OTS 16-3 Syllabus


Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach

8 June – 20 July, 2016

6 Graduate Semester Credit Hours from University of Costa Rica


Course Staff:

Coordinator Jenny Stynoski, Ph.D. – Department of Biology, Colorado State University

Co-Coordinator Patricia Salerno, Ph.D. – Department of Biology, Colorado State University

TA Victor Acosta Chavez, M.Sc. – Departamento de Biología, Universidad de Costa Rica


Tropical Ecology: An Ecological Approach is an intensive, six-week course in field research and tropical ecology for graduate students. This classic OTS field course, also called the “Fundamentals Course,” has trained tropical biologists since the 1960s, using highly regarded OTS “field problems” approach that focuses on the formulation of research questions, experimental design, data collection, analysis, and oral and written presentations. The 2016 course will place emphasis on research and analysis tools plus science communication.

Course Objectives

The students will get extensive experience designing and conducting group and individual research projects across a range of tropical ecosystems. A large emphasis will be placed on concrete research and analytical tools, including research design and statistical analyses. Students will have the opportunity to employ a wide range of techniques from numerous sub-fields of interest in Tropical Biology. In addition, the course will emphasize skills for communicating science both to scientists and the general public in today’s media-based world, and will include a video project as well as maintaining a blog and the production of a podcast.

Invited Faculty List:

Dr. Sean O’Donnell, Drexel University – social insects, behavioral ecology

Dr. Patricia Jones, Cornell University – bats ecology

Dr. Luis Sandoval, University of Costa Rica – bioacoustics and avian ecology

Dr. Margot Wood, Texas A&M University – mammal conservation

Dr. Alonso Ramirez, University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras – freshwater ecology

Dr. Bonnie Waring, University of Minnesota – plant, microbial, and ecosystem ecology

Dr. Tiffany Doan, University of Central Florida – herpetology, biogeography

Dr. Alice Boyle, Kansas State University – avian behavior

Dr. Michael Sundue, University of Vermont – plant physiology and systematics

Dr. Rodolfo Jaffe, Vale Institute of Technology – landscape genomics, ecosystem services

Dr. Anjali Kumar, AAAS and USAID – political science writing, bat/ant ecology


Sites Visited

The course travels throughout Costa Rica to experience first hand an incredible diversity of ecosystems and visits most of the major ecosystem types in the country. These include La Selva Biological Station, a large and well-known research station on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. La Selva has over 1,500 hectares of lowland tropical wet forest and connects to Braulio Carrillo National Park via a forested altitudinal transect. Las Cruces Biological Station has a world-class plant collection in the Wilson Botanical Garden and an associated 213 hectare tract of old growth mid-elevation forest, surrounded by agricultural landscapes that present an ideal site for research on fragmentation and restoration ecology. To complement the visit to Las Cruces, the course also visits Las Alturas, a satellite station with forest that is contiguous with the enormous La Amistad National Park, the largest in Costa Rica. Palo Verde Biological Station is located in Guanacaste Province, surrounded by semi-deciduous tropical dry forest that is one of the most endangered of tropical ecosystems. A seasonal freshwater wetland, designated as a RAMSAR site in 1991, lies in front of the station and attracts abundant waterfowl. Cuericí Biological Station, near Cerro de la Muerte, is a high elevation site with a stunning tropical oak forest. The forest itself is protected as a private reserve and the station is also a sustainable development project and trout farm. The course also visits Monteverde, a classic site for viewing and learning about tropical cloud forest, ecotourism, and grassroots conservation efforts in the tropics.

