The 2019 OTS Tropical Ferns and Lycophytes course! Photo by Jerry Taylor.
I spent the month of January in Costa Rica, where I was helping to teach the Organization for Tropical Studies' "Tropical Ferns and Lycophytes" course with Robbin Moran (New York Botanical Garden), Eddie Watkins (Colgate University), Alejandra Vasco (Botanical Research Institute of Texas), and Carl Taylor (Smithsonian). I had participated in the course previously, both as a student in 2013 and as the TA in 2015, and was thrilled to be back with the group again this year. The course is two weeks long, includes stays at two field stations and several day trips, and covers an exceptionally broad range of topics - absolutely one of my favorites.
This year, we have 16 students from six different countries; I was especially impressed by the diversity of research interests in the cohort and the quality of the four undergraduate students (this is a graduate-level course) who took part in the course. The students learned around 35 families and 85 genera of ferns and lycophytes, carried out an in-depth study on the ecology and ecophysiology of some Lomariopsis species and their hybrid, *successfully* squashed chromosomes, and danced a lot of samba/salsa/bachata/samambaia. This is not just an intensive field course but also an intense one - we were up at 6 am each day and I found myself working with the students in the lab until 9 pm --or later-- most evenings. I had a great time, and (as always) learned a lot from both the faculty and students on the course (it's hard not to have a great time when you combine pteridophytes and Costa Rica!). A huge thank you to OTS and especially Guiselle Castro, who does a tremendous amount of work to organize this and other courses!
Selaginella plana, a non-native species that is just too pretty not to like. Photo by Jerry Taylor.
After the course, Aleja and I got to spend a few days in the field in premontane cloud forest on the western slope of Volcan Barva, in the northeastern part of Costa Rica. We visit several tracts of privately owned forest that flank the massive Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo in the vicinity of San Miguel de Sarapiqui. The forests here are well-preserved and provide a great opportunity to see a rich cross-section of Mesoamerican fern diversity - Stigmatopteris, Elaphoglossum, Diplazium, Danaea, and Polybotrya are on all sides of the trails here. If you are in the area, I highly recommend both the Hotel Los Gallitos in San Miguel and the Albergue del Socorro in Virgen del Socorro. Both are family-run and offer nice cabins on their farms, adjacent to beautiful forest!
After a few days in the mountains, Aleja and I returned to San Jose, where we met up with Robbin and Esteban Jimenez, a Costa Rican botanist who is both a fantastic field botanist and one of the nicest guys I have ever met. Esteban drove us over the other flank of Volcan Barva, where we stopped at Quebrada Gonzalez, a sector of Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo that is one of Robbin's favorite spots. We spent the day in the field there, and got to see a tremendous amount of fern and angioperm diversity (along with a few Bothrops asper). Aleja left the following morning, but Robbin, Esteban and myself went to the Jardín Botánico Lankester in nearby Cartago. The garden is principally devoted to the study of orchids, and the research team there has been spectacularly productive for decades. We met with the garden's new director, Adam Karremans, who showed us around the greenhouses, some of the gardens and their new research building (incredible!), where we got to see the various labs and imaging centers where so much important orchidology happens. We were then lucky enough to run into the garden's former director, Mario Blanco, who showed us around the rest of the gardens. Mario recently took a new position at the University of Costa Rica and is the director of the USJ herbarium - I'm looking forward to visiting him there on the next trip!
Saccoloma inaequale. Photo by Jerry Taylor.
Quiz time at Las Cruces Biological Station!
In the field at Quebrada Gonzalez after the course. (l-r): Esteban Jimenez, Robbin Moran, and Alejandra Vasco.