Course Description

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Field Courses

Each year DANTA offers a number of field courses in various aspects of tropical biology. Typically, the courses are one month long but shorter courses are also offered through our organization. The courses are intended for undergraduates or early graduate level students who have a keen interest in tropical biology and conservation, but have little or no experience of working in a tropical environment.

Birds of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is justly renowned for its extraordinary bird diversity, and for the depth of study that has focused on the life histories of these delightful animals, often so social, colorful and full of song.  We will take advantage of these highlights, with a course designed around the ecology and behavior of some of Costa Rica's most easily seen (and heard) birds, and the biologists who have studied them.  Knowing the history of bird studies in Costa Rica will help us understand these birds more fully, and will also let us see how growth in knowledge of their biology was linked to the vibrant conservation movement that has helped to define this country.

We will base our studies at the remote but comfortable Piro Research Station on Costa Rica's spectacular Osa Peninsula, home to some of Central America's last remaining primary forest and its wildest beaches.  Our Piro studies will focus on four key topics:

  1. Learning to identify birds by sight and sound. While no one can expect to learn all of Costa Rica's birds in 2 weeks, students will become familiar with the most common species found on the Osa in early January, at the start of the dry season;
  2. Methods of collecting and analyzing the behavior of free-ranging birds. Here we will focus on birds easily seen, designing short but focused studies on such topics as foraging, habitat choice, interactions within flocks, and song (we will have access to basic equipment for recording and analyzing song). 
  3. Patterns of species diversity: here we will look broadly, and from an ecological and evolutionary perspective, at what kinds of birds are found in Costa Rica.  Why, for example, are there dozen of species of hummingbirds and flycatchers, but far fewer parrots, pigeons and quail?
  4. Key studies of Costa Rican birds: some of the giants in American ornithology have spent their careers researching Costa Rican birds. We will pick highlights from these studies, gaining an understanding not only of how ornithology is done, but also of what topics emerged from these studies and how they helped shape conservation in Costa Rica.

Students are welcomed from all walks of biology, but a background in biology is not a prerequisite; key is a keen desire to learn more about Costa Rican birds and ornithology.  Physical demands in this course are modest but real; students can expect to walk 2-3 kilometers/day, occasionally in uncomfortable weather (heat, rain). Good binoculars are key to studying birds: students are encouraged to bring their own, but a few loaner pairs will be available to those who don't have them.

The course includes a field trip to an sustainable chocolate plantation,and boat tour of the Golfo Dulce for dolphin viewing and snorkeling. We overnight on the Boruca Indigenous Reserve where we will learn about the community and their traditional lifeways, and help with needed projects. The field trip is in cooperation with Planet Conservation, our sustainable and socially responsible travel partner.

Human Ecology and Tropical Conservation

This short course is designed to provide students with field experience in a great tropical setting, with an emphasis on current efforts to conserve tropical wildlife and their habitats. As part of this, we will focus on the role of our own species. Human activity can result in both a positive and negative influence on tropical conditions. The course will be held at Osa Conservation’s Piro Research Station in Costa Rica’s spectacular Osa Peninsula. As one of the largest tracts of rain forest north of the Amazon (roughly 400,000 acres in the Osa Conservation Area), it is known for its high species diversity. It is one of only a few places in Costa Rica that has jaguar, puma, sea turtles and four species of monkey (mantled howling monkey, black-handed spider monkey, white-faced capuchin, and squirrel monkey).

The learning experiences for the course fall into five main categories: field exercises, training seminars, lectures, case study discussion, and applied conservation. The field exercises and seminars provide instruction and experience in: (1) methods of measuring environmental variables, including assessment of resource availability, (2) methods of collecting and analyzing the data on biological diversity, (3) methods of interviewing humans and assessing their histories and attitudes about wildlife, and (4) techniques for assessing population health as well as ecosystem health.

Lecture topics will cover several topics of human-wildlife interactions and we will address all aspects – negative and positive – of each. For example, selected lecture topics include: (1) human use of resources – detrimental and sustainable, (2) deforestation – the ecological consequences and the economic benefits, (3) tourism – the effects on the environment and the financial gains, and (4) hunting and fishing – the effects on wildlife population numbers and the nutritional and economic benefits to humans. We will also address the impact of climate change and global politics, when relevant.

