Monday, December 4, 2017

A Panamanian Vacation

By Tyus Loman

            After a day of driving and crossing the Costa Rica/Panama border, our bus finally reached its destination, a small port town on the Atlantic coast. Our group exited the bus, and we loaded into a small motorized boat. We started our thirty-minute boat excursion through a picturesque setting; the sea was clear blue, the coast was visible in the distance, the sun radiated and reflected off the water, and mangroves were scattered throughout. We passed by numerous tranquil beaches, and eventually our boat slowed. The boat entered what appeared to be a man-made tunnel in the mangroves, and we reached a secluded dock on Isla Colón, one of the islands in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. I looked out and saw a large pastureland flanked by dense forest in the background. As far as I was concerned, we had reached a tropical paradise.
            We emptied the boat and started across the pastureland, avoiding numerous cows and a lone horse until we reached a fenced off area. Within the fence was the biological station; it included a two-story living quarters, library, laboratory, dining hall and lounge area, and even a volleyball court. Peter, the man in charge of the station, gave us a quick introduction of the haven he called home. In the dining hall, a dart board hung on the wall, a hammock spanned across two pillars, and the room was furnished with multiple tables and a couch. I could not imagine more calm and ideal living conditions.

            The next morning, we set out for our swimming and buoyancy tests, followed by multiple hours of snorkeling, an activity we would become quite familiar with the next few days. Bocas del Toro has a considerable amount of living coral reef, especially relative to the rest of the highly bleached Caribbean reef system. The marine biodiversity we encountered was incredible; we saw numerous moon jellies, a group of squids, multiple sting rays, and various families of corals and fishes. As well, we studied the habits of damselfish, a territorial herbivorous fish, using planted sea grass. The fish would chase away any fish that neared their food source, even to the point that one nibbled my finger when I attempted to collect the sea grass for examination.

            The incredible biodiversity of Bocas del Toro was not limited to the marine life. On Isla Colón, a three-toed sloth appeared at the station. To intimidate us, the assumed predators, the sloth stood up and spread its arms wide. Despite its best intentions, the pose simply made the creature look adorable. Also, we came across a Boa constrictor in the leaf litter. As well, the forest was dense with a plethora of frogs, especially yellow Oophaga pumilio with black spots. We even stumbled across a Diasporus diastema, more commonly known as a dink frog, a species that is quite difficult to find.
           Our quaint research station on the secluded Isla Colón is a great example of an island left highly-undisturbed by human interaction. In contrast to the other islands of Bocas del Toro that had been highly impacted by tourism, Isla Colón has retained much of its natural beauty. Despite the great economic advantages of tourism, Isla Colón is an example of why many of nature’s beauties must be protected.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Fossorial Calling Behavior of an Endangered Frog

By Rowan Etzel

           Back at Las Cruces Biological Station, several of us found some frogs exhibiting new calling behavior for their species, which happens to be endangered. Because these observations appeared to be novel, I decided to take on the task of writing up our observations in greater detail, perhaps eventually for submission to a scientific journal. Here are those notes:
Ptychohyla legleri, Legler’s Stream Frog, is a moderately sized nocturnal red-eyed treefrog, usually found near small streams in premontane wet forest of southern Costa Rica and western Panama. Males are thought to call during February–July in vegetation above flowing water, and have been found calling from rocks in streams at Las Cruces Biological Station, Costa Rica. Amplexus and oviposition behaviors are unknown for the species in the wild, but observations in captivity observed males to be territorial and defend small egg-laying cavities under an artificial waterfall where eggs were laid below the waterline. Clearly, the naturally history is poorly described for this frog.
            On 10 October 2017, we found six male P. legleri making advertisement calls for females at a first-order stream at Las Cruces. At about 4 PM, we heard two individuals calling from a short seepage down a vertical bank of the stream. Upon closer examination, the individuals were located one each within two separate burrows in the bank. The burrows were elevated 30–50 cm above the stream, ca. 15 m apart, and were ca. 3–4 cm in diameter. Water coursed down the stream bank around the burrow entrances and was also present within the burrows.  The individuals were perched 3–4 cm within the burrows and were half-exposed from the water. Upon shining a flashlight into the burrows, the individuals both stopped calling temporarily and retreated beneath the surface of the water. After a few minutes without exposure to a flashlight, they resumed calling with the typical advertisement call. The individuals chorused together, with one individual leading and the second calling in response to the first. Shortly thereafter, we located a third individual ca. 15 m upstream that was calling from within leaf litter adjacent to the stream. A fourth individual was also calling here near the third, but it eluded visual detection.

           When we returned after dark, we captured three more individuals. First, we located who we presume was the undetected fourth individual from the afternoon; it was a male and he was calling from among gravel beneath a rock. The final two individuals were found ca. 15 m upstream from the third and fourth, and were found calling together from underneath two rocks adjacent to the stream and were situated within small puddles with leaf-litter and twig organic detritus.

            We think our observations represent undescribed calling behavior for P. legleri which may provide insight into the breeding biology of the species. First, we observed individuals calling from subterranean burrows. It’s unclear whether those individuals constructed the burrows themselves, or used pre-existing burrows created by other mechanisms. In addition to the more typical nocturnal calling behavior, we also observed individuals that called diurnally in the late afternoon from within hidden calling sites such as terrestrial burrows and retreat sites beneath rocks. To us, terrestrial advertisement is uncommon among the hylid frogs of Central America, so this is atypical. Calling from covered locations such as terrestrial burrows may provide two functions. First, concealed calling sites may afford individuals additional protection and concealment from potential predators. In addition, these sites also resemble oviposition sites used by individuals in captivity. So, we think that these observations of terrestrial/fossorial calling may provide insight into where the frogs may lay eggs. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Curiosities from Greater Depths

By Michael Cornish

            Gliding over reflective turquoise waters towards an island destination was as thrilling as we had hoped; the smell of salt and whichever organic compounds that give the sea its signature scent was new to this course and we were all apt to embrace it.  A new country, new ecosystems to discover, what could be more exciting?
            We had just spent nearly two days in a bus traveling from the cloudy mountains of Monteverde, Costa Rica, to the coastal Bocas del Toro region of Panama where we were to spend a week studying marine life.  Mountains touched the clouds behind us as we motored away in colorful fiberglass boats pushed along by sputtering two-stroke Yamaha engines. Split between two boats, we made our way from the mainland towards a research station on the island Isla Colón.
            Steaming along while thinking about the excitement ahead, I heard a familiar noise.  Sounding like a draining bath tub, I remembered that it was the sound of a fouled propeller, a sound I have heard many times while navigating dinghies through seaweed. We abruptly stopped so our captain could remove the piece of rubbish caught in the prop. Problem solved, we continued on our way.

