First impression of Costa Rica

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December 29th 2013

Our first day in Costa Rica was as full as it gets. We got up at 6.30, had breakfast at 7, just in time to rush into the bus and take off to the field at 8. Done at 10pm.

Of the wealth of new experiences today, one is lingering: the cries of howler monkeys at dusk.

Walking back from the viewpoint of La Roca , after the most stunning sunset over the wetland of Palo Verde -picture a vast, mountain-ringed plain, lushes of vivid green and shiny waters – I heard an unfamiliar whoosh.

It started as deep, grave, almost lulling far away voices that I could hardly tell apart from the wind. As I got closer, they became louder, more distinguishable, and eventually transformed into barks.

Walking through the forest at twilight to the sound of these eery voices, in a mix of wonder, amazement and disquiet, is my most vivid impression of my first day in Costa Rica.

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Fringe-lipped bat

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All bat species that we saw last night were fascinating but in particular the frog eating fringe-lipped bat (Trachops cirrhosus) caught by David Villalobos, a graduate student from University of Costa Rica (UCR). This species specializes in frogs and many cool experiments involving mating calls by tungara frogs and these amazing bats are being done by researchers from around the world. Mahmood Sasa, the Station’s Director was telling us previously about the history and management of Palo Verde National Park and immediately after we were hand-on (well, some of us) learning about some bats that are present in here and their natural history. An interesting fact: Bats happen to be the most diverse group of mammals present in this country, representing +- 99 spp out of 212 spp of mammals reported here. So, with no doubts we have started a journey in bat’s paradise.

Here you can see Lisa Powers holding and releasing our winged friend

https://vimeo.com/82966842

Let me introduce myself

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My name is Jane Zelikova and along with Jenny Stynoski, an amazing TA Rolando, and a big and wonderful group of visiting professors, I will be coordinating the winter OTS grad course. Getting the chance to coordinate this course is amazing opportunity for many reasons, not least of all is that I am a course alum (2003 Summer course – shout out to all my peeps!) and leading this course after taking it 10 years ago seems like the universe bringing it all back together. In the 10 years since my course, life has taken many twists and turns, but my experience with OTS was transformative in both my academic and personal life. The friends I met that summer are still important in my life today and the connections I made have opened new research doors in a way that nothing else can. OTS alums are everywhere and they are the most enthusiastic and wonderful collaborators you will ever meet!

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Introduction to Tropical Ecology summer grad course, circa 2003. I’m somewhere in the middle, looking excited and proud, and slightly bewildered

So how did I go from a budding young tropical ecologist to where I am today – a not-so-young postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wyoming? My winding path included a few years of working on ant community ecology in Costa Rica, a jump back onto US soil to continue working on ants, but now in southeastern deciduous forest ecosystems, and then an almost complete and abrupt shift. When I got my PhD from the University of Colorado, I realized that somewhere in the 6 years I spent in graduate school, my research interested shifted. It came as a small surprise to me, but I wanted to study soils! I left the world of ants begrudgingly behind and started working in beautiful Canyonlands UT and thinking about climate change, biological soil crusts, biogeochemistry, and plants. Growing up as a scientist meant learning new tools (plant physiology, biogeochemistry), asking new questions, and stretching my mind to think from a different perspective. Exciting, wonderful, and terrifying.

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Field work in Utah, looking at how removing livestock grazing impacts soil and plant carbon storage

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Collecting soil outside of Moab UT

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Digging up leaf cutter ant nests in La Selva to understand how ants and their nests influence biogeochemical cycles in tropical ecosystems

That’s basically where I find myself today, once again shifting to learn new things, ask new questions, re-address old questions from a new angle, and hopefully, continuing to evolve. As your course coordinator, I bring with me a few key things:

1) My passion for science

2) A sharpie (one of the most important tools every ecologist needs)

3) My knowledge and background in community ecology, biogeochemistry, plant ecology, and tropical experience

4) An open ear – I’m here as a sounding board for whatever you need

Countdown to course start 23 days! I’m ready!