Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

Costa Rica – MSU / UCR – December 27, 2014 – January 10, 2015

Biodiversity – Charlotte

image from:

Biodiversity refers to the variation of species in a specified area, and is an extremely important aspect of life on Earth. Having rich biodiversity means countless benefits including more medical discoveries, abundant resources, financial opportunities, natural disaster protection, better nutrient recycling and sustainability of the planet (Shah, 1).

Costa Rica is considered to be one of top countries with the most concentrated biodiversity in the world, which is why it is accurately named ‘Rich Cost’. Costa Rica contains many different ecosystems such as mountains, mangroves, oceans, cloud forests, etc., which allows for such an abundant amount of species to exist. Costa Rica occupies less than 0.03% of the Earths surface, but contains about 5% of the Earths biodiversity!

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What Is Biodiversity?

Why is Biodiversity Important?

Biodiversity in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Recognized for Biodiversity Protection

Everywhere we went in Costa Rica, were constantly reminded by the abundant biodiversity this country has to offer. For those of you who do not know me, I am a birdwatcher. According to my bird book, we saw and identified 59 different species of birds! Here is my list:

  1. Slaty-breasted Tinamou
  2. Crested Guan
  3. Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  4. Muscovy Duck
  5. Ring-necked Duck
  6. Blue-winged Teal
  7. Masked Duck
  8. Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
  9. Boat-billed Heron
  10. Solitary Sandpiper
  11. Greater Yellowlegs
  12. Lesser Yellowlegs
  13. Northern Jacana
  14. Uniform Crake
  15. Black Vulture
  16. Vermiculated Screech-Owl
  17. Black Swift
  18. White-collared Swift
  19. Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
  20. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  21. Green Hermit (Hummingbird)
  22. Stripe-throated Hermit (Hummingbird)
  23. Purple-crowned Fairy (Hummingbird)
  24. Blue-chested Hummingbird
  25. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
  26. Short-billed Pigeon
  27. White-winged Dove
  28. Ruddy Ground-Dove
  29. Olive-throated Parakeet
  30. Orange-chinned Parakeet
  31. Great Green Macaw
  32. Red-lored Parrot
  33. Resplendent Quetzal
  34. Blue-crowned Motmot
  35. Rufous-tailed Jacamar
  36. Collared Aracari
  37. Keel-Billed Toucan
  38. Black-mandibled Toucan
  39. Golden-olive Woodpecker
  40. Rufous-winged Woodpecker
  41. Pale-billed Woodpecker
  42. Northern Barred-Woodcreeper
  43. Yellow Tyrannulet
  44. Paltry Turannulet
  45. Yellow-bellied Elaenia
  46. Yellow-olive Flycatcher
  47. Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant
  48. Common Tody-Flycatcher
  49. Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
  50. Yellowish Flycatcher
  51. Great Kiskadee
  52. Boat-billed Flycatcher
  53. Social Flycatcher
  54. Brown Jay
  55. Clay-colored Thrush
  56. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  57. Passerini’s Tanager
  58. Blue-gray Tanager
  59. Golden-hooded Tanager

Biodiversity at INBioparque:

Our first full day at Costa Rica involved a trip to the INBioparque, INBio for short, which was an excellent introduction to the country of Costa Rica and the emphasis they put on preserving their environment. INBio is a nonprofit private organization which has a main focus in utilizing the countries abundance of species for halting and reversing human damages as well as use the biodiversity to our favor. Costa Rica has over 1/2 a million species in Costa Rica, which is roughly the size of West Virginia…One main focus of INBio is bio-prospecting, which is where scientists find new compounds from different species in their country to use for new pharmaceuticals. INBio has 4 million specimens available for research.

Some examples of the INBio’s research includes using the leaves and bark from Bitter Wood Trees to cure indigestion. The tree when normally eaten has an extremely bad taste, so they are able to grind up the compounds and use them in pills. This tree has been proven to tree indigestion, nausea, and loss of appetite. They are using this tree to also investigate the use of it on Leukemia.

