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National Science Foundation funds new laboratory at our Osa Verde BioStation

Blog post by Hilary Brumberg, Healthy Rivers Program Coordinator

Osa Conservation was recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve the research facilities, communication and equipment at our Osa Verde Biological Station (Piro), which will position this field station to become a leading center for tropical research, education and conservation. With this new infrastructure, we will increase our capacity to host interdisciplinary researchers, academic groups, and citizen science trainings, therefore advancing scientific knowledge about tropical ecology and enhancing scientific literacy

Location of new NSF-funded laboratory at Osa Verde BioStation. Construction will begin next month.

We are excited to further support the active researchers and education groups visiting Osa Verde BioStation, by providing them with separate, dedicated laboratory and classroom spaces. With the NSF support, we will: 1) Create a dedicated laboratory space, 2) improve electrical power and communications, and 3) outfit the lab with basic wet and dry lab equipment. Meanwhile, the existing lab will become a dedicated educational space for school groups, volunteers, and citizen scientists.

Construction of the new lab begins next month and is estimated to be completed this summer, as will the upgrades to the electrical and communication systems. The following year, the lab equipment and software will be installed. 

These facilities will catalyze innovative and high-quality ecological research, hands-on education and training, and impactful research-based applied conservation. Osa Conservation is fortunate to be collaborating with a dedicated, diverse group of researchers and educational groups who have been visiting the Osa for over a decade to study and conserve its incredible biodiversity. Here’s how a few of them describe how the new research facilities will impact their research and teaching:  

Dr. Andy McCollum

“I have been bringing undergraduate students to the ‘Piro’ Biological Station, now the Osa Verde Biological Station, every year since 2011. For me – and I think for my students – Osa Verde is already an amazing place. My students have been able to learn about conservation practice by working together with Osa Conservation staff and to conduct their own small research projects on a broad range of biodiversity from fungi to sea turtles, big cats to stream invertebrates, monkeys to dung beetles, and herpetofauna to coarse woody debris (and herpetofauna IN coarse woody debris!). The extraordinary biodiversity and breadth of habitats encompassed from the beach up though the farm, secondary forest, and into the primary forest is unexcelled anywhere I have been in Costa Rica … So while I love Osa Verde as it is and has been, I am truly excited about the pending improvement to the infrastructure – a new climate controlled laboratory with basic biological and chemical analytic tools, including DI water (OK, this alone is a big improvement!), compound and stereo microscopes with image capture, electronic balances, hotplate/stirrer, glassware, autoclave, and even a laminar flow hood … If you have never been to Piro, I recommend you give it a look!”

Dr. Andy McCollum, Professor of Biology, Cornell College

Dr. Eben Broadbent & Dr. Angelica Almeyda Zambrano

“The expanded Piro [Osa Verde] station represents the best biological field station on the Osa, in an environment with ease of access to old growth forests, secondary stands, and dynamic fragmented restoration areas. It greatly enhances and expands our ability to pose and address questions of importance throughout the globe, in a safe environment suitable to seasoned field scientists and undergraduate students alike. I applaud NSF investment into Piro [Osa Verde Biological Station] and the Osa, and look forward to using this resource in the future.”

Dr. Eben Broadbent, Co-Director of Spatial Ecology Lab, Assistant Professor of Forest Ecology and Geomatics, University of Florida

“The Osa is much like the Amazon or the Tropics in general, with all the rich biodiversity, grand carbon dense complex forests, and unique species. It also has the myriad land uses, anthropogenic impacts including deforestation, illegal logging and mining, and poaching, and socio-economic challenges. As much as the Osa is a jewel worthy of conserving, it is also an outstanding opportunity to study conservation and sustainability science on a manageable spatial scale, but with full opportunity to scale lessons to global implication. We have been researching in the Osa for over two decades, and we are excited to see the enhanced facilities increase the capacity for high-level research in this incredible place.”

Dr. Angelica Almeyda Zambrano, Co-Director of Spatial Ecology Lab, Assistant Professor of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management, University of Florida

Dr. Mark Laidre

“Receiving this NSF grant is awesome news! It’s also a recognition of the important role that Osa Conservation serves as a premier field station for cutting-edge tropical research. Having returned to this station each year for over a decade, and also having contributed to the initial version of this grant, I am especially excited about the wonderful opportunities these new funding resources will provide for so many researchers, including continued animal behavior research spanning field and lab by my students and I. We look forward to much more future research in Osa!”

Dr. Mark Laidre, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College

Brandon Güell

“The new NSF-funded lab facilities at Osa Conservation will greatly benefit our continued research by providing new ample space to conduct experiments and observations on our sensitive study species, as well as a place to preserve and store invaluable specimens. By adding new wet lab resources and air-conditioned rooms, Osa Conservation is allowing us to broaden the scope of our research and ability in how we ask questions about how and why reproductive strategies, development, and the environment effect embryo behavior and survival.”

Brandon Güell, NSF Pre-doctoral Fellow and Ph.D. Student, Boston University

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research, Sustainable agriculture

New plant record for the Osa Peninsula: Cipura campanulata

By Marvin Lopez Morales, Botanic Assistant

Not long ago, the Costa Rican ethnobotanist Jorge Luis Poveda visited Osa Conservation. For me, it was an honor and pleasure to meet him. 

Luis Poveda in the forest during his visit to our Conservation campus. Photo credit: Osa Conservation

A simple and very friendly person, he has so many stories to tell about his personal experiences, plants, and teaching a wide variety of people. Poveda has devoted many years of his professional career to projects against cancer, Costa Rican Trees, and Manual of Plants of Costa Rica, among others. In addition, he is a passionate naturalist, and he writes poems inspired by nature itself. 

