Science and Research

Conservation of the rare, endemic and threatened trees of the Osa Peninsula

Blogpost by Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya, Botanical projects coordinator

You have likely heard about the growing list of wildlife that is vulnerable, threatened or critically threatened. While it is true that we are losing biodiversity among wildlife, such as amphibians and insects, faster than we can categorize them, there is a parallel story unfolding among plants, particularly trees.

There are an estimated 60,000 tree species, that we know of, around the world. And based on work being done by the Global Tree Campaign and IUCN Red list, approximately 8,000 of those—over 10% of trees on Earth—are globally threatened with extinction.  

Aerial view of the forest of the Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula. It’s unique location (where the rainforest meets the sea), making the Osa an important place to emphasize plant composition and endemism. Photo: Michael and Patricia Fogden.

Costa Rica and the Osa Peninsula are no exception. We also have trees that are threatened. According to the last update of the Global Tree Assessment (GTA), Costa Rica has approximately 2,677 tree species, of which 242 are globally threatened, 118 locally threatened, 559 not threatened, and a big number of 1,758 still need to be assessed.

Here in the Osa, before we had protected areas and corridors, much of the land was highly disturbed either by agriculture, cattle, logging, etc., as is the case in many countries. Many of these areas are now regenerating. 

Therefore, it is the perfect opportunity to carry out ecological restoration with the emphasis in those threatened, rare and endemic tree species. However, a baseline of what needs to be protected is missing to take action. 

Tree conservation is of particular concern, principally because little is known about the location and propagation of threatened trees in the Osa, and climate change is adding particular urgency to lowland tropical tree conservation. Left: An ancient individual of the garlic tree Caryocar costaricense, of which few remains in the forest. Right: a baby sapling of the garlic tree, propagated in our nursery. Photo credit: Frank Uhlig & Ruthmery Pillco

The first step is to know which species need more conservation attention. We need to join big initiatives already working toward that goal.  On a global scale, there is a global initiative called the Global Tree Assessment, which aims to conduct conservation assessments for all of the world’s tree species by 2020. 

In March, the GTA initiative brought together experts from Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and the US to assess the conservation statuses of endemic tree species of the region. Participants also attended from Colombia and Venezuela to share experiences from their countries. 

Group photo of participants in Meeting of the IUCN/SSC Global Tree Specialist Group and IUCN Red List Training Workshop at La Selva Research station (March 25-28, 2019). Photo: Sara Oldfield.

The Red List Workshop Mesoamerica was held at La Selva Research Station, and I was lucky enough to be part of this meeting. The instructors touched on the methodology and guidelines to assess trees according to the last version of the IUCN, as well the global advances in red list assessing. After learning from the productive workshop, we are setting up to form an evaluation group in order to evaluate the tree species present in the Osa, as baseline information for future conservation strategies.

Thanks to the support of Franklinia Foundation, through the next two years, we will be working hard to red list the tree species of the Osa, reintroduce those that are threatened in their natural habitats such as the garlic tree Caryocar costaricense, sangrillo colorado Paramachaerium gruberi and others, build an arboretum to conserve the trees of the Osa, and educate and share the importance of tree conservation. Stay tuned for updates on our progress!

Ruth Pillco launching the project “Conserving the rare and endemic trees of the Osa Peninsula.” Photo: Eleanor Flatt

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research

Endless forest interactions

Blogpost by Jonathan Navarro Picado, Healthy Rivers Program Coordinator

Whether we perceive it or not, the forest is alive; there is movement, there is disorder, and—most importantly—there are endless interactions. This last word is the key to help make this hidden world clear to our human “worlds,” which are so short and tiny in comparison to the existence of these forests.

When you walk through the old growth and secondary forests of the Osa Verde BioStation (Piro), you can see everythimg from herbs, seedlings and shrubs to gigantic trees hundreds of years old. Commonly seen are a great diversity of birds and insects, and sometimes one can have the good fortune to observe peccaries or to spot a small wild cat.

