Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

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

Jan. 3/4 – Monte Verde Reserve – Erica

Monteverde Day Trips

Saturday, January 3rd


Monteverde Continental Divide

Monteverde Continental Divide

Today’s General Schedule 

7 am Breakfast at UGACR

Monteverde Biological Reserve Tour

12 pm Lunch at UGACR

Anaerobic Digester Tour

6 pm Dinner at UGACR

Optional Night Hike






Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve


Monteverde is one of the most popular cloud forests in the world. Costa Rica  owns 5% of the Biodiversity in the world, while Monteverde houses 2.5% of worldwide biodiversity. Monteverde’s flora is 10% endemic, meaning Monteverde is the only place you can find this type of plant. Epiphytes, plants that grow upon another plant, are extremely popular in the cloud forest and significantly contribute to the area’s biodiversity. Epiphytes contribute 29% to the total flora within Monteverde, and have 878 different species. Monteverde also has the most diverse orchid species in the world, with 500 known species and 34 species new to science. [1]

Extensive studies of the fauna have shown specific details on the species of animals within the reserve. Currently, the reserve has 161 species of amphibians and reptiles. Most birds in the reserve live there permanently, migrate long distances, or migrate altitudinal.  As for mammals, the region includes 6 species of marsupials, 3 shrews, 58 bats, 3 primates, 7 xenarthrans, 2 rabbits, 1 species of gopher, 3 species of squirrels, 1 species of spiny mouse, 15 species of long-tailed rats and mice, 1 species of porcupine, 1 species of agouti (Paca), 1 species of agouti (Dasyprocta punctata), 2 species of canids, 5 species of mustelids, 4 species of procyonid, 6 species of cats, 2 species of peccaries, 1 species of deer, and 1 species of tapir.[1]

The Tropical Science Center,a non-governmental scientific and environmental organization, maintains and manages the reserve. Founded in 1962,  its  has made significant contributions to science and environmental conservations by its management of  protected areas in Costa Rica. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve’s ecotourism funds the costs of  the management and protection of the Tropical Science Center. The activities provided by the reserve also contribute to wildlife  protection, scientific research, environmental education,and maintenance of reserve. Four areas also managed by the Tropical Science Center include the following reserves: Las Nubes Biological Reserve, Kelady Biological Reserve, San Luis Biological Station, Alexander Skutch “Los Cusingos” Bird Sanctuary. [1]

Tropical Science Center’s Mission Statement

TSC’s mission is the acquisition and application of knowledge pertaining to man’s lasting relationship to the biological and physical resources of the tropics.

This philosophy is implemented through scientific research, direct action at a community level, management of protected areas, education, and consulting services. The autonomy of the organization ensures that goals are achieved without political, social, ideological or religious prejudice. [1]


Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve [1]


George Powell was conducting his pre-doctoral research on birds in what is now the Monteverde when he felt discouraged by the harm that hunters and land speculators have brought to the biological diversity of the area. Powell set out to protect the habitat and obtained 820 acres of land donated by the Guacimal Land Co. Powell and his wife then aligned with Wilford Guindon who was part of the a Quaker community that settled in the early fifties from America. During this time, the Tropical Science Center had recently become a non-profit organization that had programs to create private reserves for biological research and education. Powell and the Tropical Science Center accepted administrative responsibility of the newly protected and private reserve. [1]



Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve [1]


Average temperature for January is 13.9 ºC or 57 ºF. The climate is tropical and rainy. The reserve is very humid throughout the Pacific and Caribbean sides, although both have unique climate aspects. [2]





Map of Monteverde

Map of Monteverde [3]

Our Tour

Our Group Outside of the Trails at Monteverde Biological Reserve

Upon our arrival, we received a map with suggested trails. We broke into group groups according to preferred walking speed. Some of us had the opportunity to view a endemic CostaRican bird, a Quetzal. Pictures of this will be posted soon. Some of our most memorable moments include walking on suspension bridges, seeing neat birds and other wildlife, and most importantly standing on the continental divide. This area was extremely cloudy and incredibly beautiful. Please see the pictures below, although they hardly do the biological reserve justice.


This is a picture I snapped on a suspension bridge where only ten people were allowed to stand on at one time. It was very high up!

This is a picture I snapped on a suspension bridge where only ten people were allowed to stand on at one time. It was very high up!


Charlotte, Erica, Aubrey, and Maricruz holding the Michigan State Flag on top of the continental divide

Charlotte, Erica, Aubrey, and Maricruz holding the Michigan State Flag on top of the continental divide

A picture of the view from the continental divide.

A picture of the view from the continental divide.

As we made our way through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, we saw a multitude of flora and fauna. The trails allowed us to understand just how vast the biodiversity of Costa Rica truly is. In our course readings, we are learning the importance of biodiversity and it’s vitality to ecosystem services, which are the goods, functions, and processes nature provides. Please find the reading in the additional resources below. [4] This trip to Monteverde helped our group to appreciate biodiversity by physically viewing and spending time in one of the  most biodiverse places in the world.




