environmental issues, spreading knowledge about these issues, and collaborating with others are the key factors in environmental accomplishments.  If we keep this in mind this Earth Day, and for the rest of the year, we can continue moving forward toward a more environmentally-conscious and preserved world. 

If you feel like getting involved now, consider donating to OC’s causes or joining our workers and volunteers down in the Osa Peninsula!

A Beach in the Osa during Sunset; Photo by Frank Uhlig

A Beach in the Osa during Sunset; Photo by Frank Uhlig

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Journals from Sea Turtle Volunteering

Blog Post by Yoshinari Fukuzawa from Middlebury College

Sunny day on the beach at Osa; Photo by Frank Uhlig

Sunny Day on the Beach at Osa; Photo by Frank Uhlig

Journal 1: The sea turtle eggs were so soft, so delicate.  While we knelt on the warm sand and reached deep into the hole we dug, our hands gently searched for the surface of the eggs.  Once found, we took each out, one by one, clasping the soft shells that individually held a life inside.  Although frightened we might break an egg, we felt thrilled once our fingers came upon the smooth surfaces.  “Mother’s touch,” one of us spoke out, which referenced our roles as a group.  That morning on the beach, we were the mothers of the baby sea turtles.  We were removing them from danger and relocating them to safety.  We were their caregivers.

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Volunteers Searching for Sea Turtle Eggs

However, as we looked east, we saw a coati breaking into another sea turtle nest and eating the eggs inside.  Seeing the animal, our guide told us that we unfortunately couldn’t save the nest.  Even as caregivers, we have our limits.  We could not fend off every animal that preys on sea turtle eggs. Regardless, that experience gave us motivation to do better and try harder while working with Osa.

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Cluster of Baby Sea Turtles Before Venturing into the Ocean

Journal 2: On Friday, we rolled out of the bed at five in the morning and slowly made our way to the beach with our guide and another group.  Taking off our boots and flip flops, we entered the hatchery and walked toward the protected nests containing baby sea turtles. “Olive Ridley species,” our guide told us.  After this brief introduction to the species, we got down to business.  Taking turns, we took the sea turtles out of their nests and placed them into a bucket.

Throughout this process, the sea turtles were scrambling and climbing on top of each other and faced toward the ocean, eager to start their journey into the crashing waves.  Once we placed the last turtle in the bucket, we left the hatchery and headed toward the shore.  A bird cawed above us on a tree.  We took the baby turtles out one by one, hoping that predators would not come swooping down.  Once we placed them on the warm sand, the energetic turtles started making a beeline into the blue water.

The ocean started to tease them by engulfing them but not carrying them along with the tide.  After the sea turtles stroked their flippers a few more times, the waves crashed and covered them once again.  However, this time, the turtles were taken into the water.  We stood behind the crawling little creatures, keeping watch until the last one was finally welcomed by the blue-green sea.  We could then say that we safely sent the sea turtles on their way to their home, the ocean.  I wonder how many of them will survive into adulthood and create more sea turtles to continue the cycle.

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A Baby Sea Turtle About to Begin Its Great Adventure

The sun was shining brightly in the sky and the waves crashed loudly onto the soft sands of the beach.  From there I, along with my group, walked back to the station with the sound of the ocean following us.  I hope for the best for the baby sea turtles as they embark on their new adventure.

 

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Immersion

Blog Post by Sarah Karerat from Middlebury College

The beach during sunset at Osa; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

The beach during sunset at Osa; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

While spending our first night in our cabina at Osa, I awoke in the middle of the night to the noises that surrounded us.  The howler monkeys were screeching, rain was pouring, and I could hear insects and the Pacific Ocean crashing against the coast. I remember thinking that I may as well be sleeping outside.  During my stay, I truly felt like there was no barrier between me and the outdoors.  It felt incredible. What I experienced that night and every other night was total immersion, a term that I think applies to every moment I spent in the Osa.

On our very first day, we put on our rubber boots and ventured out to the trails. With staff member Rachel, we learned about the biodiversity that surrounded us.  On another day, we walked in the humid heat through the fields of balsa trees.  Here, we identified birds in the area for rewilding research.  Then on Monday and Thursday, we helped out at Osa’s sustainable farm with tasks like husking corn for the animals and flipping the soil.  Our work was a small way we contributed to its massive conservation efforts.

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Hummingbird overlooking the dense forest of the Osa; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

 

One of Osa's nature trails through the forest; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

One of Osa’s nature trails; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

None of this was immersion without a purpose.  With every activity came a dedicated, in-depth explanation from a staff member of why these tasks and projects mattered.  We were aware of how every action carried the weight of impact, specifically on conservation efforts.  I am grateful for the patience and care of the staff members who took the time to explain their work to nine college students from various walks of life.

Though we had only a week at Osa Conservation, it was enough time to feel immersed in the heart of the organization.  Our knowledge expanded exponentially in so many directions.  We learned about biodiversity, conservation, ethical community service models, the inner workings of a nonprofit, Costa Rican culture, and more. Not only did we learn, but we also lived immersed in the pura vida lifestyle. We swam in the river during breaks, experienced the patience and flexibility of the staff, and ate delicious central American food for each meal.

When arriving at the remote Osa Peninsula, I was unsure of what to expect.  What could the team and I even achieve in one week?  Luckily, Osa Conservation threw us into the thick of the organization, culture, and environment, which pushed me intellectually and physically.  I will continue to think about the unique ways in which it challenged me to grow.

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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.