            Eventually, we approached an island and I expected, anytime, to see a beach we would land on. All of a sudden, while passing some mangrove trees, we, at a considerable pace, shot into a hole in the trees and cruised through a tunnel in the mangrove swamp.  A few hundred feet into the swamp, the captain slowed the boat as we approached a clearing with a small dock and bodega signed “[the] Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation”.  We got out of the boat and made our way, about a quarter of a mile, up a hilly pasture to the station.  Small, neat buildings made of yellow pine with red metal rooves were to be our base for the week.
            Early the next morning, we went back out in the boat to a small reef bordered by a lush mangrove swamp. When we arrived, our only instructions were to say within site of the boat and look for interesting things. Snorkeling though the clear water revealed some amazing creatures; the patch reef was dominated by the delicate fingers of fire coral, domed brain corals, and the thumb-shaped fingers from corals of the family Porites that were home to countless species of invertebrates, fish, and algae. Between colonies of these calcified reef-building species were a plethora of other sessile (unmoving) invertebrates. Green, blue, and red sponges of all shapes and sizes formed colorful rock-like structures that were often inhabited by brittlestars, gorgonian corals (soft corals that look like small, leafless trees), feather duster worms (which filter feed using feather-like appendages), crawling fire worms, yellow mantis shrimps living in small holes, amongst many others.  These coral flats were also patrolled by many different fishes.  Small yellow and black gobies (shark-nose gobies) were numerous-often perched on a small coral branch or on top of a brain coral, sand-colored blennies cruised the sandy bottoms between coral patches, and wrasses of all different colors cruised above the reef. Herbivorous fishes, such as the French angelfish (when juveniles), parrotfish and surgeonfish (Caribbean blue tang), swam about the reef searching for algae to graze upon.

            Towards shore, the mangrove swamp was home to even more fish. The roots of the mangrove trees sat in crystal clear waters that teemed with the juvenile fish which use these habitats as nurseries.  Because of this, the disappearing of mangroves threatens commercially-fished species that live in mangroves as juveniles. As I swam across the reef towards it, a layer of cold, fresh water grew as I got closer to the mangrove.  The water went from a turquoise to an emerald color which was surprisingly clear. The tubers from the mangrove trees shot into the water as if they were trees placed upside down in the water. On them were numerous oysters and other mollusks.
            The days that followed consisted of field work on the reef, conducting a project examining herbivory on seagrass we placed in the territories of aggressive damselfish. By placing pieces of seagrass at 0.5m distances from the middle of a territory, we looked at how much herbivory occurred and where, in hopes that it could indicate how far away from the territory center a damselfish was willing to defend.

            Reluctantly, we left at the end of the week, but not without a farewell from a pod of dolphins that swam past out boat on the trip back to the mainland. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Enter the Dragon

 By Dennis Bolshakov

           Last week, the OTS Tropical Biology group went to the Bocas del Toro and Bocas del Drago regions in Panama. Arriving at midday on bus to the Caribbean coast, we unloaded our bags and placed them haphazardly onto a small boat, and got into another boat ourselves. That day, I glimpsed just a fraction of the beauty that is the sea: we rode quickly, bouncing gently on the waves while inhaling the fresh sea air. I did not touch the water, in fear of splashing everything and everyone on the boat, since even reaching into the water with my fingers creates a spray of water that expands behind me (I did however, test this thoroughly the following days).
The lifeguard, Ivan, looks out to sea on our first day of snorkeling.
            After a brief swimming and buoyancy test, we were good to go. Boating over to different areas surrounding Colon Island, we snorkeled through the reefs and mangroves that surround the island, like a cell wall and membrane. That first day was my favorite field day: partnering up with a friend and exploring the beautiful aquatic nature. The life was especially strange and wondrous to me, since we haven’t learned anything about the coral environment yet (except to avoid the fire coral!). Having only seen a few documentaries about the sea, I was bombarded with the new sights and sounds and smells of the shallow sea for the first time.
            During the following two days, we conducted an experiment with the damselfish as the focal species. Since damselfish are herbivorous yet highly territorial, we wanted to see if brackets of sea grass were less likely to be consumed close to the den of the fish where it would chase other fish away less, or further away. And so, we returned to the sites twice a day and hovered for ten minutes at each site, observing who and for how long the damselfish chase, and then collected part of the grass from the site to measure for herbivory later in the lab. Watching the fish chase others was mildly entertaining, but the experience was definitely augmented by the picturesque setting. We are so lucky to have seen such a healthy and beautiful reef, especially now, what with coral bleaching affecting reefs all over the world. Admittedly, there were occasional beer and cola cans at the bottom here, which was sad to see.
The damselfish, our focal species among a bunch of coral, urchins, and brittle-stars.

           Every day, we returned to the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Restoration (ITEC) station on Colon Island by boating into a tunnel of mangrove trees and to the small harbor there. In this mangrove, we saw bats sleeping, great egrets preening, and even a small three-toed sloth gently moving towards the foliage. Upon arrival to the harbor, we washed all our equipment and then walked about a kilometer through pastureland, sometimes shooing away the cows and horses from the path. Back at the station, there was a library, a dining room, our rooms and the volleyball net. Breakfast at 7:30, lunch at noon, and dinner at six. The electric generator was turned on only when it was used for cooking or during the evenings, so there was limited access to the outside world, which suited me just fine. I spent much of my free time reading old issues of National Geographic and playing cards and darts with the rest of the group. The place definitely has a charm to it.
           Our last full day was similar to the first: we went to a reef and got to explore it for upwards of three hours. We saw rockfish, parrotfish, jackfish. Again, schools of iridescent fry were hiding in the mangrove roots, this time pestered by some bigger fish. There was a squad of squid, calmly undulating, changing color when darting away from us, and even inking one of the students. During the afternoon, we visited the town of Bocas Del Toro, to learn about how tourism affects local nature, culture, and economics. The town was surprisingly big, with its own airport and a main road with many grocery stores, tourist stands, and expensive bars. On land, we saw a sloth crossing the lawn, and took some photos of it while the poor thing was sitting, arms out, in a defensive pose the whole time. We also saw a boa constrictor snake more than a meter in length, which was exhilarating, and many small critters (and biting bugs!) during a night hike. The next morning, we all reluctantly packed our things onto a boat and left, and, much to our surprise, a small group of dolphin swam up to our boat, as if to say goodbye. It was a wonderful and educational trip.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Wildlife in Bocas del Toro, Panama