During the course participants will also have opportunity to see an active volcano and take a short hike through montane cloud forest during our visit to Volcan Poas National Park in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. In addition, we will visit a sustainable chocolate plantation, and take a boat tour of the Golfo Dulce for dolphin viewing and snorkeling. We overnight on the Boruca Indigenous Reserve where we will learn about the community and their traditional ways of interacting with their environment. All in-country travel is in cooperation with Planet Conservation, our sustainable travel partner. Every effort is made to implement eco-friendly and socially responsible practices into our day-to-day operations, field courses and overall mission.

Enrollment is limited to 15 students. The course is open to both credit and non-credit seeking students. 

Methods in Primate Behavior and Conservation

This course is designed to provide students with field experience in primate behavior, ecology, and conservation. This course will be held at Osa Conservation's Piro Reseach Station in Costa Rica's spectacular Osa peninsula. As the one of the largest tracts of rain forest north of the Amazon (roughly 400,000 acres in the Osa Conservation Area), it is renowned for high species diversity. It is one of only a few places in Costa Rica that has jaguar, puma, sea turtles and four species of monkey (mantled howler monkey, black-handed spider monkey, white-faced capuchin and squirrel monkey).

The learning experiences for the course fall into four main categories: field exercises, seminars, lectures, and applied conservation. The field exercises and seminars provide instruction and experience in: (1) methods of measuring environmental variables, including assessment of resource availability, (2) methods of collecting and analyzing the behavior of free-ranging primates, (3) assessments of biodiversity and (4) techniques for estimating population size. Lecture topics will cover the behavior and ecology of Old and New World primates from an evolutionary perspective. Selected lecture topics include primate sociality, feeding ecology, taxonomy, rain forest ecosystems and conservation. Service learning is a large component of all our programs. Students will gain experience in applied primate conservation and also have opportunity to participate in Osa Conservation's sea turtle breeding and monitoring program, and the Center for Cetacean Research's spotted and bottlenose dolphin conservation program during a 2 day stay at their research station in the Golfo Dulce.

During the course you will also have opportunity to see an active volcano and hike through montane cloud forest during our visit to Volcan Poas National Park in Costa Rica's Central Valley. In addition, we will visit a sustainable chocolate plantation and spend an afternoon on the Boruca Indigenous Reserve where we will learn about their community and traditional lifeways. All within country travel is in cooperation with Planet Conservation, our sustainable travel partner. Every effort is made to implement eco-friendly and socially responsible practices into our day-to-day operations, field courses and overall mission.

Neotropical Bat Biology

This two-week course on bat biology offers an intensive field experience during which students will participate in a number of guided hikes and introductory "bat nights" to gain familiarity with tropical habitats and organisms, to learn to identify Costa Rica's diverse bat fauna, and to practice field techniques used for capturing and studying bats. Students then will carry out field projects focusing on a specific topic in bat biology, including performing laboratory and statistical analyses and presenting their findings to the group. Additional time will be spent in discussions of general ecology, zoology, and issues in tropical biology.

The course includes a field trip to an sustainable chocolate plantation, and boat tour of the Golfo Dulce for dolphin viewing and snorkeling. We overnight on the Boruca Indigenous Reserve where we will learn about the community and their traditional lifeways, and help with needed projects. The field trip is in cooperation with Planet Conservation, our sustainable and socially responsible travel partner.

Enrollment is limited to 10 students. The course is open to both credit and non-credit seeking students. University credit can be arranged through your home institution.

Primate Behavior and Conservation

This course is designed to provide students with field experience in primate behavior, ecology, and conservation. This course will be conducted at Osa Conservation in Costa Rica's spectacular Osa peninsula. As the one of the largest tracts of rain forest north of the Amazon (roughly 400,000 acres in the Osa Conservation Area), it is renowned for high species diversity. It is one of only a few sites in Costa Rica that contain 4 species of primate (mantled howler monkey, black-handed spider monkey, white-faced capuchin and squirrel monkey). Four species of sea turtle also nest along its beaches. Please help us protect this unique region which is of international conservation concern.

The learning experiences for the course fall into four main categories: field exercises, seminars, lectures, and applied conservation. The field exercises and seminars provide instruction and experience in:(1) methods of measuring environmental variables, including assessment of resource availability, (2) methods of collecting and analyzing the behavior of free-ranging primates, (3) assessments of biodiversity and (4) techniques for estimating population size. Lecture topics will cover the behavior and ecology of Old and New World primates from an evolutionary perspective. Selected lecture topics include primate sociality, feeding ecology, taxonomy, rain forest ecosystems and conservation. Students will gain experience in applied primate conservation and also have opportunity to participate in Osa Conservation's sea turtle breeding and monitoring program.

