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Organization for Tropical StudiesMarch 2015
In This Issue
Improved Course
Land Purchase
Farewell Karen Vickers
Student Paper Award Winner
Heliconia Research
Trop Bio
Graduate Courses
FLAG Reservations
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FY 14 Annual Report   

The FY 14 Annual Report is now available online. Click the image to open the document. 

Tropical Disease, Environmental Change, and Human Health  


OTS is proud to announce the next iteration of the undergraduate OTS Global Health semester program in Costa Rica! Building on OTS broad experience within the tropics, beginning in the Fall 2015 semester, the program will expand its focus to examine the impacts of environmental change on human health.  The revised program, Tropical Disease, Environmental Change, and Human Health, will explore the effects of multiple environmental changes including: climate change, habitat fragmentation, and disruption of ecosystem services on the spread and severity of tropical diseases.


Continuing to focus on research with local communities surrounding the three OTS field stations in Costa Rica, students will work in both intact and altered ecosystems to assess disease transmission dynamics including insect and water vectors.  The Ethnobiology course explores the tradition use of plants by indigenous communities.  To broaden their understanding, students will visit Nicaragua to provide insights into health issues in another Central American country.


This course emphasizes both the biological nature of tropical diseases and the ecological and human health outcomes resulting from changes to ecosystem structure and functions. Instruction is based on the strengths and experience of the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) and our staff, and focuses on the highly respected OTS method of field-based, experiential learning.


The program faculty will invite an array of scientists, professionals, and other experts to give students a wide array of perspectives and insights related to environmental and human health. By the end of the course, students will have a good understanding of how biological, environmental, and socio-economic factors contribute to our understanding of human health issues facing Costa Rica and the tropics today.


Optional post-semester clinical internship:  We are offering an exciting post-semester clinical internship opportunity for students who take the fall semester.  Participants will have a hands-on experience in a clinical environments in a small community in Costa Rica.  You will shadow local health care professionals and help to facilitate the operation of clinic days in under-served communities.  Specific details on this option will be available soon.


If you are interested in this or any other OTS undergraduate program, please write to us at [email protected] or call us at 919-684-5155. 


Las Cruces Secures Major Land Purchase

Las Cruces is thrilled to announce that, in late February, the final closing papers were signed on a new 30 hectare property located on the eastern end of Las Cruces. This achievement was many years in the making and is the result of intensive fundraising and a major donation by the March Conservation Fund to secure this particular property. It is located due north of the last parcel acquired in 2009 and will provide an important buffer for the Rio Java watershed (the western jagged boundary in the image below) and will also buffer our primary forest. The property ranges between 1050-1150m in elevation and is comprised almost entirely of degraded pasture. As this property recovers it will provide additional important habitat for the fauna in our reserve and new space for colonization of our diverse flora.  This important addition will increase our protected area to a slightly over 360 hectares overall and will help connect up the matrix of remnant forest patches and recovering habitat in and around this immediate area. 

The Las Cruces Land Campaign has been an ongoing project for many decades and over the years the protected area has slowly expanded to the reserve's current boundaries. Each expansion has helped protect the incredibly diverse flora and fauna that are found in our forest fragments. The ongoing goal is to connect the Las Cruces reserve to the Guaymí indigenous reserve and create a biological corridor to ease the pressure on our wildlife, and facilitate their movement in this region of Costa Rica. The region saw tremendous deforestation back in the 1970s and 1980s and only 25% of the original forest that once covered this landscape remains.  


With your help and generous donations we have been able to offset the impact that has had on the wildlife and flora of the region. Everyone at OTS expresses their thanks to all the donors who have helped make this new acquisition a reality, with a special note of gratitude from everyone at Las Cruces!  


To support the ongoing efforts of the Las Cruces Land Campaign, please click here to make a donation. 

A Fond Farewell to Karen Vickers
Karen Vickers by Jay Taft
Karen Vickers
Photo by Jay Taft

It is with sadness that the OTS South Africa Program will be bidding farewell to Karen Vickers. Karen joined the OTS South Africa Program in 2006 as a teaching assistant, having recently graduated from the University of Cape Town Conservation Biology Masters Program. It quickly became apparent that she would make a wonderful academic, and she was hired as a lecturer.