By Genevieve Valladao

           My favorite thing about the Tropical Biology OTS program that I’m currently in Costa Rica is the diversity of habitats that we get to see and learn about. I’ve visited a cloud forest, a páramo, a tropical dry forest, a premontane forest, and have even spent a few weeks in the concrete jungle of San José. However, up until last week, I had yet to see the Caribbean coast of Central America. Lucky for me, however, my course includes a marine unit that visits Bocas del Toro, an island archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Panama.
            A favorite way to kill time on my program is to watch the Planet Earth episode of the habitat we are visiting before we visit it. So naturally, the night before we headed to Panama we watched Planet Earth - Islands. The episode begins with a pygmy sloth searching for a mate amongst a mangrove forest. I was already excited for my trip to see the ocean creatures but when we looked up the location of the sloth scene and found it was Bocas del Toro, I realized that I would be seeing a lot more than just marine wildlife over the next week.
            The trip to Isla Colón, the island that we would stay on, started with a long bus ride from Costa Rica across the Panama border and culminated with a 45 minute boat ride out to the island. The last stretch of the boat ride went through a natural canal formed in a mangrove forest just like the one we had seen in Planet Earth. As soon as we got to the field station, the presence of one creature was immediately evident - frogs. The calls of the diurnal poison frog seemed to be welcoming us to Panama. Oophaga pumilio, also known as strawberry poison frogs, are abundant across the Caribbean coast of Central America. They contain alkaloids that are toxic to many predators and are brightly colored to warn of their toxicity. Many different color variations of the species exist and the frogs look different on each island of Bocas del Toro. On Isla Colón, the poison frogs are yellow and green with black spots.

            Poison frogs weren’t the only creature that vocally alerted us that they were there. My first morning on Isla Colón I was woken up before my alarm clock by another call that I have become familiar with over the past two months – that of the black-mantled howler monkeys. I would continue to be woken up by the howlers for the rest of my time at the research station, but the howler monkeys weren’t the only arboreal animals we got to see. One day the station director interrupted us at lunch to let us know that a three-toed sloth had found its way to the grounds of the station. The sloth was crawling slowly across the grass when we approached it to take pictures and it responded by taking up the defensive position that sloths use to try and scare of predators - sitting back and raising its arms in the air. It sat starting at us with its arms up for fifteen minutes.

            Although the terrestrial wildlife that during my week in Panama was amazing, it’s excellence was rivaled by that of the marine life we encountered. The faculty-led research project that we worked on in Bocas del Toro studied fish, so we spent most of our time in the water. From the moment we entered the ocean, we saw amazing creatures. I swam past cushion sea stars and jellyfish my first morning in Panama as I took my swim test. Each day we would go out to work on our projects, I would see something I had never seen before. During our first afternoon of data collection, I saw a burrfish perfectly camouflaged to the seafloor. Minutes later I saw what I thought was another burrfish, until I swam at it to take a video and it opened its small pectoral fins into beautiful bright blue wings – it was a Flying Gurnard. I saw many stingrays throughout my week in Panama, including one with a body over a meter long – a Caribbean Whiptail. But my favorite ocean encounter came on my last day in Bocas del Toro, when I found a group of Caribbean Reef Squid. There were about ten of them, and they lined up in perfect formation as I swam toward them. When I got too close for their liking, they began to swim away completely in sync. Throughout the rest of my day in the water, I would unexpectedly come upon the group of squid and would follow them around to watch how they would move together symmetrically through the water.
            I have seen amazing wildlife at every location that I have visited during my OTS program. As I begin my time at the last field station of my trip, I know it will be hard for it to beat the wildlife of Bocas del Toro. However, I have heard they have lots of monkeys and felines!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My Favorite Fish in the Sea

By Anna Lee

           This past week, the OTS Tropical Biology class took a break from life in Costa Rica and visited Isla Colon, one of the largest islands in the Bocas del Toro archipelago on the Caribbean side of Panama. While there, we completed a research projected investigating how territory defense in one species of damselfish affects herbivory of sea grass at varying distances from fish territories. To see firsthand how defensive these colorful, four-inch long fish can be, we spent a good portion of our week floating in the tropical waters and just simply observing their behavior.
Over three days, my partner and I recorded observations for seven fish. Most of the time, they were pretty predictable. Another fish would swim through the space and our focus fish would jump out of the coral they called home to remind the invader that they did not belong there. Then, there was Lazy Boy. Lazy Boy was a special fish that refused to follow the status quo. Not only did he fail to guard his territory from fish that wanted to steal food from his space, he would frequently wonder into his neighbor’s reef, leading to a quick attack.

            After watching Lazy Boy’s more…relaxed style of defense, he quickly became my favorite fish in the reef. Of course, there were fish that were more colorful, like the parrot fish nibbling their way across the sea floor or more dangerous like the barracuda reflecting the sunlight as they hunted, but I wasn’t able to appreciate their lives the way I could after spending time observing one lazy damselfish. Suddenly, I was aware of how exposed the lives of fish in our reefs are. They can’t escape the watchful eye of a student by hiding in the trees the way a terrestrial animal can. They live their lives in the open. They don’t understand the threats humans pose to our marine environment and most importantly, they don’t have anywhere to go if their reef disappears.
            In the moments we were not observing fish, we were taking in the coral reef as a whole. For the most part, the reef we were in was incredibly healthy. There were no signs of coral bleaching, an issue that is decimating reefs around the world (including other areas of Panama). Nor did we encounter commercial fisherman or tourists snorkeling the area. Even so, it is impossible to avoid noticing how humans have hurt this unique environment. The crystal-clear water can’t hide the beer cans littering the sand. The soft crunching of the parrotfish using their beaks to eat coral doesn’t drown out the sound of the motor boats passing by. Looking around at these charismatic fish that have evolved to survive in this environment, I was scared.