The course includes a four day field trip to a sustainable cocao plantation and two night stay in Drake Bay including a snorkeling tour of Cano Island, one of Costa Rica's premier dive spots. Here there is a good chance we will see white-tipped reef sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, dolphins and humpback whales. On the return trip from the island, we will explore the Terraba Sierpe Mangroves, which are accessible only by boat and consists of over 100,000 acres of the largest mangrove forest in Central America. The final day of the field trip we will visit the Boruca Indigenous Reserve where we will learn about the community and their traditional lifeways. The field trip is in cooperation with Planet Conservation, our sustainable travel partner.

Enrollment is limited to 25 students. The course is open to both credit and non-credit seeking students. University credit can be arranged through your home institution.

For more information, please download the course information packet.

Sea Turtle Conservation and Tropical Herpetology

Climate change is a matter of international conservation concern. This course will examine this increasingly important issue and also provide students with the fundamentals of amphibian and reptile taxonomy, ecology, and tropical conservation more generally. Our instructor, Dr. Steffen Reichle has over 10 years of experience in applied conservation through their work at The Nature Conservancy and Fundacion Amigos de Naturaleza. This intensive 28 day course will be conducted at Amigos de Osa in Costa Rica's spectacular Osa peninsula. As the one of the largest tracts of rain forest north of the Amazon (roughly 400,000 acres in the Osa Conservation Area), this area contains more distinct tropical ecosystems than any other place on Earth its size and is renowned for high species diversity. Of particular conservation interest are the 4 species of sea turtles that nest along its beaches.

The learning experiences for the course fall into four main categories: field exercises, seminars, lectures, and applied conservation. The field exercises and seminars provide instruction and experience in: (1) methods of measuring environmental variables, (2) methods of sampling and monitoring amphibians and reptiles in the field, (3) mapping a field site, (4) techniques for estimating population size (5) species distribution modeling of amphibians and reptiles and (6) how to present data at workshops or conferences Lecture topics will cover the taxonomy and ecology of New World amphibians and reptiles from an evolutionary perspective, and how climate change is impacting them. Selected lecture topics include the latest changes in taxonomy of amphibians and reptiles, reproductive modes of amphibians, worldwide amphibian and reptile decline, and conservation. Students will gain experience designing and implementing field projects and will finish the course with a plenary presentation of their findings. Some of the projects will be embedded in Amigos de Osa's sea turtle breeding and monitoring program, others will focus on amphibians and terrestrial reptiles.

The course includes a four day field trip to the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary and two night stay in Drake Bay including a snorkeling tour of Cano Island, one of Costa Rica's premier dive spots. Here there is a good chance we will see white-tipped reef sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, dolphins and humpback whales. On the return trip from the island, we will explore the Terraba Sierpe Mangroves, which are accessible only by boat and consists of over 100,000 acres of the largest mangrove forest in Central America. The final day of the field trip we will visit the Boruca Indigenous Reserve where we will learn about the community and their traditional lifeways. The field trip is in cooperation with Planet Conservation.

Enrollment is limited to 25 students. The course is open to both credit and non-credit seeking students. Credit seeking students can receive 3 credit hours via independent study from their home institutions.

Tropical Rain Forest and Wildlife Conservation

The proximate and ultimate causes of declines of rain forest habitats and biodiversity will be examined through a combination of direct observations in the field, lectures, and critical reviews of the literature. Topics will include the role of hunting, logging, agriculture, disease, predation, expanding human populations and their consumption of natural resources as they affect forest and biodiversity conservation. Primate conservation will be used as a platform to explore the broader issues of conservation in the tropics. Students will be expected to give seminars and submit written summaries of scientific articles.

The majority of the course will be conducted at the Piro Research Station on Costa Rica's spectacular Osa Peninsula. As one of the largest tracts of rain forest north of the Amazon (roughly 400,000 acres in the Osa Conservation Area), it is renowned for high species diversity. It is one of only a few sites in Costa Rica that contain 4 species of primate (mantled howler monkey, black-handed spider monkey, white-faced capuchin and the Central American squirrel monkey). Four species of sea turtle also nest along its beaches. Here we will spend time learning about the rain forest and the problems involved with evaluating the status of wildlife populations in the tropics. Emphasis will be on the primates, birds, and sea turtles.

In addition, problems of various land-use activities will be evaluated with side trips to an oil palm plantation, a coffee plantation, and small-scale agricultural plots. The impact of tourism on biodiversity conservation will be demonstrated with visits to local tourist lodges on the Osa Peninsula and to the Manuel Antonio National Park, the most heavily visited national park in Costa Rica.

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