Mangroves and sunburns

015Yesterday we went to the beach! It was the day we had all been looking forward to, mercifully timed in the middle of our 6 allotted days for fieldwork, data collection, analysis, and writing.  We ventured to Playa Bahía Junquillal, one of the most picturesque places on this planet probably.  The beach, with its gorgeous pure blue waters, is nestled in a bay surrounded by mountainous terrain and backed by an estuarine stream home to mangroves, many crabs, and apparently crocodiles (although we didn’t see any).  After a short walk through the mangroves in the morning, the swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, and exploring began.  Lunch, in the spirit of Memorial Day, was a beach barbecue.

I’m sure everyone of us would agree that it was a day sent from heaven; the weather remained beautiful and rain-free, and the water was the perfect temperature. Except for one thing.  We’ve learned the hard way that Costa Rica is a tad bit closer to the equator than Minnesota… There’s some nasty sunburn around here today, we could have cooked breakfast on a few of our backs I think.  So, needless to say, today has been an aloe-heavy one.  Nonetheless, we have carried on and field work continued, at a more leisurely pace however.  Equipo plantas continued their plant function analyses and eqiupo suelos measured carbon fluxes at Santa Elena while Equipo luz braved the bugs of Palo Verde National Park to get light measurements for their last 6 plots. Overall it was a productive day of simultaneous data collection and nursing our skin back to health.  We’ll probably use more sunscreen next time. Lesson most definitely learned.

-Natalie Meyer


Field Research (Almost) Sick Day

Sunday marked our third consecutive day of field research. Everyone was excited to gather good data until sickness suddenly struck! Jennifer, Erik, and Natalie suffered from a stomach bug, Quinn had a cold, and Brandon had a twisted ankle. We all pushed through anyways with Jennifer leading the way.  Equipos Luz let Natalie rest while Brandon and Rob measured spatial patterns of light in a recent burn scar area. Thankfully Equipos Plantas was fully operational. They spent the day measuring leaf water potential and leaf toughness. Equipos Suelos was manned by Erik and Quinn in the morning while Isaac attended his first Costa Rican Catholic church service. Unfortunately research was cut short in the early afternoon when heavy thunder and storm clouds rolled in. This gave everyone a chance to come home, shower, read and rest before enjoying another delicious homemade dinner. Afterwards we discussed the ethics of authorship in scientific journals, which was both fascinating and inconclusive. The night ended with a big game of cards that became more hilarious with every passing round.

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Just another day in the field

Another great day in Costa Rica for the BIOL 4950 Crew! Today, we spent our second day in the field conducting our group research projects. El Equipo Plantas was keeping busy collecting samples, sitting around punching holes in leaves and measuring leaf toughness, El Equipo Luz was out on an adventure in Sector de Santa Rosa measuring light, and El Equipo Suelo was strenuously hauling water in the beating sun all morning. Today, all groups accomplished a lot before the afternoon rain came ceasing all field work and the data is starting to show.
El Equipo Suelo, whose research focus is on better understanding how precipitation affects soil respiration, spent the day finalizing all the preparatory steps before beginning to measure CO2 flux tomorrow. We started by hauling 200+ liters of water, in all the containers we could get our hands on, to our study site within an Oak forest in Sector de Santa Elena. Luckily, we found a wheelbarrow and our backs were spared. We then preceded to water the forest floor in order to simulate various rainfall event sizes. El Equipo Suelo is hoping to gather data that shows noticeable differences between rainfall event sizes and how much CO2 is released from the soil. Tomorrow, we plan on measuring soil as well as digging a soil pit in order to classify the soil within the forest.

This evening we had a delicious dinner that consisted of fish, beans, rice, fried plantains, and pineapple followed by a discussion about threats to conservation areas. A few of Dr. Powers’ colleagues joined us that added depth to the discussion. Overall, it was a great day of research and we look forward to more of the same tomorrow.


Adventures in Agro-Eco-Tourism


Today’s adventures involved a tour of Rancho Nueva Zelandia, a sustainable farming and tourism establishment placed in between two of the volcanic mountains of the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste. The farm, pictured above from the view of one of their cabinas for overnight guests, spans acres and acres of land including primary and secondary forests as well as pastures.  The farm is working with the ACG to replant some of the forests because it is adjacent to the park’s wilderness corridor connecting the two volcanoes. The pastures had been seeded with haragua, or African star grass; this non-native species creates a thick covering over the ground that makes it difficult for trees to regrow. It also burns easily and is more fire-tolerant than the native species, which are not suited for a climate where fires are frequent.  The hardiness of the haragua grass can make it challenging for park employees and conservationists to implement reforestation programs. The conservation and forest regeneration happening around the farm constitute the eco-portion of our day.

