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Global Change and Tropical Ecosystems Print

An initiative by OTS

April 2008

Background Facts

  • Recent studies clearly indicate declines in populations of leaf-litter frogs and lizards over the past 35 years. Total density of all amphibians declined between 1970 and 2005 in primary tropical forest. This is an unexpected and alarming finding.
  • Comparative analyses of bird studies reaching back 45 years have also revealed that at least 50% of insectivorous, forest-interior species have declined in abundance or disappeared; not a single one has increased its population.
  • Tropical trees are very sensitive to temperature. For the last 22 years, the giant forest trees did not grow as much in the warm years as they did in the cooler years. Also, more of them died in the warm years. The long-term monitoring of temperature and rainfall has revealed that during some years the nights just don’t cool off as much as they do during other years. Researchers believe that one problem with the giant trees may be that they respire more during those warm nights and therefore lose more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
  • An 18-year dataset on the solute chemistry of streams reveals that El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events cause radical changes on their chemical composition.

These alarming findings regarding the tropics are the result of scientific research carried out in the last four decades related to the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), in La Selva Biological Station, located in the Caribbean foothills of Costa Rica.

OTS, a non-profit consortium of 65 universities and research institutes from throughout the United States, Latin America, South Africa and Australia, has dedicated its 45 years of existence to the study and protection of the tropics, home to more than 80% of Earth’s biodiversity.

Recent long-term research has revealed that the tropical rainforest is far more dynamic ecosystem than once thought, and is experiencing dramatic variability.

Evidence is mounting that many of these profound changes in the tropical ecosystems are related to global climate change. Although climate change is increasingly accepted, its causes, consequences, and possible responses to this phenomenon are still hotly debated.

While scientists are developing a better picture of the relationship between climate change and boreal and temperate ecosystems, far less attention has been paid to the tropics. What is known for the tropics is that dramatic change in biological systems is underway, and that climate change is but one of the causes of this transformation.

These changes are also related to other important ecological issues such as destruction of habitat, habitat fragmentation, pollution, introduction of exotic species, and overexploitation of natural resources. ”Global change” is a more comprehensive concept that reflects the complex interactions that occur in the tropics.

The OTS´s Initiative

The Organization for Tropical Studies, as a 45-year old organization and a consortium of 65 world-class universities and research institutions, is in a unique position to address the impact of change on tropical ecosystems. Under its new Global Change and Tropical Ecosystems Initiative, OTS is integrating science, education, and action to directly confront one of the greatest threats to the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

OTS can focus on the impact of this phenomenon through the operation and management of three field stations in contrasting ecosystems in Costa Rica: La Selva, Las Cruces and Palo Verde Biological Stations. OTS will advance the science by expanding and standardizing research facilities across the three stations in order to consolidate long-term abiotic (climate for example) and biological databases to understand better the impact of global changes on tropical ecosystems, as well as its interactions. More than 500 scientists from 25 countries work at these stations each year.

The following are the main objectives that will be achieved through the Global Change and Tropical Ecosystems Initiative.

1. Science

Long-term data is not common in tropics – and few long-term datasets are found as comprehensive as those from OTS stations. But it is critical that long-term data that currently exists be brought together if there is any hope of understanding impact of global change on tropical biodiversity.

Therefore, OTS is taking the lead on creating an international network to address changes in tropical ecosystems. Through a US$500.000 grant by the National Science Foundation, OTS is now establishing three overlapping and interconnected Expert Working Groups:

  • The Four Neotropical Forests Working Group will be comprised of an interdisciplinary group of scientists with long-term data from La Selva (Costa Rica), Barro Colorado Island (Panama), Cocha Cashu (Peru), and the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (Brazil). This network will explore the causes and consequences of global changes, and it will plan a monitoring program to act as an early biological warning system, in case the data obtained shows unusual patterns.
  • The Changing Ecosystems Working Group will be a larger and looser assemblage of scientists working with long-term data on changing tropical ecosystems throughout the world.
  • The Changing Ecosystems Educators Working Group will include science educators and scientists working together to translate and transport this information into classrooms.

Through this international network, OTS will support scientists working in key areas of global changes and tropical ecosystems, and at the same time act as a catalyst allowing the information exchange among network members. These network meetings and the resultant research will enable to evaluate the likely effects of changes in forest dynamics, project these impacts into future decades, and plan ways to lessen the impacts of the changes.

2. Education

Using its internationally recognized education model, OTS will offer new field courses specifically focused on global change and tropical ecosystems for undergraduate students, graduates, and policy makers. This hands-on learning is well suited for conveying the complexity of the issue. For example, through the Global Change initiative a new graduate specialty course, Global Change and Tropical Ecosystems, will be offered in early 2009, focused specifically on identifying and measuring ecosystem change.

Also through the initiative, OTS will offer courses on global climate change science and policy to legislators, their staff, and government officials from Costa Rica, the United States and Latin America. The first of these courses, a new three-day course, Climate Change in the Tropics, will aim to improve policymakers’ ability to understand how our natural ecosystems are changing and what is causing the changes in order to make wise policy decisions for the future.

3. Action

Research and education are critical steps, but not enough. OTS has chosen to take a leadership role in minimizing its own carbon footprint. Under this initiative, OTS will seek to become a carbon neutral organization over the next five years.  To reach this goal, OTS will minimize its carbon emissions by implementing eco friendly technologies and upgrading its field stations and facilities.