Epiphytes crawl up the trunk of a mature rainforest tree. Photo: Jonathan Navarro Picado

Now, there are many other things that we cannot witness, either because they occur at scales unimaginable to the human being (at a microscopic level, like bacteria, or in the heights of treetops) or because it would take months or years to notice the patterns of a certain event. One way to notice these small scale changes that happen in the forest is through observing the difference between day and night. In the night, more sounds are heard, even different events or movements are observed.

Observing a higuerón seems impressive to us all, but the interactions are what fascinate biologists: the complexity of their pollination related to certain wasp species, the presence of hemiepiphytes (a plant that stays in another) that present the majority of fig trees (Ficusspp) and how they affect the development and biology of other plant species. In addition, there is a large number of birds that feed on the fruits of Ficus and are also their dispersers. The Fig tree is related to an endless number of animals and events. This is considering only a specific tree; therefore, the amount of interactions in the forest is unimaginable, more taking into account that over time new relationships will appear.

The sad thing about all this is that as you learn more about the complexity of a forest and the interdependence among all its components, when you hear that people are cutting down a forest, extracting endangered species, polluting of rivers, hunting and causing many other environmental problems, you realize that the impact is at the ecosystem level and that recovering the conditions of a forest with all its interactions will take years or even centuries.

Bats residing in the hallowed-out old Ajo tree (Caryocar costarricense). Photo: Elène Haave Audet

When a person for personal and economic interests cuts down a tree that is hundreds of years old and says “there are many other trees” or even plants a new one, perhaps he or she does not know or does not share the great feeling of entering the cave formed at the base of a great old garlic tree (Caryocar costarricense), of feel part of nature itself. More importantly, perhaps he or she does not see the amount of bats that depend on said cave, the facilitation in the dispersal of seeds, the great source of food for so many animals and all the storage of carbon during decades that helps us to be here today delighting in all these interactions.

That’s why I want to be part of those interactions in a positive way, through inducing positive change. As the change from being a Osa Conservation Restoration & Rewilding Field Course student to being the Coordinator of the Healthy Rivers program here, I hope that this challenge helps to conserve many interactions in the veins of our planet.

Jonathan, with fellow students in Restoration & Rewilding Field Course, identify aquatic insects as indicators of healthy river ecosystems. Photo: Hilary Brumberg

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Environmental Festivals in the Osa

World Environment Day, 2nd Anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

In early June, we had three important celebrations: World Environment Day, the 2nd anniversary of the Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and the inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

World Environment Day was celebrated in early June, and had participation from diverse groups of people. We had students from various educational centers participate as well as people from organizations and businesses with various fields of focus, like mangroves in the case of Fundación Neotrópica, sea turtles in the case of LAST (Latin American Sea Turtles) and sustainable forest plantations in the case of LACT. The support and participation of local farmers and artisans with the exhibition and sale of their products topped off a great turnout.

Furthermore, this y11011808_442506935917583_1591210675148998070_near we celebrated two important events in forest culture. First, the second anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum was on June 14. This museum of trees on the Osa Peninsula includes emblematic and threatened species like the ajo negro (Anthodiscus chocoensis), the camíbar (Copaifera aromatica), the nazareno or purpleheart (Peltogyne purpurea Pittier), the cristóbal (Platymiscium pinnatum) and the breadnut or Maya nut (Brosimum alicastrum).

Lastly, on June 15 was the inauguration of the Centenary Forest. This day pays homage to the 100 years of the institutionalization of National Tree Day by President Alfredo González Flores, and also to honor the people and institutions that have worked toward the conservation of the forests like Don Álvaro Ugalde, Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwach. This has been and initiative of the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, as a strategy to promote forest culture in the communities of the Osa and to promote an appreciation for the forests and their ecosystem services.

Celebrations like these are crucial to community outreach, especially to the younger generations. By celebrating how far we’ve come and our accomplishments in conservation, we get people excited about nature and inspire more action to protect it in the future!

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