            At this point in my biology studies, I of course know how human influence has caused our oceans to change. Temperatures are rising with the global climate and increased levels of CO2 in the air have caused some areas of our sea to become more acidic, leading to a decline in the life that can survive there. Unfortunately, I just didn’t care. Being raised in the Midwest has not made me particularly comfortable around the ocean, and I had never seen many tropical fish outside of the tanks at my local pet store. Trying to understand the life of Lazy Boy has made me reconsider my thoughts. If I do not want to fight to protect the ocean as a whole, I can fight to protect the life of one small lazy fish, my favorite fish in the sea. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Getting Inked in Bocas del Toro

By Finote Gisjman

           When I look back on my experience in Costa Rica, being a part of the Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet study abroad program, I hope that I have a handful of memories to reminisce upon. One of the places that definitely did do just that was Bocas del Toro, Panama.
            Our journey to Bocas del Toro was nothing short of exhausting. We started our trip to Bocas del Toro from La Selva Biological Station in northeastern Costa Rica. The group left at 6:00 am and traveled through the Caribbean coast down to the border between Costa Rica and Panama. Once there, we got out of the bus, exited Costa Rica, and crossed a bridge over to the Panamanian side of the border. From there we drove another two hours, until we reached a port with boats that were waiting to take us to Isla Colón, a large island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. The boat ride took about an hour, but eventually we reached a small opening in the mangroves that led to a dock owned by the Institute of Tropical Ecology and Conservation, the place where we were staying for the next few days.
We started off our week in Panama with a short swimming test that was followed by a few hours of snorkeling. The next few days were spent working on a research project in the reef with Threespot Damselfish (Stegastes planifrons). These fish are herbivores that feed on seaweed and display intense territorial defense behavior. Adult Threespot Damselfish often maintain large territories and chase or peck intruders. Our experiment aimed to investigate the effect of this type of territorial defense behavior on herbivory of seagrass cuttings placed at different distances away from the fish’s territory (0 m, 0.5 m, 1m). We also observed each fish for periods of 10 minutes and noted the number of chases/attacks on intruders and the type of intruder (whether it was an herbivore or carnivore). Getting to work on a marine research project was a pretty interesting and challenging experience that I really enjoyed. Collecting data underwater, for instance, was not an easy task. Having to deal with the snorkels while also having to collect data on the fish’s behavior underwater was very difficult.
My favorite and most memorable moment of the trip, however, was on our last snorkeling day. As usual, we left the Institute at 8:00 am and got into the boat that would take us to our next snorkeling spot. We reached an open water area surrounded on one side by mangroves where we set the anchor down. My partner and I jumped into the water and made our way through the reef. Within the first few minutes of snorkeling, we came across a shoal of eight squids that were uniformly lined up and “hovering” in the water. The squids had pale pink torpedo-shaped bodies with bright blue dots on their sides, features characteristic to the Caribbean Reef Squid. We followed this shoal of squids for about 45 minutes through the seagrass and corals and observed their behavior. The squids, all of different sizes, seemed to continually change colors as they swam in their diagonal formation, maybe as a way to communicate with each other.
My partner and I were determined to document all of the things that we saw that day on her GoPro, so obviously getting the squids on camera was one of our main priorities. In attempts to do so, I dove down into the water slowly, trying not to make any sudden movements that would scare the squids off. This didn’t exactly work. I guess I got too close for their comfort at some point because the next thing I knew, I had been inked. Once one of them had released its ink, each squid in the diagonal line consecutively also released their ink. Soon enough, they were nowhere to be found. The only sign of their existence were the eight small pools of ink floating in the water and the footage on the GoPro.
            While in Bocas del Toro, we also came across a Three-toed Sloth that was crossing the Institute’s yard. As these animals only come down to the ground infrequently to urinate and defecate, finding a sloth right outside of our rooms was a pretty cool and unique experience. The group was extremely excited to see a sloth up-close so obviously we had to take a million pictures. When the sloth saw us approach, it sat up and spread its arms facing us. Although seemingly cute, this open-armed stance is a defensive stand against predators that shows off the sloth’s long claws, and serves as a warning.
Bocas del Toro was probably my favorite trip of the program so far. It was a very cool experience to not only travel to a different country in Central America but also get to experience what research in a marine ecosystem would be like. I hope to be able to go back some day and work at the Institute of Tropical Ecology and Conservation.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Sunburn Chronicles

By Mikayla Kifer

            “We are going to ask you to wear a t-shirt in the water in order to minimize the chances of burning your back and shoulders, and to minimize reef exposure to sunscreen.” When I read this sentence, I was delirious from sleep deprivation because of tough traveling hours at the end of midterm break. And with a limitation on the amount of luggage we could bring for the two weeks at Monteverde and Bocas del Toro, Panama, I was hesitant to toss in a long-sleeved shirt when I already had a flannel to keep me warm at Monteverde and field t-shirts for everything else. When I first saw the glittering, blue water of the Bocas del Toro islands, my first thought was, “This place is heaven on Earth.” My second thought: I’m going to die.
            If Snow White was albino, she would be about as pale as I am. Dermatologists tell me that a few severe sunburns could set me on the path to skin cancer. Which makes sense given that I burn after 15 minutes of direct sunlight exposure…in the northern United States. Facing a week of snorkeling under the tropical sun in just shorts and a t-shirt and without any sunscreen didn’t really seem like a good idea. But the consequences of me lathering on my SPF 85 could be deadly for the poor, innocent corals that I was studying.
            I had been thrown into an interesting moral dilemma, with death by skin cancer on one end of the spectrum and coral reef collapse on the other. Yes, it seems unlikely that a week of bad sunburns would kill me, and equally unlikely that a week of sunscreen use would kill the reef. But I think it’s important to consider all possibilities, because thinking about this one problem can shed light on similar and more extreme situations.
            What should we do when confronted with situations where we have to make a choice between ourselves and the environment? I believe there are a variety of options that depend somewhat on the severity and the certainty of the consequences. This issue becomes particularly complicated when it comes to the actions of an individual in the broad scope of anthropogenic climate change. Is flipping off the lights every time I leave the room going to save the world? Absolutely not. But what if I flip off the lights, buy an electric car, and stop eating meat and imported fruit? Still no. Yet every action I take to reduce my carbon footprint and the environmental consequences that I cause does something, even if I can’t quantify the tangible benefit. It’s one fewer tree cut down. It’s one shark without a stomach full of plastic bottles. Small efforts have meaning especially when one considers that the average American emits 540 times more carbon dioxide than the average citizen of Ethiopia. Even more important are the actions that everyone takes. One person is not going to save the world, but many individuals will.