As a first step, over the last year, all three of OTS stations have been working with Rainforest Alliance to become certified for their environmentally sustainable operations. Also, OTS is currently working with the Government of Costa Rica to become certified as C-Neutral® under Costa Rica’s National Strategy on Climate Change.

OTS will also undertake programs that will offset carbon emissions.  Such projects will include sequestering carbon through reforestation activities around OTS’ Biological Stations.  Importantly, OTS will carefully select reforestation and deforestation avoidance projects that also have high biodiversity value.

In Las Cruces, for example, OTS is trying to reforest land among growing cattle pastures and deforested areas in the southern Coto Brus region. Scientists have identified a key corridor of land that is critical to retain a healthy ecosystem for the entire region. Under this initiative, efforts will be made to reconnect these lands and sequester or store carbon from the atmosphere.   

 

The broader importance of this initiative concerns how the health of the tropical environment is connected to the condition of the entire planet. It is also important the relationship between global change and the economic and social well-being of the human race.  For example, some of the major challenges humankind will face could be the spread of disease vectors like ticks and mosquitoes and disruption of crop pollination, among others.

Let’s face it, the tropical ecosystems are fragile and undergoing a great amount of pressure due to the global changes.  OTS has a leading role understanding these changes, but we still need to generate and integrate new databases, test new hypotheses, and formulate and answer new questions about our natural world as we know it.

We invite you to join our efforts.

Key References: (Whitfield et al 2007) (Sigel et al. 2006, in preparation) (Clark et al. 2003) (Pringle et al., in preparation).

Last Updated ( 04/23/08 )
 
OET lanza iniciativa “Cambio global y ecosistemas tropicales” en su 45 aniversario Print

San José, 8 de abril del 2008 – Con motivo de su 45° aniversario y con el fin de enfrentar el cambio dramático que están experimentando los trópicos, la Organización para Estudios Tropicales (OET) lanzará hoy una novedosa iniciativa basada en tres áreas de trabajo: ciencia, educación y acción.

La denominada “Iniciativa sobre Cambio Global y Ecosistemas Tropicales” se apoya en los datos obtenidos durante más de 40 años de investigación en la estación biológica La Selva que revelan, por ejemplo, un marcado descenso en las poblaciones de lagartijas y ranas de hojarasca, y que al menos el 50% de las especies de aves insectívoras del interior del bosque han disminuido en abundancia o han desaparecido.

Ante ello, la Iniciativa incluye actividades como el establecimiento de una red internacional de científicos que monitorearán los cambios globales y alertarán en caso de que los datos muestren patrones inusuales. Esta red, que unirá a investigadores de Costa Rica, Panamá, Perú y Brasil, será financiada con US$500.000 provenientes de la National Science Foundation (NSF) de los Estados Unidos.

La OET –consorcio sin fines de lucro de más de 60 universidades e institutos de investigación— también ofrecerá, en el campo educativo, nuevos cursos a nivel de pregrado y posgrado enfocados específicamente en el impacto del cambio global en los trópicos. Asimismo, se impartirá capacitación a tomadores de decisiones (legisladores, por ejemplo) sobre las causas de estos cambios y como prevenirlos.

La OET, además, buscará reducir las emisiones de carbono en su sede central y en sus tres estaciones biológicas (La Selva, Palo Verde y Las Cruces) y convertirse en una ONG carbono-neutral. También desarrollará proyectos de reforestación en los alrededores de las mismas para la “captura” de carbono. En Las Cruces en Coto Brus, por ejemplo, se está trabajando en la restauración del bosque y en la creación de un corredor biológico.

Según explicó la Dra. Elizabeth Losos, presidenta y CEO de la OET, la trayectoria de la organización le permite tener una base sólida para enfrentar el desafío del cambio global: “La OET –con sus datos obtenidos a largo plazo, sus programas educativos para estudiantes y profesionales, y su red de científicos e instituciones- se encuentra en una buena posición para abordar el impacto del cambio global en los trópicos”.

Todas las actividades enmarcadas dentro de la Iniciativa se desarrollarán en un período de cinco años.

Contacto para prensa: Alejandra Zúñiga Tels. 2524-0607, ext.1630, ó 8395-3367.

Last Updated ( 04/09/08 )
 
Media Center Print
Deedra Macclearn being interviewed by media

The Media Center is the online resources center for journalists and other audiences who need updated information about Organization for Tropical Studies work. OTS, a non-profit consortium of over 60 universities and research institutes, has dedicated its 45 years of existence to the study and protection of the tropics.

In this section, you will find press releases with the latest news, clips of OTS in the News, media kits, fact sheets, as well as videosJPG document and Podcasts.

If you would like to get in touch with one of OTS’ experts, or if you have a media enquiry for OTS, please contact:


andrea.amighetti @ tropicalstudies.org
Phone: (506) 2524-0706, ext. 1121

Last Updated ( 03/19/09 )
 
Film Company/Commercial Photographer Contract Print
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About Palo Verde Biological Station Print
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La Selva Biological Station
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Palo Verde Biological Station
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Last Updated ( 03/19/08 )
 
About Las Cruces Biological Station and the Wilson Botanical Garden Print
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