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

Birds, Community Outreach, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Repeat volunteers reflect on growth of restoration plots and science programs

Blogpost by Robin Morris and Steve Pearce, General Volunteers

It seems like yesterday when we walked through the gate to the Osa Verde BioStation (Piro) for the first time in January 2017 and were greeted by a group scarlet macaws in the trees snacking and squawking.  We’re here now for our third winter excursion, and I have to admit we’ve done some cool things the last couple years.  

Robin enjoying a two-year-old balsa forest. During Robin and Steve’s 2018 visit, they helped clear plants around the small balsa saplings, and in 2019, they helped preparing bird boxes to bring wildlife to the young balsa forest. Photo: Steve Pearce

One of the projects we’ve helped with here is reforesting abandoned farmland.  Seedlings of balsa trees have been planted, and on a previous stay we were given small machetes and told to clear the plants around the seedlings, a project we lovingly christened ¨Weeding the rainforest.¨ It felt somewhat silly and hopeless, but when we came this year, we found new forests of balsa on the former farmland, proving conservation work frequently requires patience to see results.  Part of the reforestation process is creating habitats for animals, so this year we helped set up bird boxes to encourage birds to move into the new forest, sort of like opening a piano bar to lure lounge lizards.  

“Conservation work frequently requires patience to see results.”

Robin helping Manuel relocate a sea turtle nest on a patrol with Manuel Sanchez. Photo: Steve Pearce

One of the great lures to volunteering here is the Sea Turtle Program.  A newly hatched green or Olive Ridley turtle could give cuteness-lessons to puppies or kittens. When we first came here two years ago, the program was led by local legendary naturalist and photographer Manuel Sanchez.  Last year we even got to checked on the hatchery in the afternoons so he could have a vacation.  The Sea Turtle Program, like much work in conservation, is a steady commitment. Now the program has several dedicated enthusiastic staff members, frequently assisted by volunteers like us.  But the work is still the same, patrolling the deserted beach on breathtaking mornings, finding and relocating nests to the hatchery, releasing the hatchlings to the sea, as well as excavating nests to determine mortality rates among the eggs.  And after releasing young turtles for three years, it’s fun to watch people melt.

“The Sea Turtle Program, like much work in conservation, is a steady commitment… And after releasing young turtles for three years, it’s fun to watch people melt.”

The Osa features a splendid variety of wildlife, from squirrel monkeys and scarlet macaws to cane toads and green turtles.  Each trip has brought new sightings or exciting moments of discovery.  But one creature has almost brought our marriage to an end each year.  No, a jaguar has not attacked us on a footpath.  Snakes have not ambushed us in the bathroom.  And no, a crocodile has never attacked us on the beach. The problem is that Steve always falls in love with the paraque.  

Steve’s girlfriend, a paraque, resting in the pavilion. Photo: Steve Pearce

A nocturnal species, the paraque birds frequently sit along the paths of the research station and even in the pavilion, occasionally sweeping through to feed on insects drawn by the light.   They make an assortment of whistles to other paraques in the area and flop about when people walk near.  They sometimes make cooing ¨bwot¨ sounds.  Local folklore includes tales of the paraque calling travelers into the forest to get them or their children lost.  A paraque sometimes follows us to our cabina and bwots to lure me outside.  Attempts to photograph them at night usually yield nothing but a red dot in the darkness, further evidence of their supernatural nature.  

The paraque is a heartbreaker though, for when we asked another volunteer what her favorite mammal and bird of the Osa were, she replied ¨squirrel monkeys and Steve’s girlfriend.¨  We hope to leave at the end of the week without Steve pining for his girlfriend at the airport.

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

The Rare Festival of Fruit: Our mission to protect a hidden treasure

A recently planted Zapote Olimpico seedling.

During this past July, while walking through the Cerro Osa forest, Agustín Mendoza, one of the most charismatic members of Osa Conservation’s conservation and land management team, heard sounds and a great deal of activity at the top of the canopy. As he came closer to the site, he realized that the clamor was coming exclusively from a Zapote tree (Pauteria Sp). This tree was full of juicy fruits characterized by an exquisite orange color and a sweet scent that invaded the monotonous serenity of the forest. In the top of the tree he found a complete troop of spider monkeys that jumped from branch to branch, 35 meters in the air, taking advantage of the sudden abundance of this unusual feast.

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