Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

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

Jan. 5 – La Selva OTS – Charlotte

¡Bienvenidos a la Estación Biológica La Selva! / Welcome to La Selva Biological Station!

La Selva is a protected area of about 1600 hectares of lowland rainforest that is home to an astonishing amount of biodiversity. You can reach La Selva by driving about 1.5 hours from San Jose. The actual biological station is comprised of laboratories, a learning center, lodging, dining, and educational centers, which offer one of the best centers to conduct research regarding tropical ecosystems. To date, the La Selva Biological Station has contributed to 2700 published papers. Recently, the La Selva Biological Station has become a major research center for the impact of climate change on the biodiversity of tropical rainforest.


Interesting Facts about La Selva/La Selva Biological Station:

  • When La Selva Biological Station was first founded, you had to take an extremely long dirt road and a 4 km canoe ride to reach it
  • The average annual rainfall is 13 feet!
  • Over 73% of the reserve is primary rainforest, or untouched by human activities
  • Temperatures range from 66-88 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Over 35 miles of hiking trails
  • Since 1968, when the La Selva was taken over by OTS, the reserve has almost tripled in size
  • Every year, more than 250 papers regarding tropical ecology are published out of the La Selva Biological Station
  • Large mammals that can be found in La Selva include jaguars, pumas, and two-toed sloths
  • 5 of the 6 feline species that exist in Costa Rica exist in La Selva biological reserve
  • Over 1800 species of plants, 900 species of bird, 500 species of ants, and 350 species of trees exist at La Selva
  • More than half of the species of birds that exist in Costa Rica are represented here

What Our Group Will Be Doing Here:

Today at La Selva, our group plans on having two guided hikes throughout the reserve. One will be in the morning, and one will be at night. These hikes will allow us to get a first hand and up-close (in some cases hopefully not too close) look at the biodiversity of this beautiful area.

January 5th, 2015:

Before we started our morning, I woke up early to bird watch. As I am not a morning person, I stayed close to where breakfast would be served in an hour. Within fifty minutes, I saw 18 different species of birds within only 3 trees! This alone demonstrates the amount of biodiversity in this area of the country. According to our guide Kenneth, you can see over half of the birds of Costa Rica right here in La Selva! Muy Bueno!!!


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 beautiful Rufous Tailed Jacamar, seen sunning and cheeping 

We started the day off with a morning hike and it was our first chance to experience the extremely lively reserve of La Selva.We first entered the secondary forest, which is a forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance to the point where you can not tell it was disturbed.


Into the rainforest we go!

Here we saw and learned about numerous species. Some examples include:

-Fig Trees

-Blue-Jeans Frog


 Named the ‘Blue Jean Frog’ because the blue legs make it look like it is wearing a pair of blue jeans. yee-haw!

-Rufous Tailed Jacamar (pictured above)

-Passorini Tanager (pictured above)

-Northern Barred Woodcreeper

-Keel-Billed Toucan (Toucan Sam)

– 2-toed Sloth

DSCN4488 - Copy

The 2-toed sloth getting cozy in a tree. This picture was taken through our guides scope

-Troupe of howler monkeys


Jackie looking through the scope to finally see her first snake!

One of my favorite parts about La Selva is that after over 50 years of many humans working and experiencing La Selva, many of the species have become people friendly and offer an opportunity for you to get up close and personal with species.

Next, our group crossed the main bridge into the primary forest area. Some examples of species found in this area of the forest include:

-A pair of screech owls

-Army ants, leaf-cutter ants, and bullet-ants

-The (endangered) Great Green Macaw


The Green Macaw – Endanged (<2500 individuals left) because of habitat destruction. We were very lucky to spot this bird!

-Yellow Eyelash Pit Viper (Don’t worry – it was from a good distance)

From an ecological engineering standpoint, it was important for us to see the complexity of the rainforest system and how much detail goes on. Seeing all of the life existing in the forest and how it works together is inspiring, and allows us to realize the potential that can come from the biodiversity. So many important biological compounds will be turned into medical solutions, and we can gain so much knowledge to use to further the human race.

By the time we were done with the morning hike, we were ready for some lunch. (The running joke for meals: Do you want beans with your rice or rice with your beans?) After re-fueling, we were ready to attend a pineapple tour and learn how much work actually goes into getting the pineapple ready to be sold at a grocery store.


Field of pineapples, each plant produces exactly two pineapples and is harvested twice every 1 and a 1/2 years

The Hacienda Ojo de Agua pineapple farm and processing center is responsible for supplying the Del Monte pineapples to the United States (the main exportation), Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and Germany.


Del Monte Pineapples ready to ship!