The farm itself is beautiful. The owners have planted large gardens of tropical forest species around the cabinas. Muy bonita! We had the opportunity to take part in some agro-activities, like herding cattle on horseback, then roping, washing and milking said cattle. (below: Kao lassoing a cow!) We also took a look at the calf barn and chicken coops – the farm lives up to its advertising as sustainable with the use of manure as fertilizer and compost material.  The worms in the compost are even used as chicken feed, and future plans involve using the heat produced by bacteria in the manure to send hot water to the guest houses!


After bringing the cows in, we took a ride out into the primary forests around the farm. The area has been owned by the same family by many years, and luckily they had the foresight to preserve some of the lands.  We rode through bromeliads, lianas, ancient trees, and even a toucan. At the bottom of a short hike down a ravine, we arrived at a clear waterfall and were able to go for a swim under the falls.




As the Costa Ricans would say: Pura vida! (This is the life!)

Emma Rohleder, University of Minnesota

May 23- Botanical tattoos and boiling mud pits!









All of the groups began field work based at Santa Elena yesterday (5/22). We’ve all had to modify our plans quite a bit (except, I think, Equipo Luz), but that’s the way it goes. Getting to our plants requires weaving through many clumps of Acacias, and we’re all super excited to navigate there in the dark for pre-dawn measurements.



Leland gave me an awesome “JANZEN RULES” tattoo using the pulp of Genipa americana fruit. It’s not quite dark enough yet, so I’m going to ask the accomplished artist to go over it once again (gotta make the El Doctor love more prominent).





The picture above shows Isaac standing next to a boiling mud pit at the Rincon de la Vieja. The heat from the volcano makes the mud boil, which gives off a pleasant sulfurous aroma. The heat from the volcano is also being used to power a geothermal plant that is being built by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE). Huge green pipes reminiscent of water-slides have already gone up along the mountain, and there are ongoing discussions about the ICE’s proposal to cut down large amounts of pristine primary forest along the volcano (unfortunately, the forest is likely on its way out). Real-life threats to conservation in action 😦

Rincon de la Vieja- Tuesday May 21st


By Isaac Bolduc

Today’s adventure took us to one of the local volcanoes called Rinco de la Vieja.  Although the tails to the craters at the top were closed due to volcanic activity, we were able to walk a three kilometer trail to see some boiling mud pits, massive ficus trees, and various plant and animal species that reside in the humid forest.  Up till now, there has been very little rain and much of the forests in the lowlands so there are many trees that are still without trees.  We finished our hikes just before the first rain of the trip started.

Tonight we are hitting the town of Liberia to visit a museum, have dinner, and find something fun to do.



Tropical Ecosystems Ecology Course- Day 1 in Santa Rosa




Today we went on probably the longest hike we’ll do in Costa Rica- not in time or distance, but in perceived time. Yep. It’s ridiculously humid here, and while the temperature’s great, the whole long pants and more direct sunlight is really hard to adjust to as a Minnesotan (or Wisconsinite, in my case!)

As a definite plus, that adorable creature up there is a white-faced monkey, of which we were lucky to see about a dozen. They really like eating these little blue grubs, which are found by cracking open guanacaste seed pods. We may have discovered this by utilizing time-tested methods, such as gently lobbing seed pods at the monkeys….. Either way, still a fun sight!

I just came off of a semester of ornithology, and while my exposure has been mostly to Minnesota birds, I’m glad to note that I can still at least remember the general characteristics of much of the birds around here. At the same time, it’s ridiculously frustrating to not know what a bird is until hours later, just to find out that it has an unexciting name like “Roadside Hawk”. Booooooo. That said, the birds here ARE way more exciting than Minnesota- lots of deep reds and complex songs can be heard all over. I’m just glad I’m not the only birder out here- we’ve all got our binocs and you can bet that we’re paying attention!

Tomorrow we head off to Rincon de la Vieja to visit some wet forest in the Conservation Area; as for now, we’re all just enjoying the chance to shower off and relax until we head out tomorrow!

A Roadside Hawk (Buteo magnirostris) perched i...

A Roadside Hawk (Buteo magnirostris) perched in a tree.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)