In the nine years she has been with the OTS, Karen

  • Taught on 15 undergraduate courses, which included teaching 360 undergraduates, partnering with 15 OTS lecturers and 54 visiting faculty, training 17 TAs, working with three logistics managers;
  • Traveled (and driven most of ) 141,000 km and flown on 26 flights, all while herding students;
  • Designed and implemented six NSF-funded summer research experiences for 17 US students;
  • Established the Nsasani Trust, an NGO that focuses on human capital development in the biodiversity sector in southern Africa;
  • Helped establish the Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative (SSLI), a partnership between OTS, the Nsasani Trust and SANParks which aims to provide science and leadership opportunities for South African and international students and researchers;

She will leave both a substantial legacy with OTS and some enormous boots to fill. We wish her all the best for her future endeavors!

2014 Student Paper Award Winner Announced


The winner of the 2014 OTS Student Paper Award is Susan Whitehead for the paper "Chemical ecology of fruit defense: synergistic and antagonistic interactions among amides from Piper" published in the journal Functional Ecology.  Susan is an alum of the 2008 Tropical Biology course and all of her research was conducted at La Selva Biological Station.  This research was part of her doctoral work at the University of Colorado under the direction of Deane Bowers.  Susan is currently a  Post-doctoral Research Associate in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University.


Honorable mention goes to Camilla Crifò for her paper "Variations in angiosperm leaf vein density have implications for interpreting life form in the fossil record" published in the journal Geology.  Camilla is an alum of the 2014 Tropical Plant Systematics course.  This was her Master's research at Miami University (Ohio) under the direction of Ellen D. Currano.  Camilla is now a doctoral student at the University of Washington.


The Awards Committee was Kimberly G. Smith (Chair), University of Arkansas; Elisabeth Arevalo, Providence College; Erin K. Kuprewicz, Smithsonian Institution; Kyle E. Harms, Louisiana State University; and the 2013 award winner Samantha R. Weintraub, University of Utah.


Congratulations Susan! 


Las Cruces Researchers Discover That Heliconia Recognizes Pollinators

The researchers found that green hermit hummingbirds had much greater success than humans or other hummingbirds at pollinating a plant called Heliconia tortuosa. (Matthew Betts/Oregon State University)
Research at the OTS stations has added significantly to what is known about tropical biology and forest ecosystems - more than 300 scientists from 25 countries work at OTS sites each year.
Recently, a number of publications featured the research of Dr. Matthew Betts, an associate Professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, and Dr. Adam Hadley, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto. Together, they conducted a study of Heliconia tortuosa pollinators in the area surrounding OTS' Las Cruces Biological Station. Their findings, showing that the plant has evolved the capacity to recognize pollinator species, has been promoted in various news publications.

New York Times: Discerning Plant Picks Its Pollinators

Science News:Tropical plant knows whose bill is in its flowers   

CBS Radio (audio dowload available): Plants pick their Pollinators


The Las Cruces Biological Station owns one of the largest remaining forest fragments in the region an is home to over 2,000 native plant species. Numerous smaller fragments are scattered throughout the area and some measure of biological connectivity exists in the form of living fence rows and narrow corridors along riparian zones. However, rather than viewing this landscape as an impediment to research, it is this setting that makes Las Cruces an ideal station to study the effects of forest fragmentation and isolation on animal and plant communities. The area is also ideally suited for research on biological corridors and restoration ecology.


Las Cruces is working to actively promote and facilitate research in a number of ways. In addition to numerous databases, Las Cruces is equipped with classrooms and wireless access to the internet, as well as laboratory and library facilities to serve researchers and academic courses for short or long-term projects. 


Field Ecology: Skills for Science and Beyond back from the field!


The Field Ecology: Skills for Science and Beyond came back from the field a few weeks ago and students are still active on the course blog. The course was led by Jane Zelikova (U. Wyoming) and Andrea Vincent (UNA/UCR, Costa Rica). They were accompanied by 11 invited faculty members from many different research and specialized backgrounds, from quantitative ecology, plant physiology, to science communication and podcasting. Students that participated in the course came from several different countries, representing Peru, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Ecuador and the USA.


The course was a great success and students really enjoyed the fast paced and demanding rhythm of an OTS course. One student pointed out when asked what was the best part of it "Carrying out research at world class sites. The facilities and services were all great, very comfortable experience [...]." Another student commented that "The friendship and support everyone gave each other through all the projects and stress, it was awesome!"  


