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Students walk on the wild side, study ecology in Costa Rica

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Students walk on the wild side, study ecology in Costa Rica
By Katie Land, news editor

Dr. Tiegs led 16 biology students to study in Costa Rica this semester.
During the winter 2011 semester, 16 OU students had the chance to walk on the wild side with a hands-on trip to Costa Rica’s tropical forests through an ecology course.
Scott Tiegs, assistant professor of biology, led the field-based course in tropical ecology. Under his supervision, students had the chance to explore rainforests, dry forests, an active volcano, mangrove swamps, three different rivers, and even a morning of snorkeling in the Pacific.

“To really understand an ecosystem or an organism one needs to encounter it in person,” Dr. Tiegs said. “Field-based experiences give the student an immediate and impressionistic understanding of ecology that isn’t possible in the classroom or lab.”

Costa Rica is a fairly small country, but one that supports a remarkable diversity of different types of ecosystems, Dr. Tiegs said. It is also one of the most safe and affordable locations available.

Some of the group’s most memorable encounters include watching a mother sloth nurse its baby, holding tree frogs that were smaller than house flies, and touching fruit-eating bats. In a single outing in Carrara National Park and the Tarcoles River, the students saw more than 50 different species of birds.

The group encountered many animals, including venomous snakes.
“I think the students most enjoyed experiencing the incredible diversity of wildlife that tropical forest ecosystems support, especially the more charismatic species we were fortunate enough to encounter,” Dr. Tiegs continued. “We also saw a lot of venomous snakes, which tend to make a lasting impression.”

Student costs for the trip were about $1,600 plus airfare, which included all meals, lodging, park entrance fees, transportation (busses, boats, rafts) and an experienced field guide. Some students also planned a fundraising walk-a-thon to raise money for the trip.

While this was the first class of its kind for OU, Dr. Tiegs hopes to make it an annual adventure.

“Given how successful the trip was, I can’t help but think that more trips are to come,” he said. “I know that our students now have a better appreciation of how interesting and beautiful natural intact tropical forests can be.”

For more information about Oakland’s biology programs, view the website. To learn how to support similar programs for students, contact Kelly Conway at (248) 370-2146 or