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

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Water conservation lessons learned from indigenous youth

Blogpost by Jonathan Navarro Picado, Healthy Rivers Program Coordinator

Children teach us new things every day and they are full of surprises; the only thing they need is a bit of motivation. 

The community of Alto Laguna in Osa, the only indigenous reserve on the Osa Peninsula, is full of forest, life, stunning sunsets and inspiring people. The students of the school in the community received a talk about the importance of the rivers. But more than teaching them, they taught us through art the understanding they have of this natural treasure and the community’s connection with water. 

Some children, like Yendry, teach us the importance of watersheds, in which small rivers contribute to a major river, one that reaches the sea. It is said that “rivers are the veins of our planet,” and she understands that very well. Our planet’s water is connected.

The children also represent what they have seen around them. Pastureland also plays a large role in the landscape in this region. But if Angie is able to plant trees around a river in her imagination, why not plant them in reality as well? If these trees are not there in a few years, then perhaps the river will not be either. 

Water flows, yes, of course, and life also flows. Jacqueline, teaches us how there is life in the rivers from the mountains to the sea. But there is something that we have not taken into account: as well as water and life, pollution also flows. It is a very common problem to pollute our rivers; if we pollute this river in the upper part, what is flowing is death. That is not what is in the mind of a school girl who has grown up surrounded by forest, so let’s each do our part to contribute a drop of water to help Jacqueline to keep Osa’s rivers healthy.

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

Lessons learned in first annual Costa Rican Restoration & Rewilding Field Course

By Irene Artiñano Banegas, Student in the first annual Costa Rican Restoration & Rewilding Field Course

Restoration & Rewilding Field Course participants travelled across the Osa Peninsula to learn about conservation threats and initiatives in the region. Here, Irene, Osa Conservation staff, other course participants visit the Terraba-Sierpe Wetland. Photo: Michelle Monge

I learned a lot during my two months in the Restoration & Rewilding Field Course at Osa Conservation. Our adventures included installing camera traps to monitor the activity of different mammals, walking through the forest learning (and hearing their crazy stories) from Luis Poveda, entering the cave of a giant tree that is over 100 years old, participating in my first bird count, seeing one of the last coral reefs of Golfo Dulce, and designing and presenting my first project on restoration and “rewilding.” These are just some of the many new and incredible experiences that I had the opportunity to experience here, and I want to share some of my favorite moments with you all. 

I had never worked with bats. I do not know much about them and although they seem cute, their study has never attracted me. However, my perception changed when I learned much more about them during the Restoration & Rewilding Field Course. From the beginning, the talk with professor Gloriana Chaverrí was very interesting. She presents with a passion that is captivating and makes one forget they ever thought that bats are ugly. The importance of them in the ecosystem is very undervalued, and there are many myths and legends about bats that always make us keep them at arms length.

Students in the Restoration & Rewilding Field Course visited the mangrove greenhouse to learn more about Osa Conservation’s mangrove restoration project in the Terraba-Sierpe Wetland. Photo: Irene Artiñano Banegas

Another interesting experience was learning about mangroves. I have always loved plants; I like to learn about how they work, what their names are, how we can use them, and how to grow them. However, I had never thought about mangrove cultivation. Learning about this restoration project really surprised me. 

After the destruction of the mangrove, the land is now being invaded by a type of fern that does not allow the mangrove to regrow. Then, nurseries have been created to reproduce the mangrove plants and plant them in lands where the fern has been removed, with the intention of restoring this ecosystem. As people says, “I take my hat off” to those who have done this work, since the conditions are really hard and I hope that the project will go ahead given the immense importance of the mangrove.  

Irene and other students from Restoration & Rewilding Field Course learning river monitoring and conservation techniques. Photo: Hilary Brumberg

A shared perspective between all of the teachers of the course is that there is still opportunity for change and to reverse the effects of extensive destruction that we have caused. I feel really inspired after seeing so much work that is done (and that remains to be done), as well as motivated to contribute personally.

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