           Just me deciding not to wear sunscreen is not going to save the reef if everyone else wears it. This is where Kant’s categorical imperative comes in. “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” We have an obligation to not consider ourselves exceptions to the rule, and we should act in the way that we believe everyone else should too. When so many environmental issues are a summation of small environmentally destructive actions, we need to hold ourselves accountable to taking small environmentally friendly actions because we can make a difference when we act as a multitude of individuals.

            In case you’re wondering, yes, I got sunburned because I didn’t wear sunscreen. I went out the next day covered in a borrowed shirt from our professor, Mau, and field pants. On the bright side, I don’t think I killed any corals. I’ll check back in 30 years on the skin cancer. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Expect the Unexpected

By Rowan Etzel

Sometimes, scientific work doesn’t always go quite the way you expect. Last week, we were getting ready to go into the field for the morning to look for lizards as part of a research project led by visiting faculty members. We packed our backpacks and readied our measuring equipment, anticipating to spend hours in the forest. Our plan was to collect data to test for a plastic response of anoles to changes in habitat – to capture these lizards in both secondary forest and old growth forest, and measure their bodies for differences in morphological features across the change in habitat. We were going to collect the anoles’ body measurements, as well as take data on the habitats in which we found the lizards. A good plan, but tropical storm Nate got in our way.
            A few minutes after hiking into the forest, it started pouring rain, and we were drenched within minutes. We scoured the undergrowth and ground for lizards, but didn’t find a single anole in over an hour. Turns out, the lizards were smarter than we were, and decided to hide away and stay dry. We then made the executive decision to change our project, switching our focus from forest anoles to instead study aquatic anoles, Norops aquaticus, that live in and around water and might be less fazed by the drenched conditions. We still needed to take morphological measurements and habitat data, only now we would compare our data to previous data collected by our faculty leader, Michelle, on a different species of aquatic anole in northeastern Costa Rica. Our new plan was to compare the two species’ morphologies and habitats for signs of convergent evolution, which occurs when two species evolve similar traits in response to living in similar habitats.

           We hiked up and down the slippery, muddy slopes of Quebrada Culebra, a small stream that intersects the trail several times, bubbling up and over lots of large rocks. Half of us went upstream and the other half down, all the while it continued to pour cats and dogs on us. We looked all over the streambanks, checking for anoles on rocks, roots, and tree trunks, and among the leaf litter on the banks. It took a while, but we found them. While finding them was challenging, catching them was just as difficult. They move fast, and will jump into the flowing water to escape capture. And the terrain was less than simple to navigate, with lots of slippery rocks and rushing water impeding us. When we started out, the stream was still at a somewhat normal height, but by the time we started to head back it had turned into a raging torrent of brown floodwater. All of us had fallen or almost fallen while struggling through the stream, and we were covered in water and dirt. There was nothing as satisfying as jumping over a rock into a deep hole of water after a lizard, to surface with it in your hands. The whole experience sounds miserable, but in actuality, it was purely enjoyable. I was late to lunch and my body was covered in bruises and scratches, but my dirt-covered face was stretched into a wide grin.

            Part of the joy of science lies in rolling with the punches and being willing to adapt to whatever unexpected situation comes up along the way. It’s rare that things will go precisely as planned, and that’s part of what makes things fun. Keeping an open mind and being prepared to switch tactics at any point is something that has served me well, both in scientific pursuits and in life in general. If I had known I would spend the morning falling up and down a rainy, roaring stream after lizards, I don’t know how excited I would have been – but it the most fun I’ve had in ages.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Intimidated by Diversity

By Michael R. Cornish

          Birds come in many shapes and sizes, this I know. Years spent in my backyard growing up continues to tell me so. Flipping through the book Birds of North America, I would try to memorize what each looked like. Walking in the small patch of woods behind my house, I would then try to identify as many as I could. I would hang bird feeders to attract songbirds, and nail oranges to trees near a swamp I knew were frequented by Baltimore Orioles frequented. It became a game of sorts, always trying to identify as many species as I could, until I eventually knew all but the rarest species.  I really liked birds.  
            Before my coming to Costa Rica this fall, I spent the summer working on a research boat in the Gulf of Maine. One of our tasks was bringing ornithologists to and from island field sites where they were studying birds. While motoring between islands, it was always a treat to hear from them about their work and adventures around the world. I can recall a conversation with a well-known researcher, during which I mentioned that I would be in Costa Rica for the fall semester. He told me that he had just been in that country a few weeks earlier, and said that the amount of bird diversity “down there” “would frighten me”.  I didn’t believe him; I was out on the ocean every day, routinely seeing puffins, razorbills, shearwaters, and many other rare and beautiful species. I knew that it would be impressive, but frightening? I thought not.

            Three months later, I sit here nestled in the premontane wet forests of Las Cruces Biological Station in southern Costa Rica. Of course, at first hand, the bird life here is amazing. But, after many walks looking for birds, the diversity is quite intimidating indeed. Black-mandibled Toucans call, sounding like a weird flute as they fly over the forest canopy. Rufous-tailed and Magnificent Hummingbirds fly through the vegetation, crested caracaras up in palm trees, and brilliantly colored scarlet-thighed dacnis look like blue lights strung up in the trees. The diversity was astounding; everywhere I looked a bird I had never seen popped into view. Now that I think about it, I cannot recall having seen the same species more than twice. Trying to keep a simple species list was downright overwhelming.
             A really interesting observation I made was the number of different species within the same family.  Tanagers, for example, also occur in my native Vermont but only one species, the scarlet tanager. Within the span of three hours walking through the Wilson botanical garden at Las Cruces, I recorded more than five different tanagers; cherries tanagers, bay-headed tanagers, silver-throated tanagers, and golden crowned tanagers to name a few. Lead by the expertise of Jason Figueroa, a local guide, we saw over thirty species in a single bird walk through the garden one morning, including a cherries tanager male (top left),  a black-mandibled toucan (top right),  a green honeycreeper female (bottom left), and a blue-crowned motmot (bottom right).  Experiencing first-hand the products of niche partitioning from intense competition was an amazing experience. Frightening may not be the right word (but it makes for good effect), the diversity and sheer number of bird species in this place is truly astounding and something I wish more people could experience.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Researching in the Rain

By Anna Lee

If you had told a fifteen-year-old me that in five years’ time I would be spending hours out in a Costa Rican thunderstorm catching spiders, I probably would have shrugged and wondered when I got so cool. While I (unfortunately) cannot confirm that second fact, spending an evening chasing spiders would not have been a surprise. I’ve never been afraid of the natural world or its more creepy crawly inhabitants. My mother and friends have used this ability for most of my life, letting me catch and release anything that may get in the house in a designated “bug jar” before they could squish it. While I never thought this practice would be needed in my academic career, it did come in handy while collecting spiders for a research project in my fall semester in Costa Rica.
While spiders have never made me uncomfortable, I cannot say the same thing about research. Undergraduate research is constantly used as a selling point at schools across the United States, including my home institution of Duke University. Research is everywhere, professors talk about their own projects, friends brag about positions in labs… but in my life? Research has never had a place. I have never been able to focus my diverse set of interests enough to consider applying for a job in any single professor’s lab, or to imagine myself contemplating one set of research questions for an entire semester or year.