In one of his walks through Cerro Osa, he saw a small plant that caught his attention that he had not seen before in the Osa Peninsula, Cipura campanulata. It was the first report of this species for the area. Our botanist friend, Reinaldo Aguilar, who lives in Puerto Jiménez, confirmed the discovery.

View of Cerro Osa, natural habitat of this beautiful plant. Photo credit: Osa Conservation

It is a Monocotyledonous plant, belonging to the family of Iridaceae plants. For the country, Costa Rica, there are 6 generaand 14 species registered, among them the genus Cipura, which consists of 5 species in total. 

This plant is found only in the continent of America, with a wide distribution range that extends from Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela and Antilles. In Costa Rica, it is found mainly to the north of the Pacific slope and in the plains of Guanacaste between 0 to 300 meters above sea level. They reach a height of about 20 to 60 cm high, and their leaves have a resemblance to rice plants with white flowers in the shape of a small bell that open very early in the morning and also close in a short time. Because of their small size, they are ideal to have as ornamentals.

Cipura campanulata in its natural environment. This plant has the potential to be used in our gardens as an ornamental plant. Photo credit: Rich Hoyer

This plant flowers once a day. If you get to own one of these wonderful plants, you can be sure every morning that this grass-shaped, bushy plant will have a small flower to brighten the morning, wishing you good morning. Sit with a good coffee and admire the beauty of this fragile and helpless little plant.

One of Poveda’s poems:

La Montaña Mágica

Sí, eres mágica, eres hontanar de sabiduría, eres pan nuestro de cada día.

Oh Montaña Sagrada que nutres nuestras vidas,

joyel de aventuras, sacrosanto vergel,

estancia de mi vejez.

–Jorge Luis Poveda Álvares”

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A big thanks to volunteers

Blogpost by Mariam Weyand, Sea Turtle Biologist

Osa Conservation relies on the help and support of volunteers to maximize our conservation impact, like many non-profits. Fortunately, we have diverse people coming to discover, help and get involved in our programs. We can separate them into two important groups: short term participants, such as students, families and tourists, and long-term volunteers.

In 2018, we had the luck that many individuals came and helped us with field work in the Sea Turtle Program. They all came to discover the great experience and hard work of relocating sea turtle nests and releasing neonates. They all helped a lot, and I would like to thank them all in this blog, because, after all, what would we do without them?

Volunteers from UNED helping Mariam Weyand and the rest of the Sea Turtle team to reinforce the protective bamboo wall against the strong high tide by filling bags with sand behind it.

Here an example of the great work they did in 2018:

We really enjoy working with groups of volunteers and students, such as World Challenge, UCR (University of Costa Rica) and UNED (State University at Distance). Thanks to their help, we have been able to build a new hatchery! They first filtered the sand on the whole surface of the future building, then built the structure and reinforced it when needed by filling bags with sand behind the protective bamboo wall. They also participated in daily patrols, hatchling releases and beach clean ups.  Every helping hand really counts!

The long-term volunteers, like the groups, participated in many of the other projects at Osa Conservation and were a huge help to each program. The additional manpower they provided to the Sea Turtle Program allowed us to split into two teams, and perform double the amount of work! Moreover, each one shared their own knowledge to improve the different aspects of the projects. At the end of their stay, it was like saying goodbye to full-time team members.

Volunteers from UNED helping the Sea Turtle team to reinforce the protective bamboo wall by pushing a trunk in front of it. Without all of them, we wouldn’t have been able to do it.

Each and every volunteer did a great job at giving a hand in the day-to-day activities. By sharing their energy and knowledge, they participated in the constant improvement of the organization.

So, on behalf of the Osa Conservation Sea Turtle Team, THANK YOU everyone for your help! We hope that we will have the pleasure of working with you again and the opportunity to meet more amazing and dedicated people like you!

Dedicated to Pablo Rodriguez who was an exceptional UNED volunteer. May he rest in peace.

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Connecting hammerhead shark populations from the Eastern Tropical Pacific

Blogpost by Mariana Elizondo Sancho, Álvaro Ugalde grant awardee

Sphyrna lewiniis one of the nine species of hammerhead sharks, and it lives across the tropics worldwide. This species is categorized as Endangered, since its populations have declined more than 50% in the last 10 years, according to the IUCN. This shark is threatened by fisheries, both as bycatch and as directed fishing, since their fins are highly valued in the international fin market. 

Hammerhead shark school in the open waters from Cocos Island in the Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: David Garcia

This shark has an interesting behavior in which females come to coastal waters called nursery areas to deliver their pups. Juveniles remain in these areas for their first years, so coastal marshes and wetlands are an important habitat for their nurturing. In Costa Rica, these areas are threatened both by habitat degradation and by fisheries. One of the most important nursery areas is the Golfo Dulce in the southern pacific of Costa Rica. 

After this first stage of life, adults move to open waters and islands, where constant migration is observed. Once in open waters and near the Cocos Island, this shark is specifically targeted for its fins. Protecting this highly mobile animal that can migrate long distances is a hard task since its populations are not in a specific geographic place during their whole lifetime. 

Also in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, population structure is not well known. Is it one population or are there several? Do females prefer specific nursing grounds to deliver their pups? Understanding population structure and movements of hammerhead sharks is vital to establish regional management and policies.

DNA extraction of hammerhead shark tissue. Photo: Mariana Elizondo

I have been researching the connectivity and genetic population structure of S. lewiniin various coastal nursing areas in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panamá. The results of this research will be important to provide biological information for management plans that will aim to protect specific important geographical areas for this species’ persistence.


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