El Zota Biological Field Station, Costa Rica

El Zota is a new Biological Field Station located in Northeastern Costa Rica (10o  33.437', -83o 44.177') near the Barro del Colorado reserve.  The Station includes approximately 1000 hectares (over 2470 acres) of lowland rainforest that is host to a diverse native fauna and flora.  This station is among the largest of its kind in Costa Rica, and is home to the most diverse array of native wildlife to be found on any station of its kind in the country.  Habitats include lowland rain forest, lowland swamp forest, pastureland and reforested areas of monospecific stands of trees used for timber and paper.  A small river and several freshwater lagoons (ponds) are found within the boundaries of the property.

The mammalian fauna includes white faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus), mantled howling monkeys (Alouatta palliata), black-handed spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi), tapir (Tapirus bairdii), jaguar (Felis onca), collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu), and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).  The avifauna includes the great green macaw (Ara ambigua), the mealy parrot (Amazona farinosa), keel-billed toucan (Rhamphastos sulfuratus), chestnut mandibled toucan (Rhamphastos swainsonii), collared aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), king vulture (Sarcorhamphus papa), semiplumbeus hawk (Leucopternis semiplumbea) and a host of other avian species.  The brown caiman (Caiman crocodylus fuscus), green iguana (Iguana iguana), green basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons), terciopelo (Bothrops asper) and boa constrictor (Constrictor constrictor) are among the documented species of reptiles, and the strawberry poison dart frog (Dendrobates pumilio) and green-and-black poison dart frog (Dendrobates auratus) are among the amphibians.  Several faunal species are considered endangered or threatened (e.g., spider monkey, jaguar, and tapir).

El Zota Biological Field Station is owned by a Costa Rican family and is part of a research area utilized by the Fundacion Neotropical in Costa Rica whose primary interests center on reforestation and sustainable forest use.  The majority of the property is natural forest (~700 ha), but parts of the station were originally cattle ranch.  The current owners, in an effort to utilize the land in a more ecologically friendly fashion, have converted many acres of pastureland to a functional tree farm that produces both native and exotic trees for harvest as a means of sustainable use of the land.  In addition, the entire property is currently being used as a biological research station so that the natural portions of it can be conserved as undisturbed forest.

The station is designed to allow students to learn techniques that can be used in field research on ecological, behavioral and conservation questions in the tropics, and in so doing, to conserve the property of the research station. The field school curriculum is designed by a group of seasoned faculty from various Universities.  Together, all parties would like to conserve and promote conservation of land and its inhabitants in this portion of Costa Rica.

Class size is limited to about 20 students, with one professor and up to 3 teaching assistants per class. Each class includes a series of lectures and a field component that includes orientation to the station and field techniques that are useful in tropical research, such as census and mapping methods, classification of vegetation, and behavioral observation of animals. In addition, each student is required to propose and conduct a research project of his or her own design. Classes are 27 days long and include one overnight field trip to another site in northeastern Costa Rica.

Students and faculty are housed in separate cabins with bunk beds and running water. Flush toilets are available and electricity is provided by generator for at least 6 hrs per evening. Meals are provided in a communal dining area and include a varied sample of local cuisine. Clothing is washed by hand.

Weather is warm (to about 93 F) and very humid, but can be cool (down to about 68 F) at night. During the wet season, rain falls almost daily, so be prepared for rain at all times in the field.

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