However, one of my primary motivations in coming on this particular study abroad was the fact that I would be made to participate in a variety of research projects under the guidance of resident and guest professors from around the world. In five weeks here, I have helped collect data for five different projects, working with frogs, birds, lizards, ants and, of course, spiders. Each project is over in just a few days, peaking our curiosity without letting the students get bored. In this case, less than 48 hours after the spiders were captured from broadleaf bromeliad plants in the Wilson Botanical Garden, an experiment was performed, and the spiders were released back to where they had been collected.  

Research has always been presented as the logical step for a biology major with no interest in  the more typical pre-professional tracks. Without practical experience, however, I’ve never felt comfortable in plotting that path out for myself. In a little over a month, experience and advice has been thrown at me from an incredible group of professors, and I have learned more about what I want for my life than I would have dared to hope for before I came to this country. Will I spend my life doing research? Who knows. But for the first time, I feel like I have the tools to make that call for myself. That, to me, is worth the plane ticket.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Adventures of the Field

By Dennis Bolshokov

          Before coming to Costa Rica, I had never thought of scientific studies as adventures. The ones I had been a part of before had all taken place in a lab, with a controlled colony of the species we were studying. Even though I knew about field studies, I had always had the perception that they were carried out in small, rectangular plots, requiring meticulous, repetitive attention. Of course, studies like this are extremely common and important (and almost all science has some repetitive aspect to it), but little did I know that there are more adventurous possibilities out there.
            In the past three weeks, the Tropical Biology OTS group had the opportunity to participate in three field-related studies, as well as many walks through the forest and gardens at Las Cruces to observe birds, nocturnal animals, and plants. Of the three studies I mentioned, one was a long-term study of ants at coffee farms, and two were faculty-led projects at Las Cruces. The coffee project was really cool to do because we had just finished learning about how coffee is grown, processed, evaluated, and sold, as well as how the market for coffee has shaped the communities that rely on the crop. Walking through the rows, I sometimes wished I had a machete to make it through the thick, overlapping branches (something I have not needed in the jungle yet). We lured the ants with vials full of tuna, monitoring how long it took for the vials to be discovered and how many ants came to partake in the feast. Later, we took the vials back to the lab to identify the species of ants present at each site.
The Lizard-catching crew. We were unfazed by the swollen river or the recent mudslide behind us. Photo creds: Ray Hopkins
            For one of the faculty-led projects, we walked down different streams in the jungle, and looked for aquatic anole lizards. Dressed in rubber boots and baggy ponchos, we ambled through the streams, precariously avoiding deep spots and fallen trees. Mind you, this was during the tropical storm that became hurricane Nate (further up north) and flooded much of Costa Rica, so the streams were very swollen and turbulent. Despite all this, it was extremely fun to look for the lizards, and then to catch them (which is done by using a cupped hand). We put the lizards in plastic bags, and measured them in the lab, then released them in the same spots we caught them in the next day.
The last faculty-led project involved spiders. This study was designed by us students, and everything relating to the methods was concocted by us, with minimal guidance from the faculty. Basically, we were testing if wandering spiders (genus Cupiennius) learn to avoid distasteful prey faster under a red or a blue light (we used flashing Christmas lights). Although the trials were carried out in the lab, we needed to catch the spiders first, and this was the most fun and exhilarating part. We went out at night with headlamps to capture the spiders on bromeliad plants right outside of the house. Mind you, these spiders are big. Although not as venomous as their infamous cousins in Brazil, these ones could still pack a punch. We did this in the pouring rain, with just plastic bags and sticks to tap the leaves. One person sheathes the leaves with the bag, while another guides the spiders with the stick or scissors. Most of the time, the spiders did not want to be caught, and hide in the water-holding “tank” part of the bromeliads. One time, a spider jumped off the leaf and onto my hand, then onto the ground, and I thought of an adjective I never considered thinking of for spiders before: cute. It hopped (hopped!) across the path and into hiding. Every time we caught a spider there were cries of jubilation; one girl who couldn’t bring herself to hold a lizard a week ago captured several of these scary spiders and screamed with excitement every time! It was a blast. After the study was completed, we released the spiders back into the garden and spent two days writing a scientific report about the studies.

            Another day, we went birding in the gardens, and saw all kinds of colorful parakeets, toucans, tanagers, and more. There are also really big birds that fly here, among them caracaras nesting in palms, and guans. It’s really remarkable how diverse and colorful life is here. Even though learning to identify the hundreds of species here would be difficult, it makes one appreciate the tropical adventure even more.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Getting Over Fears One Catch At A Time

