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Sustainable Development Studies

Costa Rica

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Conserving Tropical Biodiversity and Promoting Sustainable Development

Costa Rica is known worldwide for its conservation efforts, which have attracted millions of tourists to the country’s parks and reserves. However, the ongoing transition from an agriculture-based to a service economy, climate change, and accelerated infrastructural development threaten Costa Rica’s biodiversity and society. As rural areas give way to urban development, already scarce resources, including fresh water and energy sources, are stretched to their limit. A reorganization of resource use and waste management practices is urgently needed to maintain healthy and functioning ecosystems in Costa Rica.

  • Semester Programs

    Sustainable Development Studies

    Costa Rica

    Costa Rica is a resource-rich, wonderfully biodiverse country that is rapidly developing and increasingly recognized for its efforts to ensure conservation and the protection of natural resources. It is home to beautiful cloud forests, dry forests, volcanoes, lowland rainforests, and plantations. Students will examine management schemes, identify the benefits of protected areas, and determine which systems offer the best option for economic development, the maintenance of cultural norms, and the preservation of biodiversity.

  • Summer Programs

    Session I: Sustaining Tropical Ecosystems: Biodiversity, Conservation, & Development

    Costa Rica

    Student research will focus on examining the impacts of development on the environment and on society by understanding key historical and current aspects of sustainable development strategies in Costa Rica, coupled with knowledge of tropical ecosystem function and connectivity.

  • Session II: Applied Research Techniques & Strategies Toward Sustainability

    Costa Rica

    The focus of this program is on developing relevant research questions that address these local issues related to sustainability. Students will be directly involved in designing and conducting field research on a topic of immediate relevance to local clients and proposing alternative approaches toward sustainable development in an effort to help address challenges to conservation goals.

How can Costa Rica respond to local and global challenges while securing the functionality of its natural and human systems?

The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies launched in 2008 the second Five Year Research Plan (5YRP, 2008-2012) after a successful implementation of the first cycle.

The specific topics of the research plan are identified based on the current status of natural resources and biodiversity protection of Costa Rica in mutual accordance with clients, stakeholders, and collaborators, and developed through an iterative process involving SFS staff, local managers of natural resources, and local communities. Research results are provided to these stakeholders to facilitate more informed decision making processes to better manage environmental resources and ecosystem services, as well as to maintain the stability and integrity of the communities dependent on them.

Costa Rica has taken a comprehensive approach to protect its biodiversity. While the recent and ongoing transition from an agriculture-based to a service economy in Costa Rica, showing a rapid adjustment to globalization, present opportunities that could benefit the whole country, it is also threatening biodiversity and the wellbeing of the human populations in several ways. Especially vulnerable are the marginal populations and landscapes.

In addition to the changing economy, natural phenomena triggered by climate change and the infrastructural development for productive and recreational activities in Costa Rica present some of the most critical issues that make the re-organization of land use practices an urgent imperative. The current threats to biodiversity protection are concentrated in the shift from agriculture to services, the rapid conversion of rural into urban areas with the consequent forest loss and habitat fragmentation, the occupation of prime real estate by foreign investors, inappropriate waste disposal, and the increased demand for water resources.

 

We hope to increase public environmental awareness and concern for maintaining healthy ecosystems, especially in communities affected by tourism and environmental degradation.        


PROBLEM

Costa Rica has taken a comprehensive approach to protect its biodiversity. While the recent and ongoing transition from an agriculture-based to a service economy in Costa Rica, showing a rapid adjustment to globalization, present opportunities that could benefit the whole country, it is also threatening biodiversity and the wellbeing of the human populations in several ways. Especially vulnerable are the marginal populations and landscapes. In addition to the changing economy, natural phenomena triggered by climate change and the infrastructural development for productive and recreational activities in Costa Rica present some of the most critical issues that make the re-organization of land use practices an urgent imperative. The current threats to

biodiversity protection are concentrated in the shift from agriculture to services, the rapid conversion of rural into urban areas with the consequent forest loss and habitat fragmentation, the occupation of prime real estate by foreign investors, inappropriate waste disposal, and the increased demand for water resources.

RESEARCH DIRECTION

This state of affairs justifies the question driving our new research plan: How can Costa Rica conserve tropical biodiversity under current ecological, economic and political conditions? Research will be undertaken to help answer this question in three thematic components:

1. Ecological and socio-economic impacts of tourism,

2. Relationships between conservation and economic development, and

3. Ecosystem function and connectivity.

Tourism constitutes the number one source of income, and thus the management of its expansion is critical for the environmental and economic sustainability of the country, especially in areas where tourism is concentrated. Research focused on this component will analyze the impacts of tourism on natural ecosystems and on the capacity of Protected Areas and rural communities to deal with increased visitation.