Course Schedule

Site Dates # nights Invited Faculty Ecosystem
San José 7 June 1 Hotel Ave del Paraíso
Palo Verde 8 – 14 June 6 Sean O’Donnell, Luis Sandoval, Patricia Jones Dry Forest and Wetlands
Monteverde 14 – 23 June 9 Margot Wood Cloud Forest
La Selva 23 June – 5 July 12 Alonso Ramirez, Tiffany Doan, Bonnie Waring, Morgan Heim, Amy Marquis Wet Forest
Cuericí 5 – 10 July 5 Alice Boyle, Michael Sundue, Rodolfo Jaffe Montane Forest and Páramo
Las Alturas 10 – 12 July 2 Premontane Forest
Las Cruces 12 – 19 July 7 Anjali Kumar Premontane and Garden
San José 19 July 1 Hotel Ave del Paraiso
Departure 20 July end of the course
Optional Trip to BCI 20 – 25 July 4



Detailed day-by-day schedule of course activities
Date Activity
June 2016
7 Students arrive
8 Pass by OTS office in the morning, travel to Palo Verde

Pre-dinner: course overview + expectations, brief coordinator intros, jefe sign-ups, student talk sign-ups

Evening talk: Introduction to Palo Verde

9 Orientation walks, student and faculty talks, personality tests
10 Leadership training, student and faculty talks, begin FLPs, Experimental Design lecture
11 FLPs, R lecture 1
12 FLPs, R lecture 2, Patricia research talk
13 FLP analysis, FLP presentations, Intro to Sci Comm
14 Travel to Monteverde UGA, orientation walk, survey building workshop & prep
15 Community surveys and analysis
16 Statistics Workshop Day

PV FLP paper draft due by 11:59pm

17 Reserva tour, local researcher talks, Victor research talk
18 Podcast workshop
19 MBS orientation walk, Group IP brainstorming and pitches
20 Move to MBS, Group IP

PV FLP final papers due by 11:59pm

21 Group IP, Powerpoint roulette
22 Group IP analysis and presentation, Jenny research talk
23 Bus to La Selva, Lab tour, Intro to LS talk, Faculty talk
24 Orientation walks, Sci Comm Workshop, Faculty talk
25 Sci Comm Workshop, Faculty talk

MBS Group IP paper draft due by 11:59pm

26 FLPs, Film recap session
27 FLPs, Career Panel
28 FLPs, Film recap session

MBS Group IP final paper due by 11:59pm

29 FLPs
30 FLP presentations, film editing, film festival
July 2016
1 IP brainstorming and pitches, research talk
2 IPs
3 IPs
4 IP analysis and presentations
5 Travel to Cuerici, facilities tours, faculty talks

LS FLP paper draft due by 11:59pm

6 Paramo and oak forest tours, faculty talk, FLP meetings
7 FLPs
8 FLPs
9 FLP analysis and presentations

LS FLP final paper and LS IP paper draft due by 11:59pm

10 Travel to Las Alturas, species delimitation and ecological genomics lectures
11 Hike Cerro Chai, Writing workshop
12 Writing workshop, Travel to Las Cruces, Orientation walks, Intro to LC lecture

LS IP final paper due by 11:59pm

13 IP brainstorming and proposal writing

LC IP proposal due by 11:59pm

14 PopSci writing workshop, IP pitches
15 IPs
16 IPs
17 IP analysis
18 IP general public talks and pop sci article, photo share and clean up

LC IP PopSci article draft due by 11:59 pm

19 Travel to San José, final dinner
22 LC IP PopSci final article due by 11:59 pm



Grading Policies

Assessment of the course learning objectives will be based on participation, oral project presentations, project drafts and final papers, a video project, a podcast project, and a SciComm multi-media portfolio for the final independent projects at Las Cruces. Participation is a critical part of the course and includes workshops and lecture attendance, posts on the course blog and producing the course podcast. Grading rubrics will be provided ahead of time for papers and presentations. The video project will be explained in more detail at La Selva.


Grading: A (100-90%), B (89.9-80%), C (79.9-70%), D (69.9-60%), and F (59.9-0%)


# Pts each Total pts
FLP drafts 3 50 150
FLP final papers 3 50 150
IP drafts 2 50 100
IP final papers 2 50 100
Project presentations (3 FLP, 3 IP) 6 25 150
Podcast project 1 50 50
Community survey project 1 50 50
Video project 1 100 100
PopSci article (draft and final) 1 100 100
IP project proposal (LC) 1 25 25
Participation (in workshops, orientation walks, group work, blog post, etc.) 1 300 300