The course visited four different sites. At all sites students were required to design experiments, along with invited faculty and also independently, analyze results, and present them orally and in written form to peers and professors.  


Palo Verde National Park and Biological Station

The students visited the tropical dry forest and became acquainted with the unique (and threatened) ecosystems of the Guanacaste region. They also learned about the unique management strategies for this RAMSAR wetland and also about the Costa Rican national parks system.


La Selva Biological Stations 

At La Selva students became acquainted with one of the top Neotropical research stations in the world. They got to learn the characteristics of the most diverse Holdridge life zone in Costa Rica (tropical wet forest), and were taught cutting-edge analytical techniques (video, audio, biodiversity databases).


Cuericí Biological Station and Agroecology Center

Students at Cuerici learn about the tropical oak-bamboo forest. They are also immersed in the sustainable land use and conservation model that Carlos Solano and his partners have developed at Cuericí Biological Station. Finally, students become acquainted with the unique ecosystem of the páramo habitat in Cerro de la Muerte.  


Las Cruces Biological Station (OTS site)

Las Cruces Biological Stations is a unique site where students learn the history of the Wilson Botanical Garden and its value in biological research. Student are introduced to the pre-montane the forest (Holdrige life zone) of Las Cruces and the station's unique role in reforestation experiments and forest fragmentation ecology.  


The Field Ecology: Skills for Science and beyond will be heading out again in December 28, 2015. For information about future iterations of the course write to [email protected] 



Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach - summer opportunity!!

Bats and Piper
Bats and Piper

This OTS "fundamentals course" is an intensive, field-based experience in tropical biology for graduate students. Since the 1960s, this classic OTS course has trained ecologists and evolutionary biologists using an active learning approach, which engages students in a fun and fast-paced research environment. With guidance from expert scientists, students will gain experience in critical thinking, research design, data analysis, analytical tools, science communication, ecological modeling, and collaborative research-all in the beautiful tropical setting of Costa Rica. We guarantee you will come away from the course a better scientist with new skills and ideas to carry into your future research.

Mary Jamieson  and Hollis Woodard
Course duration: 6 weeks (June 8 - July 19, 2015)
Credits: 6 credits awarded by the University of Costa Rica
Application deadline: March 1, 2015; followed by rolling admission until course is full.


Systematics, Ecology, Evolution and Uses of PalmsMay 25- June 7, 2015
Payment for Ecosystem Services: Putting Theory into Practice in Costa Rica
May 25- June 8, 2015
Telling Stories About Science: Science communication in the digital age
July 21 - August 3, 2015
Tropical Conservation & Sustainable Development: Law, Policy & Professional Practice
May 30 - June 30, 2015
Ecology and Evolution of Coleoptera (Beetles)June 5-24, 2015
Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach
June 8 -July 19, 2015
June 9 - 26, 2015
Inquiry in Rainforests: an in-service program for teachers July 8 - 21, 2015
Biodiversity Conservation through the Lens of Indigenous Communities
July 21 - Aug 6, 2015

 * for priority consideration, followed by rolling admission until fully enrolled. 

Faculty-Led Academic Groups  

The OTS academic logistics staff has assisted hundreds of faculty members throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Costa Rica, enhance their course trips by arranging everything from hotel reservations, transportation, meals, day activities, and research permits.   With three full-service research stations in which to conduct field-training, a dedicated staff in San Jose, as well as at Las Cruces, La Selva, and Palo Verde, and decades of experience with our own courses traveling throughout Costa Rica, they are perfectly suited to help faculty members create memorable courses.


Faculty members interested in visiting our stations during the next academic calendar year, 2015-2016, should contact us as soon as possible to take advantage of good rates and availability.        


Click here for more information or email Pablo Richard directly at [email protected].  


Employment Opportunities

The Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) is seeking applicants for several
positions. Qualifications vary by position and application instructions can be found on our website.
External Notices
Postdoctoral Research Associate position Washington University in St. Louis is available in the research group of Jonathan Myers. For more information, click here and search for Job ID 29354. 

OTS includes external listings as a service to our community. If you would like to post an announcement or job opportunity here, please email us.
Contact Us
Website: www.ots.ac.cr
General Questions: [email protected]
Specific Questions: Click here
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