The Bitterwood Tree. Photo retrieved from:

Visiting INBio also gave us a chance to experience the Biodiversity first hand. We were given tours of both primary and secondary forests. Within the first ten minutes, we were able to see two three-toed sloths, numerous birds, and many types of flora. Here are some of the things we saw while at INBio:

Our first peek at the wildlife of Costa Rica

Our first peek at the wildlife of Costa Rica via a Humid Forest


Pit Viper at INBio

An Iguana Relaxing in a Tree

An Iguana Relaxing in a Tree

Biodiversity at La Selva Biological Station:

La Selva Biological Station is a protected biological reserve that is one of the most best stations in the world for biological research in tropical ecosystems. It was easy to see why! It was next to impossible to walk between the cafeteria and our dorms (~50 meters) without seeing some type of wildlife. One morning I woke up especially early to get some birdwatching in before our daily activities. I stayed within three trees that were located closely together and was able to observe 18 different species within just 50 minutes! Half of the birds in Costa Rica can be found at La Selva.


Picture of the Passerini’s Tanager, a bird very common at La Selva that has a light blue beak and a bright red patch underneath its wings


The Collared Aracari – A type of Toucan that frequently visited a tree outside of the cafeteria!

During a two-hour morning hike through the forests of La Selva Biological Station, we were able to witness a lot of the biodiversity this place has to offer.


The Green and Black Poison Dart Frog – Poisonous if ingested or touched to an open wound!

The Green and Black Poison Dart Frog is a great example of how biodiversity can benefit the human race. This frog is currently being studied because it contains a compound that could potentially be used for a painkiller that is 200 more times effective than morphine without any addictive side effects. It is important to keep the population of these frogs up so further testing can be done to make sure it is completely safe for humans. For more information, here is an article on the potential benefits from the frog.


The Blue Jeans Frog, named this because it looks like it is wearing blue jeans! According to our tour guide, there is a Blue Jeans Frog for every square meter of the forest!


A beautiful Lily

Believe it or not, there are tiny bats living inside this post! There must be a secret opening somewhere

Believe it or not, there are tiny bats living inside this post! There must be a secret opening somewhere.

A troupe of Howler Monkeys letting the rest of the forest know whose territory it is!

A troupe of Howler Monkeys letting the rest of the forest know whose territory it is!

Ways to Quantify Biodiversity – The Point Count

One way to survey the amount of biodiversity (in particular birds) in an area is called a Point Count. To conduct a useful point count, you go to a point where you wish to survey, and choose a distance in all directions. You first record some data about your location such as latitude and longitude, elevation, weather, canopy coverage, type of forest, if there is a water source nearby, and time of the day. Then, you set a timer for a predetermined amount of time (usually 10 minutes) and record every bird you see or hear, even if you can’t identify it. It is important to also mark birds that just fly over or through your area. Sometimes it is helpful to have a recording device so if you only hear a bird you can try to identify it later. Average number of birds and techniques used can then be used in Biodiversity Databases. Did you know MSU had a bird database to collect sounds and track biodiversity? Now you do, if you end up finding the Rufous-backed Kingfisher or the Golden-naped Barbet, you can find recordings I  made while in Malaysia and Indonesia this summer!

While hiking in Monteverde Cloud Forest, I recruited my group members to help me conduct a point count!

Here are the results:

Location: Monteverde Cloud Forest, base point on trail, river nearby

Elevation: 1482 meters

Weather: 65 degrees F,  slightly windy

Canopy Coverage: 50%

Start Time: 7:51 am


-Bird heard singing in canopy

-Chirping heard out of range

-Chirping heard in range

-Fly over

-Fly over

-Bird singing

-Black bird seen, size of crow, fan tail

-Two small brown birds, yellow bellies, raised crest, pale brown in wings, rounded tail (later identified as Yellow-bellied Elaenia)

This was a great point count! I traveled to Malaysia this summer studying the Biodiversity of the rainforest, and sometimes we would do three point counts in a row and see or hear nothing. Thanks to my group – Maricruz, Aubrey, and Erica for assisting me with this point count!


One thought on “Biodiversity – Charlotte

  1. A very important aspect of biodiversity is how much it can help to control agricultural pests, especially bugs. For example, cicadellidae is a plague in a lot of crops (Ex: Empoasca kraemeri in beans), but it is also a prey of various insects (Ex: rediviidae and nabidae as pedators; mymaridae, dryinidae and diapriidae as parasitoids, just to name a few). With the right knowledge of which insects visits which plant, crop proteccion could be made with much less pesticides, because plant that attract pests can be substituted with ones that attract predators. But the first step is to study the biodiversity, then to understand it, and finally the hardest part, working with it


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