Science and Research

The OBC and studies into microhabitat preferences of focal group taxa

By: Zia Mehrabi, University of Oxford.

The Osa Biodiversity Center (OBC) provided a brilliant opportunity for biological research at an accessible location bordering Corcovado National Park (CNP). CNP represents the largest remaining tract of tropical lowland forest left standing on the pacific coast of Central America. The Osa Peninsula is phytogeographically unusual with high floral species diversity of an estimated 500 species of woody plants and exhibits high primate abundances as well as being home to charismatic large felids such as puma and jaguar.  The work undertaken at the OBC during April 2010 primarily aimed to clarify insights into the microhabitat preferences of particular dung beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) identified in earlier study investigating the fidelity of ecological methods used for inventorying insect functional groups at Sirena Biological Station (CNP) during the months of July and August 2009.  In order to efficiently and cost effectively map diversity it is widely recognised that the use of indicator groups is necessary. The sensitivity of Dung Beetles to light, soil type, moisture, temperature, leaf litter, structural complexity, vegetative cover, and resource type are widely recognized, advocating their utility as an indicator of the influence of abiotic environmental parameters on patterns of diversity in tropical ecosystems on a global scale. In order to map spatio-temporal distributions of biological organisms it is important to measure habitat variables on the scale at which they influence the taxa studied. If the habitat is not defined from the perspective of the organism then inference made from data reporting environmental influences on distribution of populations may be inaccurate.  The material generated during the study at the OBC will be identified at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It is an exciting prospect that the work at OBC may back earlier work that has identified a microhabitat preference of dung beetles on trap placement, work that potentially has serious implications for sampling methodologies currently employed in comparative ecological work which  aims to report the influence of deforestation and habitat degradation on tropical biodiversity.

All photography by Zia Mehrabi on night walks at OBC during April 2010

The accommodation facilities at the OBC are superb, with comfortable beds, clean running water and delicious food. Furthermore the staff are extremely friendly and helpful, facilitating communication with the local community and achievement of research objectives. In addition, accessibility from the nearby town of Puerto Jimenez and contact via satellite connection ensure ease of logistics. There is a nicely set out trail system that provides some great tracks for night walks where a plethora of insects , arachnids and reptiles may be easily observed and photographed. Overall I was very happy in the time I spent at the OBC and would recommend it to other researchers wishing to explore this interesting region of the world.

Miscellaneous

Threats to the Osa’s Jaguar Population

Finding solutions and alternatives for human and feline coexistence

Since mid 2006, Aída Bustamante and Ricardo Moreno, researchers of the Wildcat Conservation Program, have worked hand in hand with FOO on applied research, education and involvement with key actors (cattle ranchers, hunters, local children and youth, ecolodges, local authorities and NGOs). We recognize the need to address the livelihoods of local human populations so that they are in a better position to care about jaguars.

Camera Trap Photo of Jaguar eating a sheep on Osa Peninsula

The long-term conservation of jaguars and their ecosystem will not be possible with scientific research alone.

 

Attacks on domestic animals by large cats have triggered retaliation; and at  least twelve jaguars have been killed in the last two years in the Osa peninsula. Hence, the Wildcat Conservation Program decided to sell T-shirts and raise funds to compensate people that have lost their animals by jaguar or puma attacks. So far, we are the only such compensation program in Central America and have paid for 16 animals up to now, including domestic pigs, sheep and calves.

Aida Bustamante and Ricardo Moreno in Panama with Dr. Hirsch

Aida Bustamante and Ricardo Moreno in Panama with Dr. Hirsch

Ricardo Moreno, Dr. Ben Hirsch, Aída Bustamante and a male ocelot in Barro Colorado Island in Panama. Ricardo and Aída went to Panama to collaborate with Dr. Hirsch and Dr. Roland Kays, trying to capture ocelots and tag them with GPS radio collars to detect behavioral changes. They managed to capture two females and a juvenile male, which indicates a high capture rate for the species across its range of distribution. The idea is to use this technology in the near future in the Osa Peninsula.

