Biology students study tropical ecosystems in Costa Rica

Biology students study tropical ecosystems in Costa Rica

Bobbi Beveridge
Bobbi Beveridge watches a mother sloth and her baby during a class trip to Costa Rica.

For 10 days in late April and early May, a group of 14 Oakland University biology students left the classroom behind to explore the vast wilds of Costa Rica.


The excursion was part of a tropical field ecology course that brought students into a world of diverse landscapes with untold varieties of animals and plants. Under the supervision of biology professor Scott Tiegs, students had the chance to explore lakes, streams, rainforests, dry forests, mangrove forests and an active volcano.


According to Dr. Tiegs, the experience gives students an up-close look at tropical ecosystems that isn’t possible through classroom instruction.


Textbooks and classroom experiences can only take you so far,” Dr. Tiegs said. “By the end of the course, the students have a much better appreciation of how diverse the tropics are in terms of the types of ecosystems and organisms that can be found there.”


Biology major Ashton Lyon said each day of the trip was packed with activities, including bird watching, hiking, boating and kayaking. Students trekked through the Costa Rican rainforests, getting a firsthand look at the biodiversity of the tropics. They caught sight of a mother sloth caring for its young, collected macroinvertebrates from a stream and toured of the Sarapiquí River via raft and motorboat. Students also visited two national parks – Corcovado and Carrara – nestled along the country’s pacific coast.


“I think it puts a whole new perspective on things, especially for those who enjoy hands-on learning,” Lyon said. “It gets you involved, you're there, you're in it and you can touch it and feel it and truly experience it instead of simply hearing about it.”


Lyon said that by the end of the trip, each student was capable of naming multiple species of birds simply by listening to their call.


He said, “We were also able to get up close and personal with a lot of amazing wildlife – something you can't easily do in a classroom –while simultaneously learning nuances about their ecological importance or even just interesting tidbits of information.” 


For the past five years, Dr. Tiegs has organized trips to Costa Rica for his Biology 474 class. To learn more about programs and opportunities in OU’s Department of Biological Sciences, visit Or learn more about study abroad and study away opportunities at

Sarah Pavliscak

Sarah Pavliscak is looking at macroinvertebrates that were collected from a stream.