WHAT WILL I BE DOING?
You will be working in the Pacific rainforests and beaches near Corcovado, one of the most remote parks in Costa Rica. Home to one of the largest tropical primary lowland rainforests in the world, the Corcovado National Park is also the habitat of a large range of endangered plant and animal species. Dense rainforest creates a dramatic habitat for hundreds of bird and mammal species, along with a high population of marine turtles nesting on the beaches each year (please note there are no turtles at this site from December to April).
Work will include extensive baseline biodiversity surveys as well as walking primate transects to spot the White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, Squirrel Monkeys, Jeffries Spider Monkey and Mantled Howler Monkey which thrive in these biologically rich forests. You will also be surveying populations of exotic birds, insects and amphibians, patrolling turtle nesting beaches (remember, there are no turtles in this region from December to April), or tracking big cats.
You will be working to compose complete species lists and to advance management plans for the primary rainforest and species found here. Components of the work programme include zoological work focused on observational methodologies such as:
Sea turtle monitoring
Volunteers patrol two beaches close to camp. The patrols not only help to gather valuable population data of the endangered marine turtles, but also serve to discourage poachers and predators trying to raid nests and collect eggs. The two species of turtle most frequently observed are the Olive Ridley and the Pacific Green Turtle. During peak nesting season (July-November), turtles found nesting on the beach at night are tagged and given a health check. In the afternoon we conduct nest cleanings which involve checking the hatched nests to assess reproductive success after the hatchlings have emerged. Total clutch size, number of successfully hatched eggs and the number and stage of development of un-hatched eggs are recorded. Any hatchlings that might have remained trapped in the next chamber are freed and placed on the beach to allow them to reach the sea.
Primate (and other mammal) surveys
Mammals are social animals and frequently travel in pairs or groups. The most abundant mammal species found in the area are the four species of monkey: Squirrel Monkey, Mantled Howler Monkey, Jeffries Spider Monkey and White-faced Capuchin Monkey. A variety of other mammal species are commonly seen in the area and their presence is also recorded through the range of prints found on the muddy forest trails. Forest walks are regularly conducted during which all species are recorded to create a species list. When groups of mammals are encountered, group size is also noted as well as their behaviour.
Big cat monitoring
Pumas, jaguars and Ocelots are also present in the region. These species are elusive and sightings are rare however they can still be monitored by studying their tracks and faeces. Any signs are recorded in order to better understand the abundance and distribution of big cats in the area. This data is crucial in order to assess the effectiveness of conservation measures, and in particular whether the extent of wildlife corridors between protected areas is sufficient to ensure the long term survival of big cat populations in Costa Rica.
Tracks and scats
In addition to the surveys which use direct observations, we also record indirect evidence of mammals through the identification of tracks and scats. Frequently sighted prints include those of pumas, agoutis, peccaries, armadillos, coatis and the rare Neotropical river otter. These walks take place both along the forest trails and along the river. The GPS location, size and abundance of the tracks are recorded and this information can then be used to map the presence of many mammals which are elusive and thus rarely observed in the forest. This also contributes to our knowledge of the use of the area as a biological corridor for mammals with large ranges, such as pumas.
Forest amphibian surveys
Costa Rican amphibians are a diverse group and are amongst one of the most sensitive to climate change due to their use of small microhabitats and the porous nature of their skin. Declines have already been seen amongst amphibian groups due to reductions in pool sizes, shortened rain fall seasons and increased temperatures increasing bacterial growth and disease transmission. The sensitive nature of amphibians to altered climatic variables makes them an excellent indicator group for studying the effects of changing climates. The primary forest blocks where the Frontier camp is situated have a range of leaf litter frog species. As these groups lay their eggs in leaf litter, increasing decomposition rates due to increasing temperature can eliminate their breeding habitat to the point that reproduction of an entire population can be threatened. Our survey study aims to determine the species composition across an altitudinal gradient. In the long term, the effects of rising temperatures on forest amphibians could be assessed.
Point surveys for bird species
Bring your binoculars and set your alarm early and you can join in our bird surveys which take place at the lagoon on Pejeperro beach. Many of Costa Rica’s beautiful birds can be found here, as well as several migratory species. Frequently sighted are pink Roseate Spoonbills, several species of herons, egrets, scarlet macaws and, if you’re lucky, ospreys!
Bird counts are a commonly used method of identifying avian species composition in an area. A pilot study was recently initiated to carry out bird call counts along trails throughout the forest in order to get a better idea of species diversity and abundance.
The long term goal of this project is to investigate and provide data for models of ecosystem migration and species displacement due to climate change and the subsequent implications of climate change upon Costa Rica's network of protected areas. The project addresses four important questions in order to safeguard the future of Costa Rica's economically and biologically important natural heritage:
- What effect is global warming having on the biodiversity within Costa Rica's system of protected areas?
- What future effect is global warming likely to have on the biodiversity within Costa Rica's system of protected areas?
- Is there adequate existing connectivity between habitat blocks within Costa Rica, and within the Mesoamerican hotspot as a whole, to allow ecosystem migration?
- What conservation efforts can and need to be put in place to ensure the continued existence, where possible, of the ecosystems which typify the natural habitats of Costa Rica?