Jaguars on the Osa Peninsula represent an important isolated population of this ecologically vital species. The long term survival of this local population is uncertain. One important way to help ensure their future would be the establishment of a protected biological corridor between Corcovado National Park on the peninsula and Piedras Blancas National Park on the mainland. Despite years of research and effort by an international group of environmental organizations, this wildlife corridor has not been established. An increase in land development for vacation homes is driving up land values in the lands within and around the Golfo Dulce Forest reserve, threatening Jaguar habitat.

The total number of Jaguars on the Osa is unknown. A study on Corcovado Park published in 2007 suggested through extrapolation, a density of around 30-40 individuals in the area of the park. However, a number of factors make estimation difficult.

Recently Aida responded to a supporter’s question on the number of Jaguars on the Friends of the Osa Facebook page with the following:

“It is really hard to say a “number” because there are not studies for the whole Osa Peninsula and it is not recommended to extrapolate the data, because the conditions (habitat, prey availability, poaching, etc) are very different–even in this small area. But we did a really intensive study in 2007 in the Matapalo-Corcovado area and we found 25 ocelots, 22 pumas and 4 jaguars. Sadly, people still kill them a lot (we know that at least 12 in less than 2 years), mainly when jaguars predate on livestock or domestic animals, when natural prey is scarce in the forest due to poaching.”

Since availability of food limits the population, the Osa can only support so many Jaguars. This makes the loss of the twelve animals Aida mentions a major impact on the total population. Our efforts are vital because the next several years will prove crucial to the Osa Peninsula’s Jaguars.

To support the Wildcat Conservation Project, please visit the FOO website and make a donation.

Science and Research, Sea Turtles

Friends of the Osa – Protecting the Wildlife of the Osa Peninsula

Welcome to the new weblog of Friends of the Osa. Here we will post news and updates about our programs, activities and important developments affecting the ecology and wildlife of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, Central America.

Friends of the Osa (FOO) also known as Amigos de Osa, runs a research station and field programs working to protect the globally significant biodiversity found on the Osa Peninsula.

At the Osa Biodiversity Center work centers around supporting scientific research and environmental education, as well as hands on programs like the Sea Turtle Conservation project. Each year researchers and volunteers follow the arrival of several species of sea turtles that nest on the nearby beach, tagging turtles, protecting nests and hatchlings, and compiling important data on the numbers of animals and the success of their nests.

At the Cerro Osa Station, FOO is working to reforest areas adjacent to the Osa National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR), a stewardship program in partnership with local landowners. This important refuge forms a biological corridor through the privately held lands outside the protection of the nearby national park. Managing this important corridor for the Osa’s monkeys, jungle cats and other species is another of our projects.

At our offices in Puerto Jiménez, the small town where most of the local population live, our Costa Rican staff are involved in several programs designed to help the region deal with rapid development, and the rising amount of trash and pollution that come with it. Here our work on clean water and recycling efforts have had the most impact.

Osa is a rare and exceptional place, for it’s beauty and because of the high diversity of species, one of the most biodiverse places in the hemisphere. Despite this world class status, it is a remote and often ignored corner of a developing nation. It is under extreme threat as pressure to develop and modernize reaches Costa Rica. Threats include projects for industrial scale fish farms, increase in the scale of gravel mining, efforts to reopen old gold mining operations, even within protected areas, over-development for tourism including increased air traffic, new airports, water use by and sewage from hotels. Meanwhile, global climate change and increased pressure on species outside the peninsula threaten to make Osa a biological island. There is a dire need for the completion of the plan to create protected corridors between Corcovado Park, the major national park on the peninsula and the Piedras Blancas Park on the mainland.

In Washington DC, our staff work to provide funding and to raise awareness about our programs. We have worked to build strong alliances with local, regional and international partner organizations including The Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, ACOSA, MINAET (Costa Rica’s Ministry of Energy and Environment) and others.

Your support is important to us, too, and by signing the email list and keeping in touch, by fanning our facebook page and getting your friends to do the same, or by becoming a volunteer and helping us in our work, or by donating and showing that you think what we are doing is important.

Any way that you can join us means a lot. So keep reading this blog, check back and comment on what you see.