Under the second component, a thorough understanding of the relationships between economic development and conservation will help to design local strategies to improve social and economic opportunities by benefits that maximize conservation. Research in this component will examine the ecological and economic consequences of wildlife extraction, design options to integrate communities in the evaluation of the economic and ecological benefits of protected areas while dispersing these benefits to local communities, and evaluate the ecological and socio-economic impacts of current patterns of land use around natural areas.

The third component seeks to investigate the effects of different habitat matrices on ecosystem The School for Field Studies Five Year Research Plan 2008-2012, Summaries 6 connectivity to increase biodiversity protection at the landscape level. Research in this component will examine the impacts of habitat fragmentation (i.e., roads, edge effects) on the distribution and abundance of bioindicators, examine species responses and adaptation to climate change, and explore the public perception of this phenomenon.


EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND BENEFICIARIES

Through the implementation of our 5YRP, and delivery of research results to key decision makers, we expect to improve the local ability to protect, conserve, manage and monitor natural resources and ecosystem health at different spatial scales. By doing so, we hope to increase public environmental awareness and concern for maintaining healthy ecosystems, especially in communities affected by tourism and environmental degradation. This process will provide a real field-based experience to SFS students, and will improve the skills and expertise of SFS faculty and partner participants, and will strengthen our technical collaboration with governmental agencies, local communities and NGOs.

Although our research agenda addresses problems relevant to the whole country, the focus area includes the Protected Areas and neighboring communities within the Central Volcanic Range Conservation Area (ACCVC), the Central Pacific Conservation Area (ACOPAC), and the Arenal Conservation Area (ACA). Therefore, the major beneficiaries of our research and outreach activities comprise rural and peri-urban communities in the Central Valley Pacific Region; governmental agencies responsible for protecting and conserving natural ecosystems; local community leaders in the business, tourism, industry, education, public health, and governance sectors; and other organizations interested in the protection and conservation of the natural resources and the ecological health of Costa Rica.


PEER REVIEWED PUBLICATIONS

* Indicates SFS student, ^ indicates SFS intern or SAM

Aguirre, J. 2007. Asignacion de recursos, satisfaccion del visitante, admnistracion y manejo de parques nacionales en Costa Rica, Honduras y Nicaragua. PASOS. Revista de Turismo y Patrimonio Cultural 5: 353-370.

Aguirre, J. A. 2006a. Estado de las relaciones del Parque Nacional Monumento Arquelogico Guayabo con las comunidades de Santa Cruz de Turrialba y Guayabo, Costa Rica. PASOS. Revista de Turismo y Patrimonio Cultural 4: 69-83.

—. 2006b. Linking national parks with its gateway communities for tourism development in Central America: Nindiri, Nicaragu, Bagazit, Costa Rica y Portobelo, Panama. PASOS Revista de Turismo y Patrimonio Cultura 4: 351-371.

—. 2006c. Resource allocation, visitors' satisfaction, and management of national parks in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Interamerican Journal of Environment and Tourism 2: 16-31.

—. 2008. Midiendo el impacto economico del gasto turistico de los visitantes a los Parques Nacionales de Costa Rica. PASOS Revista de Turismo y Patrimonio Cultura 6: 11-26.

Arévalo, J. E. 2006. Reseña de libros: M. Kapelle and SP Horn (eds). 2005. Páramos de Costa Rica. Brenesia 65: 85-86.

Arévalo, J. E. 2010. Efecto de la reducción del hábitat sobre la ecología de especies de aves de bosque en la Zona Protectora Arenal-Monteverde, Costa Rica (The effect of habitat reduction on the ecology of forest birds species in Arenal-Monteverde Protected Zone), Costa Rica. Boletín de Ciencia y Tecnología 94, available online: http://www.conicit.go.cr/boletin/.

Arévalo, J. E. 2010. Evaluación sobre aves silvestres mantenidas en cautiverio en comunidades cercanas al Volcán Poás. Zeledonia 14: 1-11.

Arévalo, J. E., and K. Newhard^.  2011. Traffic noise affects forest bird species in a protected tropical forest. International Journal of Tropical Biology and Conservation 59(2): 969-980.

Arévalo, J. E., and M. Araya Salas. 2013. Collared forest-falcon (Micrastur semitorquatus) preying on chestnut-mandibled toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii) in Costa Rica. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 125(1), 212-216.

Avalos, G. 2004. Production of second set of stilt roots in iriartoid palms: A solution to the puzzle. Palms 48: 83-85.

—. 2005. Banded-tailed Pigeon (Columba fasciata) at low elevations in Braulio Carrillo National Park, Costa Rica. Ornitologia Neotropical 16: 1-2.

—. 2007. Book comment: M. Kapelle and SP Horn. 2005. Páramos de Costa Rica. Revista de Biología Tropical 55: 743-744.

