Carissa Ganong, REU coordinator
Bushwhacking through tropical undergrowth to measure trees, testing how far ants will go to defend their host trees, recording bat vocalizations, and studying orb-weaver spider behavior aren’t exactly typical summer jobs, but that’s what eight NSF REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) students from across the US are doing this summer in Costa Rica’s lowland rainforest.
Our group is spending ten weeks at La Selva Biological Station, a world-famous research station run by the Organization for Tropical Studies, where the REUs are developing and conducting their own field-ecology research projects. It’s a very new and sometimes intense experience: most REUs are working in a rainforest for the first time, and some haven’t traveled outside of the US before. The REUs are working closely with mentors – faculty, postdocs, and Ph.D. candidates – who are experienced La Selva researchers and experts in their fields.
We arrived at La Selva two weeks ago, and the first week was a “crash course” of knowledge and skills needed for tropical field ecology: orienteering, forest safety, plant and animal natural history, experimental design, scientific writing and oral presentation skills, and tico (Costa Rican) culture and idioms.
It was a fairly intense week, but students (and mentors!) remained enthusiastic in spite of the heat, humidity, mosquitoes, and adjustments to a culture and daily life very different from that of the US. At the end of the week, the REUs gave formal oral presentations (all of them amazingly well done!) of their project proposals.
Now fieldwork is in full swing, and we’ve decided to start this blog to share the experiences of everyday life at a rainforest field station – from the astonishment of encountering tropical wildlife, to the bone-weary exhaustion of long muddy field days, to the simple pleasure of an ice-cream break with good friends from four continents. Stay tuned for entries from the rest of the group!