Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research

Georeferencing Trees in the Osa Peninsula

Peltogyne Purpurea: An endemic species of Costa Rica and Western Panama, now very scarce because of overexplotation for its valuable timber.

Visiting a tropical forest can be overwhelming because of the enormous number of species found there, especially if you are talking about the Osa Peninsula, one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. This diversity is especially evident amongst plants which, as immobile organisms, are easily observed.  This same diversity, however, can be distressing for a person interested in identifying a species if they don’t have previous knowledge of the area.  This is why, for the last six months, I have been working at Osa Conservation’s Piro Research Station and Greg Gund Conservation Center identifying trees on site, georeferencing various individual trees of distinct species, and creating a digital catalog of the most common species found on the trails (among other things).  Osa Conservation is using all of this information to educate researchers and visitors about tree diversity in the Osa rainforest and for their forest restoration program.

With over 700 species of trees in the Osa rainforest, identification can seem very complicated for those without experience in the field.  A digital collection indicating the most significant characteristics of various species allows for easier recognition of species.  There are many simple characteristics that aid in identification, including the type of leaves and the position of the stem, the presence or absence of secretion, translucent dots, glands, or pubescence (“hairs”) which together can facilitate the recognition of families, genera and even species.  We’re also adding photographs and dried plant samples to this information to help us compare and verify the species with which we are working.

Georeferencing various trees at Osa Conservation will give researchers and education groups interested in finding and studying a certain species the ability to locate it effortlessly and, once there, see the living specimen and characteristics that are impossible to detect in a photograph or  plant sample (ie. trunk or secretion).  Georeferencing individual trees is also assisting Osa Conservation’s forest restoration program, which is carried out in partnership with NRDC and the Wisconsin Natural Resource Foundation.  Georeferencing allows us to easily locate and observe the fructification process of certain tree species whose seeds we collect and nurture on site in the OC nursery, better enabling us to restore degraded habitats with native species.

Within a determined site, there are generally groups of very common species while others may be very scarce.  For the more common species, and for the majority of individuals who are curious about tree identification yet lack previous knowledge, a digital catalog will be very useful; for the scarcer species, and for those individuals with more knowledge in the field (ie. researchers), georeferencing is fundamental, as locating the trees would otherwise be very difficult.