01 Jul From University Students to Field Researchers: Augustana Takes the Piro Rainforest!
Blog by: Carolyn Cook and Makenzee Kruger.
This January, our group of 10 undergraduate students and two faculty members from the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta left the cold Canadian weather behind to visit Osa Conservation’s Piro Research Station on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. There, we conducted research on plant survivorship and terrestrial invertebrate diversity within recently established restoration plots. After spending a semester prepping for the field course, we were ready to dive headfirst into the rainforest and put our study designs to the test.
A Warm Welcome
Upon arrival at the Piro Research Station, we were greeted by a friendly staff and a delicious meal. It didn’t take long for us to experience the diversity of flora and fauna that Osa had to offer; cicadas sang in a chorus all night long while we populated our iNaturalist apps with a variety of insects including moths, praying mantises, and giant roaches. Over the course of the trip, we also saw the venomous fer-de-lance snake, scarlet macaws, nightjars, vultures, sea turtle hatchlings, and the four species of monkeys that roam the Osa jungle: howler, spider, capuchin, and squirrel.
Orientation included walking the grounds and selecting appropriate restoration plots for the purpose of our research projects. We also had the chance to check out the beach and watch the crashing waves and soaring pelicans.
Into the Plots
Still adjusting to the heat and humidity, we hit the ground running on our research projects. We had two teams of five students each. Team Balsa trekked into the restoration plots to measure the survivorship of various tree species, comparing the different experimental treatments to help monitor whether the restoration projects were succeeding in their goals. Team Unbeetleables got down and dirty, digging pitfall traps to capture terrestrial invertebrates, trying to determine how well the rewilding strategies were working compared to the surrounding climax community rainforest. Both teams strived to provide relevant research and results to aid in the ongoing restoration of the degraded agricultural lands.
Our research days consisted of early morning wake up calls, courtesy of the howler monkeys, and breakfast at 7:00 am. Both groups then headed out to their respective plots for the day; the Unbeetleables either setting or retrieving their pitfall traps, Team Balsa assessing whether the trees within their plots were dead or alive. Upon our return, we feasted on lunch and gulped down delicious, cold juice — a refreshing treat after hours sweating in the field. Time after lunch was reserved for data entry/analysis and identifying the invertebrates captured in the pitfall traps to order level (some days this meant counting over 1500 micro ants!). The rest of the day was spent relaxing and enjoying much-needed free time; our morning field work was exhausting!
A Wild Experience
The diverse flora and fauna of the Costa Rican rainforest captivated (and sometimes terrified) our hearts. We found what we called “couch toads” living behind the couch in our residence, as well as the occasional “shower toad” and a “toilet skink.” Our professors had mother and baby scorpions living under the couch in their residence, and one night we discovered a huge huntsman spider under the counter in our temporary home. Nightjars often flew through our residence, eating crickets and other insects, and a bee started to build a hive under our picnic table during our stay. We also paid daily visits to our resident fer-de-lance that lived by the river.
Drawn to Sea
Early morning turtle patrols with the Piro turtle team were without a doubt one of our favourite experiences of the trip. We will always remember and cherish our fond memories of releasing baby turtles out to sea. Small groups of us went on many turtle walks; some relocated an olive ridley nest one morning, and another group of us rescued turtles from that same nest later on. All together, we released 117 olive ridley hatchlings during our time at Piro. Their instinct to move toward the ocean is so strong, it’s amazing! The turtles captured all of our hearts.
A Big Thank You
We would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to the Osa Conservation staff for all their assistance and guidance, as well as keeping us safe and fed. This journey was unforgettable, and we couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you, and we hope to return in the future. Hasta pronto, y Pura Vida!