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Adapting To The  Science

As a the Media and Journalism intern on the Frontier-Costa Rica project, my main purpose here is to document all of the work being done by Frontier staff and volunteers, as well as what life in the field is like. Before arriving in country, I was concerned first and foremost by the aesthetics of the world around me, by how things looked, as opposed to the actual science behind my surroundings. But, having spent two weeks working with the Frontier science team has now given me a real insight into the inner-workings of the incredibly biodiverse hotspot that is the Osa Peninsula.

My first week on camp was perhaps a bit daunting, learning about all the strange and different species that call the Osa home, and how they all fit into their own respective ecosystems. Costa Rica is home to 4-5% of the world’s species and has the highest density of bio-diversity in the world. That’s A LOT of plants and animals! I became worried when I arrived here that I would be playing catch up the entire time. I worried that I would not really be able to contribute anything to the project, due just to the enormous range of wildlife being studied by the Costa Rica team. But, the highly educated staff have been able to provide such an in depth and approachable introduction to the science being conducted here, that I now have gained a whole new perspective on the work we do here and how important this work is in the on-going battle to preserve our planet’s wildlife in the face of ever-growing threats like deforestation and climate change.

One of the incredible natural relationships I have learned about has been the one that exists between primates and trees. Much of the flora in Costa Rica is largely dependent upon primates as seed distributors. The fruiting trees here have co-evolved with frugivores (fruit eating animals), such as the four primate species found here. The primates have evolved to live amongst the forest canopy, eating fruits, seeds, and leaves, amongst other food sources, and the trees have evolved to depend upon these animals as a means of helping them colonize the forest through the spread of their seeds. This relationship has helped to spread bio-diversity throughout the landscape, which has in turn provided a means of survival for thousands of other species of life, both plant and animal. Primates are also incredibly susceptible to the effects of deforestation and climate change. The increased frequency and power of tropical storms and the removal of the trees they call home threatens to greatly reduce the population of primates by destroying their habitat and exposing them to the elements. If there were no primates in these forests, the impact upon the ecosystem would be enormous, due to the niche they fill here as seed dispersers and pollinators.

When I joined the Costa Rica team here, and was made aware of all of the critical issues facing primates, I was impressed at how our research on each species helps to outline the potential domino affect that could occur if deforestation of their habitat was to continue, as well as the world-wide issues facing primates everywhere of climate change and the pet trade.

The Frontier-Costa Rica team comes from a diverse range of backgrounds, and the staff here is very good at clearly outlining ways that all of the volunteers can contribute to the science being done here. I’ve particularly enjoyed learning about all of the amphibians and reptiles that live here in the jungle, partly because of the bad reputation they receive by cultures not familiar with them. It is of course true that some replies are dangerous and/or venomous, but an irrational fear of all of these animals is outrageous considering the enormous amount of importance they play amongst their ecosystems. Most of the amphibians and reptiles here are completely harmless, and those that are not are never dangerous if left alone and treated with respect. And what’s more, not only do they provide vital ecological services to their environments, they also contribute to a plethora of human medicines. And, new medicines are being discovered all the time by studying the amazing range of chemicals produced by amphibians and reptiles. My first few weeks here have taught me that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on TV and in movies. Just because some movie producer decided it’s more exciting to have a 20 foot poisonous snake or spider chasing you down a hallway doesn’t mean its even close to accurate.

Before I came here, when I thought about mammals and birds, I would only think about them as household pets, or those annoying things on the street that we call vermin in some cases. But, being educated on the science behind these amazing animals has taught me their importance worldwide and why their conservation is so important. The differences between all these animals, large and small, their behaviour and eating patterns, are all things I had never really considered before. But, I am sure now that as my time here progress I will gain an even further understanding of how important they all are to the planet as a whole.

By Marcus Reay - Costa Rica Media and Journalism Intern

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

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