By Finote Gijsman 

I wouldn’t exactly consider myself an arachnophobe, but I definitely would not say that I am a fan of spiders. So you could imagine myreaction when I found out that the faculty led research project I would be working on involved golf ball-sized spiders. Our professor was Jenny Stynoski, a scientist who has been studying poison frog research, investigating the defense mechanisms of the Strawberry Poison Frog (Oophaga pumilio). Our project looked at colored-based learning and prey selection of wandering spiders in the Cupiennius genus of the Ctenidae family. These spiders have been shown to avoid aposematic prey like the Dendrobatid dart frog Oophaga pumilio so we were trying to determine whether these spiders would learn to avoid unpalatable prey under aposematic visual cues – in this case, a red flashing light.
             On the night before our project, our professor gave us an introductory lecture explaining the scope and methods of our experiment. Jenny assured us that these spiders would be easy to find and catch and that it was okay if we weren’t completely comfortable with catching them yet. Although it was somewhat comforting to know that Jenny was also very afraid of spiders, the thought of going out at night hunting these spiders terrified me. “You’ll just have to wrap the Zip-lock bag around the leaf of the bromeliad and, when a spider enters the bag, zip it up tight”, Jenny told us. Easier said than done.
            On the first night of our spider collections, it poured rain. These evening showers were not a new sighting, but we were all still surprised by the sheer amount of rain that was falling that night. Our goal for the night was to catch 20 spiders. The garden at the Las Cruces Biological Station is covered in terrestrial bromeliads, so catching 20 spiders that night seemed like a feasible goal. The four of us split into two groups and covered different areas of the garden. The first 20 minutes of our collection were unsuccessful. The spiders seemed to be just as irritated by the rain as we were. Our clothes were drenched and glued to our bodies. My ankles were soaked in a layer of water that lined the inside of my rain boots.
            Despite the unideal working conditions, we continued to search for these spiders around the station’s garden. Little by little, our search efforts paid off. We found spiders hiding underneath the leaves of the bromeliads, trying to avoid the rain. Every time a spider was spotted, we would surround the bromeliad plant and plan out our scheme of attack. As one person gently wrapped the bag around the bromeliad leaves, the other would use the end of a ruler or a scissor to try to guide the spider into the bag. The job was not very easy. These spiders are extremely sensitive to vibrations so any kind of disturbance would scare them right off of the leaves. A lot of the times the spiders would also outsmart us and jump into the puddles of water found in between the leaves of the bromeliads. Once they were in those small openings at the base of the plants, finding them was near impossible task.
As the night progressed, the field work became more and more fun. We found a group of bromeliads on a hillside by the dining hall that were covered in spiders. Up until then I had been the one guiding the spiders into the bags with a ruler. Jenny had warned us that these spiders were able to bite through the plastic bag and told us about her wild hallucinations when she got bitten by one, so I definitely was not planning on being a victim to these spiders’ fangs. However, the more collections I got to be a part of, the more I got used to them and the more I started to build up my courage.
By 8:30pm, we had caught a total of 15 spiders. Our group had gotten a lot better at spotting and catching them and had developed a routine that was followed for each collection. With only five spiders left to catch, I was determined to catch one on my own before the end of the night. I walked over to the edge of the hill of bromeliads and flashed my light on what looked like a giant cricket sitting in between two of the bromeliad’s leaves. My flashlight wasn’t very bright so I called over my partner to try to help me figure out what it was.
Shocker, it wasn’t a cricket. There were three large spiders, all sitting on the edge of the bromeliad leaves. I knew this was my last chance to catch one. I prepared myself for the catch while my partner tried to find the best angle to approach them. I opened up the bag and reached over the bromeliad leaf. My hands were shaking. Interestingly, my shakes helped disorient the spider well enough for me to be able to zip the bag quickly enough. I screamed through the entire process, but I had finally caught one on my own.
With these three spiders in hand, we only a few were left for us to reach our goal. Satisfied with our collections, we packed up our things and headed back to the house to call it a night. Although we were all extremely wet and cold from being out in the rain for two and a half hours, we were thrilled about the fact that we had collected all of the spiders that we needed for the experiment the following day.
            This project really got me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to face my fear of spiders. I definitely have not totally gotten over that fear, but I am proud that I took this opportunity to face it and make progress on it. I even surprised myself by offering to help the second group catch spiders the following night! I’m excited to see what other challenges are going to be thrown at me this semester, and I look forward to getting involved in other creative projects like this one.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Lizard Hunting in a Swollen Stream

By Tyus Loman

          Today was the first day of our faculty led projects in the Estación Biológica Las Cruces. four OTS students, including myself, and Mau, set out on a gloomy morning in search of anoles, led by Michelle Thompson, an ecologist who had been studying amphibians and reptiles in Costa Rica for her Ph.D. The task for the day was simple: find anoles, capture anoles, mark the capture site, take them back to the lab to measure and record data describing morphological.
We had hiked trails at Las Cruces over the last week, and we had easily found plenty of anoles. On this day, however, conditions would not allow for such easy anole collection. That morning brought the first morning rain since we had been there, starting with a strong drizzle at 7:30 am. The rain itself was not upsetting; however, it would make most anoles difficult to find. We split up into groups of two, searching the dense vegetation on the sides of the trails to no avail. There were no signs of anoles, most of us failing to even spot a frog. The small, cold-blooded vertebrates were too susceptible to the cold temperatures to be out on a morning like this. Still we hiked on, continuing to go off-trail to search for the small lizards as the rain picked up. 
           After around two hours of unsuccessful anole searching, Michelle decided to change the experimental design. Previously, she had studied stream-dwelling anoles called Norops oxylophus while doing research in La Selva. She was aware that a closely-related species to N. oxylophus could be found in Las Cruces, a species called Norops aquaticus that also dwelled on perches near streams. We chose to leave the dense vegetation and head for the streams.
            Split into groups of three, each group searched a different part of the stream. My group closely examined rock walls and other perching sites for the aquatic anoles. As we walked downstream, things were relatively easy. Outside of the occasional slippery rock, we could generally avoid falling into the stream. My colleagues found a few anoles, while my grand total of anole sightings remained at zero. Still, the entire time we searched the rain came down harder and harder. On the way back upstream, the stream had swelled massively, increasing the flow strength and the difficulty of maintaining balance. The water level rose by about two feet, and rocks I had used as foot holds were now completely submerged. On a couple occasions, I slipped and fell into the stream, completely submerged under the water. Still, I had not captured a single anole, but my colleagues found enough to compensate for me.
              Eventually we made our way back to the research station, thirty minutes late for lunch and completely drenched from head to toe. Still, despite my lack of success and the non-ideal weather conditions, I found myself to be in good spirits. As someone who has lived his entire life near the ocean, I have always had great affinity for water. Even though the stream was not much of a swimming hole, just the idea of being in water was enough to lift my spirits. No matter the conditions, I am a water mammal. As well, the stream and other bodies of water serve as habitats to a multitude of different plant and animal species. The entire experience reaffirmed my belief in ecological conservation. As people, we should always work to preserve these wonderful ecosystems, along with the rest of nature that most people do not get to experience.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Searching for Jaguars