Ready to tour the pineapple plant! Looking good

Before the pineapples begin to be processed, a sample from each batch is taken and its sugar content is measured. The measurement scale is the Brix, and must be a 14, or the pineapples will be sold locally or used for juice instead of sold as whole pineapples. After that is determined,  processing can begin. The first stage in processing pineapples is to dunk them in a chlorine water solution, and then get them onto a conveyor belt to rinse them once more with pure water.


A batch of pineapples being dunked in chlorine water for the first step


One last rinse of pure water before being moving onto the next stage of processing

When the pineapples enter the processing plant, workers pick each pineapple up and based on appearance, determine if they are 1st or 2nd quality. 1st quality pineapples are near perfect, with their bodies having no abrasions and their crowns bent less than 30 degrees. If they are 2nd quality, the crowns are cut off with machetes and they are sent back down the belt to be sold crownless. If the pineapples don’t make it as either 1st or 2nd quality, they are added to a separate belt and will be used for either dried pineapple slices or pineapple juice.


The group taking some good notes and learning about pineapples. Go Team!!

The chosen pineapples then have their crowns sprayed with fungicide and wax to ensure they stay healthy during transportation overseas. Every box that is packed up must have exactly 26 lbs of pineapple in it. One box of 1st quality pineapples can have either 5 or 10 pineapples, depending on the size, as long as the box is 26 lbs. A box of 2nd quality pineapples will either have 6 or 8 pineapples, again having to add to the magic number of 26 lbs.


Workers making sure there is exactly 26 pounds of pineapple in each box

Now the boxed pineapples are sent to a refrigerator where they will cool for 4 hours and then be shipped to a dock within one hour.


Boxes of pineapples waiting to be cooled and shipped!

It was a very interesting experience to see how much work goes into getting a pineapple on the shelf at a grocery store. I certainly never thought about how much work went into it!


Hugo and Aubrey enjoying the sample of dried pineapple! Mmmmm Delicioso

Pop Quiz! Which one of these pineapples would be the one you should buy at the store?


When buying pineapple, it is important to look at many different factors. First, look for the color of the pineapple. A good pineapple will have be green with golden-yellow. If the pineapple body is 1 unit, the crown should be 1 and a 1/2 units. A good pineapple should also have full or chubby eyes, which are the individual diamond like shapes on the body of the pineapple. Did you choose the right pineapple? The one Mauricio Brenes chose, our tour guide and pineapple expert, said the 2nd from the left would be the best to buy. The only flaw with this pineapple is the short and curved stem.


Getting the low-down on picking the best pineapples – Thanks to Carlos for being a great translator!


Ready to go back to La Selva


Safety First.

Once we got back to La Selva, we were able to experience the rainforest at night for another hike. At night, the rainforest smells, looks, and even sounds different. It was fun to see the differences in species at night. Some species we saw include a group of pigs cuddling up to a building sleeping, a narrow-headed vine snake, many “froggies”, and of course everyone’s favorite thing, spiders.


Never a dull moment – even when we are in the middle of a downpour

Extra Information / Links Regarding La Selva OTS:

Why Biodiversity Matters

La Selva Biological Station

Current Research at La Selva Biological Station

Species List of La Selva

Importance of Pineapple Farming in Costa Rica

Engineering and Biodiversity


2 thoughts on “Jan. 5 – La Selva OTS – Charlotte

  1. How do ecological engineers incorporate biodiversity into engineering?


  2. Hey Charlotte and everyone else!

    I worked for 6 months in a lab that studies pesticide resistance, so I was very interested when our tour guide in the pineapple processing plant talked about the pesticides used in the fields where their fruit is grown. Some active ingredients I recognized easily because I had seen them so many times before in the lab: chlorporyphos, etopophos, bacillus thuringiensis, and lambda-cyhalothrin among many others. Bacillus thuringiensis is a very important biologic pest control agent, and in the Whalon lab at MSU we were very interested when encountering cases of resistance.

    The pineapple crops were covered with a cocktail of more than a dozen pesticides in rotation. I asked him if there have been cases of resistance in the field, and he said that reports have been minor, which makes sense because of the large number of pesticides with a wide range of modes of action that attack the pests.

    Resistance to pesticides is a huge issue. Even though the farm uses many pesticides of high toxicity and have histories of resistance development, they are striving to use integrated pest management strategies to prevent the development of resistance to their insecticides

    Here is a link to the pesticide resistance database I helped maintain and also a link to major pests of the pineapple crop—

    MSU pesticide resistance database

    A regulatory insecticide organization, Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC)

    Major pests of pinapple in Costa Rica

    Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying reading the blog!


    Liked by 1 person

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