Avalos, G., K. Hoell, J. Gardner*, S. Anderson*, and C. Lee*. 2006. Impact of the invasive species Syzigium jambos (Myrtaceae, Rose Apple) on patterns of understory seedling abundance in a Tropical Premontane Forest, Costa Rica. Revista de Biología Tropical 54: 414-421.

Avalos, G., and S. S. Mulkey. 2004. Photochemical efficiency of adult and young leaves in the neotropical understory shrub Psychotria limonensis (Rubiaceae) in response to changes in the light environment. Revista de Biología Tropical 52: 839-844.

Avalos, G., S. S. Mulkey, K. Kitajima, and S. J. Wright. 2007. Colonization strategies of two liana species in a tropical dry forest canopy. Biotropica 39: 393-399.

Avalos, G., D. Salazar, and A. L. Araya. 2005. Stilt root structure in the Neotropical palms Iriartea deltoidea and Socratea exorrhiza. Biotropica 37: 44-53.

Avalos, G., and M. Fernández. 2010. Allometry and stilt root structure of the Neotropical palm Euterpe precatoria (Arecaceae) across sites and successional stages. American Journal of Botany 97(3): 1-8.

Avalos, G., and O. Sylverster. 2010. Allometric estimation of total crown leaf area in the neotropical palm Euterpe oleracea at La Selva, Costa Rica. Trees 24: 969-974.

Avalos, G., A. Soto, and W. Alvaro. 2012. Effect of artificial feeders on pollen loads of the hummingbirds of Cerro de La Muerte, Costa Rica. Revista de Biología Tropical 60(1): 65-73.

Chaves, O., and G. Avalos. 2008. Do seasonal changes in light availability influence the inverse leafing phenology of the  Neotropical dry forest understory shrub Bonellia nervosa? Revista de Biología Tropical 56: 257-268.

Häger, A. 2010. The effect of climate and soil conditions on tree species turnover in a Tropical Montane Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. Revista de Biología Tropical 58: 1489-1506.

Häger, A. and A. Dohrenbusch. 2009. Baumartenzusammensetzung eines tropischen Bergregenwaldes entlang eines Höhengradienten – Composition of woody plant species along an altitudinal gradient in a tropical montane cloud forest-. Forstarchiv 80(6): 314-322.

Häger, A., and A. Dohrenbusch. 2010. Hydrometeorology and structure of tropical montane cloud forests in north-western Costa Rica under contrasting biophysical conditions. Hydrological Processes Online DOI: 10.1002/hyp.7726.

Hedstrom, I., J. Harris*, and K. Fergus*. 2006. Euglossine bees as potential bio-indicators of coffee farms: Does forest access, on a seasonal basis, affect abundance? Revista de Biología Tropical 54: 1189-1195.

Hedstrom, I., and G. Sahlén. 2003. An extended description of the larva of Megaloprepus caerulatus from Costa Rica. International Journal of Odonatology 6: 1-9.

Molina-Murillo, S. A., and T. M. Smith. 2009. Exploring the use and impact LCA-based information in corporate communications. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 14: 184-194.

Puglia*, A. 2011. The relationship between education and environmentalism: Support for reorienting environmental education. Community, Environment, and Development: An Undergraduate Research Journal 1: online http://agsci.psu.edu/ced-urj/2011.



The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies has been in the community of Atenas since 1993. For almost 20 years SFS has enjoyed a wonderful and close relationship with Atenas and the local neighborhood of Los Angeles. The Center hires primarily Costa Rican faculty and staff members, who are or become active members of the community. In addition, the Center provides jobs for local technicians and support staff as well as giving business to local stores, galleries, restaurants, and cooperatives.

A cornerstone of the program is its community service and opportunity for student engagement in Atenas and surrounding areas. The Center collaborates with local organizations to do forest restoration plantings, care for the municipal forest, and volunteer in national parks. At the Center, students have designed and maintained a local recycling program as well. Other outreach activities include teaching environmental education and English at local schools. Students also add to the social fabric by attending soccer games, festivals, and other performances.

SFS students participate in home-stay visits and host community dinners where the home-stay families are invited to come to the Center. Additionally, the Center hosts meetings of local development and conservation organizations based in Atenas. In 2011, the Center's farm received a Rainforest Alliance "Sustainable Agriculture" certification, which further demonstrates the sustainable practices and student participation in the environmental health of the Center.

With such close ties to the community, it is no surprise that the Center collaborates with local researchers and government officials to disseminate research data and information. Students and staff attend meetings and presentations at major universities as well as at farms, national parks, and reserves. Our Center is an important stakeholder and collaborator for local municipalities, development organizations, local branches of the Ministry of Agriculture, and many National Parks.