Anaerobic Digester Tour at UGACR

University of Georgia Costa Rica campus has an anaerobic biodigester that uses human waste to create cooking fuel. They also have a smaller biodigester that is used to treat their animal waste. Our tour was specific to the human waste biodigester, which is was built just recently in 2013 and is much larger than the animal waste biodigester.

Outside of UGACR Biodigester

Outside of UGACR Biodigester

We learned that other available wastewater treatment systems often cause environmental problems such as hydrogen leeching. This is why the biodigester is an integral part of the campus and the ecology of the surrounding areas. All waste except laundry waste enters the biodigester in a continuous flow type reactor. The biodigester is low maintenance as it requires only a pump out of non-biodegradable items once every ten months. It is also important because it provides a sustainable way to create fuel for the campus kitchen. They are hoping to one day provide all the fuel for the kitchen with the methane created by the biodigester.

UGACR broke down the system into 7 steps described below:

1) Waste Catchment Basin

All the initial waste is collected here.

2) Solid Separation Tank

Large solids and non-biodegradable are separated from the liquids in this step using a churning method.

3) Initial Anaerobic Fermentation Tank

4) Secondary Anaerobic Fermentation Tank

5) Methane Gas Storage Tank

Methane rises from the fermentation tanks. It is also called a bag digester.

Methane Storage Tank or Bag Digester

Methane Storage Tank or Bag Digester

6) Final Purification Tank

The liquid from the fermentation process enters a system of gravel filters until being released into the ground for irrigation.


Looking inside Step 6

Looking inside Step 6

A look inside before water enters the gravel filters,.

A look inside before water enters the gravel filters,.

7) Gas from the biodigester travels to kitchen


[1] “Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.” Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <>

[2] “Monteverde Costa Rica.” Cloud Forest. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <>

[3] “Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica.” Go Visit Costa Rica. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <>

[4]  EcosystemServices









Transfer to OTS

Sunday, January 4th

Feria Ambiental en La Selva

Feria Ambiental en La Selva

Today’s General Schedule

7:30 am Breakfast at UGACR

9 am Checkout and Departure for OTS

4 pm Arrival at OTS

pm Dinner at OTS




Organization for Tropical Studies – La Selva Biological Station


Founded in 1963, the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) is a nonprofit collaboration of about 60 sixty universities, colleges, and research institutions around the world. Beginning in the early 1960s, scientists from the United States formed an alliance with Universidad de Costa Rica to enhance education as well as research in tropical biology. Thus, OTS was created to provide students and professionals with opportunities to benefit the study and research of tropical biology. Today, OTS offers field courses for students in undergrad as well as graduate programs, and natural resource professionals in tropical biology and other related fields.  The Organization for Tropical Studies has three research stations throughout Costa Rica. We will be traveling to La Selva Biological Station. [1]


La Selva Biological Station is one of the best sites in the world for research in lowland rainforests. The most significant research of this station includes climate change and the effects on biodiversity in tropical wet forests. [1]

Le Selva Biological Station

Le Selva Biological Station [1]


Temperature varies from 66 °F to 88°F. One of the rainiest months is December. We definitely saw some rain today!

Our Day

We spent most of the day traveling from UGACR to Le Selva. When we arrived we split up into cabins and learned about some of the trails available. We also learned that many scientists and researchers come to Le Salvador extended periods of time. Le Selva is one of the top biological stations known for tropical science research. The end of the night resulted in some studying.

Sources and Useful Links [2]


[1] “Organization for Tropical Studies – La Selva Biological Station.” Organization for Tropical Studies – La Selva Biological Station. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <;.

[2] “The Organization for Tropical Studies Received an Award from the NSF.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <;


One thought on “Jan. 3/4 – Monte Verde Reserve – Erica

  1. Great job, Erica!

    One important thing I think to reiterate is the differences between the anaerobic digester at Fabio Baudrit Experimental Station and the digester we saw here at UGA. Both are producing methane gas, but both have fundamental differences. This shows that to do an effective engineering job and yield the most output, you must treat every situation differently based on your parameters and what you want out of your system. For example, the digester at Fabio is treating food-waste, chicken litter, and dead wetland plants. On the other hand, the UGA digester is only treating human waste. For this reason, the Fabio digester was designed as a CSTR reactor because the inputs must be constantly mixed up, while on the other hand the UGA digester is a plug flow digester, as the waste comes into the tank as ‘plugs’ each time a toilet is used on campus. Also, the digester at Fabio is a thermophilic digester, utilizing the heat in the area. This approach allows their to be a greater yield of methane gas as compared to a mesophilic system. The digester at UGA is mesophilic, and can not guarantee that the waste will be treated for pathogens.

    One thing I noticed was we were talking about how the area had too much wind and clouds and would not be able to produce enough heat for the digester. However, I noticed our water in the dorm rooms for the shower and sink were being heated with solar power, and sometimes temperatures reached up to 72 degreees F. I am wondering if they could switch the tank to a thermophilic system and yield more biogas as well as guarantee pathogens from waste be killed.

    Liked by 1 person

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