By Genevieve Valladao

Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. It is full of remarkable species that people travel from all over in hopes of seeing. In my month and a half in Costa Rica, I’ve already seen many amazing animals, including Howler Monkeys, Chestnut-mandibled Toucans, White-faced Capuchins, and Fer-de-lance snakes. However, there is one animal that I want to see more than all others, but this one is also among the most difficult animals to come across. The animal I most want to see is the Jaguar.
Although Jaguars are widely distributed across Costa Rica, this population is fairly small. Jaguars require large home ranges – males need about 5,000 hectares of land – so even when jaguars are present, the area inhabited by just one spans a massive area. Although the Jaguar is the largest feline in the Americas, they are very elusive, moving swiftly through the forest making little noise. Like other cats, Jaguars have excellent hearing and nocturnal vision. They are crepuscular and are most active at dawn and dusk.  
The range of the Jaguar in Costa Rica. Image courtesy of Project Panthera.
             I was thrilled when I found out about an overnight trip our program was taking to visit a conservation area called Las Alturas. The station we would stay at borders La Amistad International Park and is in a private reserve that is largely primary forest. Such pristine land coupled with the large amount of it, over 410,000 hectares, meant one thing to me – Jaguars might live there.
When we got to the station we learned that Jaguars definitely do live in the reserve. Camera traps installed in past years have observed a relatively large population of 16 different individuals. As soon as one of my friends on the program, Anna, and I found out that there were Jaguars in the forest around us, we knew that we had to do everything we could to increase our chances of seeing one. To this end, we planned to wake up early the next morning and to visit the forest in complete silence, as the sun was coming up.
At 5 am sharp, my alarm went off simultaneously with Anna’s. We locked eyes from our beds and nodded at each other. The seven other people sleeping in our room had forced our morning of silence to begin before we had even left the station. The sun was just starting to come up, turning the sky orange, as Anna and I met on the porch to put on our rubber boots. “Want to watch the sunrise first?” I offered her as we headed down the steps of the station, towards the forest. “Nope, we’re up to look for cats.” Anna and I were on the same page.
We started into the forest, walking in complete silence, an uncommon state for the two of us. The previous night we had discussed finding a spot well down the trail away from the station to sit, wait, and watch. I knew that was what we were looking for. After walking for about ten minutes, we started to hear running water. Right as I was about to tap Anna on the back to tell her that we should find a place near the river, she turned around, nodding her head towards a small path off the trail. I followed her about 100 meters down a slope, to a quiet pool of water made by a small stream. If there was anywhere we were going to see a jaguar, it was here.
We found a fallen tree near the stream, sat down on it, and started to take in what was around us. As soon as we had settled in and stopped making noise, birds started calling and colorful butterflies started gliding by us. As the minutes ticked on and the sun rose, the forest began to light up. It was amazing to watch the sun illuminate different layers of vegetation that had been covered in darkness when we first got to our spot.
After an hour and a half of quietly pointing different plants, insects, and birds out to each other, Anna broke our silence. “You know they definitely wouldn’t have let us come out here if they thought we actually would see a jaguar.” I laughed in agreement and nodded. Not only had we failed to encounter a jaguar, we hadn’t seen a single mammal. Anna and I stayed on our fallen tree for the next 20 minutes catching up with each other before started to hike back to the station to make it in time for breakfast - neither of us ever miss breakfast. Knowing that our opportunity to see a jaguar had passed, we talked and laughed the entire way back.
Although I am unlikely to see a jaguar during my time in Costa Rica, I’ll keep searching for one. Watching the forest function without the human disturbance that I usually bring and time spent with my friend made my morning excursion well worth the early wake up and the short hike.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The scientist, the politician, and the…do-er?

By Mikayla Kifer

            Should science be useful? There is no clear answer to this question. Robert Lackey in 2007 expressed concern that scientists have been slipping to the point of allowing their personal political goals to influence their work. He believes that scientists should refrain from using words like “healthy,” “degraded,” or “poor,” to describe aspects of the natural world. Science, after all, is meant to be descriptive (making statements about what things “are”), rather than normative (making statements about how things “should” be). Making normative claims about the world risks both the integrity of science and the privilege of having scientific knowledge respected and taken seriously. In essence, Lackey argues that we should leave science to the scientists and decision-making to the politicians—it’s their job, after all.
            In many ways, I agree with Lackey. Science is meant to be the pursuit of truth, untainted by human preference and bias. If we can’t trust scientists to represent the truth accurately, then who can we trust? But, as always, reality is not so simple. Lackey’s system makes sense provided that a strong infrastructure exists for translating unbiased scientific findings into policy and action. After scientists publish studies, their work should be taken up by an army of philosophers, economists, and anthropologists to determine how it can and should be applied to policy-making decisions. Then politicians should educate themselves and decide how to implement this new knowledge. In this system, scientists can happily be scientists and know that their work will be considered and applied as appropriate.
            Unfortunately, no such infrastructure exists. As it stands, scientists have to be their own advocates and it is a constant struggle to get most politicians (at least in the United States) to take any science seriously. So it makes sense that scientists sometimes use a few normative phrases to get their point across.
            Clearly this system isn’t sustainable. These are the times when we most need scientific knowledge translated into action. Many scientists do their work because it’s interesting to study the natural world. But most also care about preserving the amazing nature around them. Despite this goal, although vast amounts of scientific knowledge are generated that can mollify and repair human influence on the natural world, so much of it never makes it beyond the journal pages and literature cited sections. This is work that matters, but, though desperately needed, it is rarely applied.
            For instance, we recently had a lecture about habitat fragmentation and learned that planting live fences (where tree limbs that are planted as fence posts eventually grow into trees) can reduce the effects of habitat fragmentation by acting as habitat corridors for some species. Amazing! What a breakthrough! But what will come of it? Some educational efforts undertaken by organizations like the Las Cruces Biological Station can encourage farmers to plant live fences if they need to clear pasturelands. But with thousands of papers being published annually, educational organizations can’t keep up, and governments rarely try to.

            The bottom line is that we need people who can translate scientific findings into reality. It is unfair to burden scientists further by asking them to produce their work and aggressively advocate for it. There aren’t enough hours in the day for that. We need people to fulfill the hopes of researchers by bringing their work into the world and putting it to use. Before students commit to saving the world as scientists, they must consider whether their work will actually make the world a better place. The cold reality right now is that the knowledge is there, but it’s not being adequately utilized. When more people realize this, I hope that we will build up and strengthen those institutions that allow scientific intentions to become reality. Once we can really start translating science into action, we have a chance of reducing the effects of climate change and other forms of human destruction of our world.