By: Justus Kithiia, PhD

Posted: September 25, 2014
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Faculty Post

Bosque Viviente: Living Jungle


The Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies (TIBS) Principles of Resource Management course started with a nature walk through the grounds of Isla Solarte’s tropical rainforest. Almost a week after our course introduction lecture, it was about time to go out and explore what the forest on Solarte Island has to offer.

We are quickly approaching the end of the first month of our program. With three weeks completed, the students have a better understanding of tropical rainforest dynamics and some of the organisms that support its structure. The first lesson students were presented with was to understand the most common strategies that plants use to survive in tropical environments in which resources can be limited; one of these strategies includes producing a few seeds of large size versus a lot of small seeds. Also, it was really amazing for the students to experience hearing the mating calls of Oophaga pumilio, the red poison dart frog.


The students had an intense first approach to insects and other terrestrial arthropod-collecting methods. Students placed a number of sticky traps in the mangrove area near the field station. Most of the traps made it through the collecting time period, but some others did not. Principal factors underlying our lack of success were strong winds and heavy rainfall, but also human impact. On their way to school, some children found it really entertaining to knock the traps down by throwing rocks of different sizes at them.

Another adventure in the mangroves was awaiting us a few days later, when we set up light traps in the mangroves. Both impatient and excited, students waited for the insects to be attracted to the light. Some of the students were armed with a new tool they just learned to use, an aspirator. An aspirator is a long rubber hose attached to a glass collection jar. You suck the insects into the collection jar through a small metal straw located in the lid of the collection jar. This new tool represented a bit of a challenge for some of the students, who accidentally sucked the insects into their mouths on a few occasions. Although the light attracted a number of really small insects, we also had the opportunity to observe some of the fauna that inhabit the mangroves, such as tiny crabs, and huge Katydids.

A couple of days later while out in the field, students experienced something entirely different during our light trap experience. This time we set up the light inside the forest. That particular day was really hot and wet. For this reason the insects were not very active and definitely not attracted to the light. Instead, with the aid of our flashlights, we wandered around the vegetation surrounding the light and found several interesting fauna, such as a huge scorpion, poison dart frogs, a fishing spider, golden orb-weavers, and geckos.

What we have in our collecting jars is yet to be discovered. We will find out soon in our Insect ID workshop this coming week, when students will use a key to identify the insects.

Being down here in Solarte, it is not only about having fun in the field; the actual classroom, where our lectures take place is surrounded by graphic and specific examples of the forest dynamics and its inhabitants. Being in the classroom offers a direct opportunity to point out some of the subjects being taught, just by looking outside the windows. An entire classroom is out there, by simply looking outside the window, no pictures needed. Trees, epiphytes, lianas, birds, bats; there is an entire community living in the surroundings.

But not everything is about work and lectures. This morning, we also had time to learn how to salsa. I am sure that this was the first time for some students. For years and years I have been trying to salsa properly and I have desperately wanted to learn how.  Today I finally learned and successfully executed my first “professional” salsa moves. I was so excited to actually be moving the right way and not with just random imitation movement… I think now I know that I will be able to dance with someone who actually wants to keep dancing with me even after the first track has finished.

I am looking forward to more excitement that is still to come.

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