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2016 Year End News


We are so very appreciative of those who have helped us in 2016 in our ongoing mission to support the biodiversity survival of Area de Conservacion Guanacaste (ACG), and to continue ACG’s demonstration to the world that it is possible to do large landscape biodiversity conservation, public-private cooperation through GDFCF’s “formal NGO” role, and the building of social capital with neighboring communities and the country as a whole. We want to share a few year-end highlights of our work with our colleagues in ACG and other organizations, and we ask for your continued support as we go into the New Year.

Measuring Biodiversity Impact of Geothermal Project Bordering ACG

On the slopes of Volcan Rincon de la Vieja, just below the ACG, a World Heritage site, the National Electricity Institute (ICE) of Costa Rica is building a geothermal energy project that taps into deep underground steam to run electricity generators.  ICE has agreed to a collaboration with ACG – a historic first in Costa Rica – to structure one drilling platform so as to create minimal damage to the environment, and allow strategically placed insect traps to measure fine scale changes in the insect community – a world level first.  Insects are quick to adjust to biological perturbations, easy to catch in large numbers, and now, like never before, identifiable by DNA barcoding through our decade-long collaboration with the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics at the University of Guelph, Canada. The results of the first year are in: 140,000 insects, 11,500 species. As you read this, Drs. Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs have just returned from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Cancun where they gave talks about their efforts to integrate geothermal energy development with “biodevelopment” using this approach for biomonitoring and mitigation at the edge of ACG.  In addition to ICE, the collaboration has included the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the federal government staff at ACG, all of whom were co-presenting with Dan and Winnie in Cancun.

Photo: Geothermal drilling for generator steam inside private forest 100 meters from the border of ACG.

Latin American protected areas managers’ workshop at ACG

Thanks to support from the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, managers from protected areas and parks from eight Latin America countries gathered at ACG to see and discuss biomanagement and share their stories and lessons-learned from their respective countries. Days consisted of tours to different ecosystems and research stations within ACG, talking with diverse ACG staff. Participants presented their protected areas, backgrounds, and concerns. Several common themes emerged from these workshops, including funding challenges, the importance of public-private partnerships, and the role of participatory science research in biodiversity knowledge. It is fair to say that our guests were impressed by the scale and complexity of ACG, and the key role of local leadership in ACG management, and discouraged by feeling that they were not really free to pursue ACG-type initiatives back home. 

Photo: Dan with ACG’s Milena Gutiérrez and protected areas managers in Gmelina restoration plot, Sector San Cristobal, ACG 

New Estacion Wege biological station up and running.

With financing from a complex debt-for-nature swap between the U.S. and Costa Rica, GDFCF purchased a property of over 500 acres of Caribbean rain forest in 2014. This area of ACG which is biologically diverse and has not been well-studied, and has been named in honor of Peter Wege, one of the true patron saints of ACG conservation. The land and its rural farmhouse, newly renovated into a biodiversity research station (Estacion Biologica Wege), were inaugurated at our 2016 board meeting. Our local program director Sigifredo Marin supervised upgrades to the roof, electrical system, plumbing, and foundation with help from five GDFCF parataxonomists and neighboring carpenters.  Three GDFCF parataxonomists, Ana Cordoba, Jorge Hernanez, and Angel Hernandez are now working out of this station.

Photo: Sigifredo Marin with GDFCF Vice President Dr. Frank Joyce and Treasurer Steve Stroud at Board trip to Estacion Wege.

Sector Rincon Rain Forest gets a little larger 

On top of his restoration and project coordination skills, Sigifredo has continued to patiently negotiate for new properties adjacent to the land on which Estacion Wege sits, further enlarging the area of protected rain forest in Sector Rincon Rain Forest.  At over 9,000 ha (roughly 22,000 acres) this block of recovered and still recovering rain forest – all stitched together one property at a time over the last fifteen years -- is now one of the largest contiguous blocks of protected mid-elevation Caribbean rain forest in Costa Rica.  In late 2016, Sigi reached a deal to purchase another 178 acres.  We are grateful to the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest of Sweden and Germany, the Wege Foundation, SaveNature, and several individual donors for supporting this purchase.

Photo: Board Advisor Mark Van Putten, and Board members Terri McCarthy and Patrick Goodwillie stand in front of ACG restoration forest sign in Sector Rincon Rain Forest.

With key partners the inventory of ACG’s Sector Marino, BioMar, continues to grow

After a year of startup work in 2015, the BioMar project started to hit its stride in 2016 with collaboration between our local ACG/GDFCF marine parataxonomists Gilberth Ampie and Yelba Vega, scientists from the University of Costa Rica (Dr. Jorge Cortés Núñez, Dra. Rita Vargas, Dra. Odalisca Breedy) and guidance from ACG’s Co-coordinator for Research, Maria Marta Chavarria, and GDFCF’s Vice President Dr. Frank Joyce.  Eight multi-day trips to Sector Marino to collect specimens were made throughout the year, with over 2,500 marine specimens collected representing 325 species at 60 different sites throughout the marine area. Voucher specimens have been transferred to the UCR’s Museo Zoologica in San Jose and the first batch of tissue samples recently went to the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, University of Guelph, Canada, for DNA barcoding analysis. The majority of species collected  have been crustaceans (intricate, colorful, and incredibly diverse), but also many species of sea worms, annelids, echinoderms and algae.  We are very grateful for the financial support of the Wallace Genetic Foundation, the Center for Research in Marine Sciences and Limnology (CIMAR) at Universidad de Costa Rica, the Wege Foundation, the International Conservation Fund of Canada, and Jessie Hill.

Photo, top: Dra. Rita Vargas (CIMAR) with Yelba Vega, local ACG marine parataxonomist sorting marine species.
Photo, bottom: Dr. Jorge Cortés Núñez (CIMAR) describing coral reef biology at Estacion Isla San Jose to Mayra Bonilla, Jim Elkind, and GDFCF Board members Jessie Hill and Anne Lambert (ICFC).

Parataxonomist team adds to the species database 

This year a focus has been on inventorying and identifying the family of diurnal butterflies known as Hesperiidae, commonly known as skipper butterflies (of which there are about 250 species in North America and 700 species in ACG). Skippers are stocky-bodied vigorous fliers, with wings proportionately small, in comparison with butterflies that flutter or sail on the air.  But they can be found in many colors and sizes and already the parataxonomists have published 147 “Species Pages” explaining the life cycles of various Hesperiidae that are found in ACG, along with their usual 20,000+ caterpillar and parasitoid rearing records this  year.  These accounts are part of a growing library of almost 450 Species Pages, encompassing 24 families of moths and butterflies. Luz Maria Romero Villalta, our local educator and parataxonomist mentor, has shepherded this process since 2012. We are very appreciative of the Wege Foundation’s ongoing support of the parataxonomist bioinventory program and the critical support of the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics at University of Guelph for their role in DNA barcoding of ACG specimens, which has dramatically expanded what biologists and ecologists “see” when they look at the biodiversity of tropical forest and marine systems.

Photo, top: Saliana placens in the Hesperiidae “skipper butterfly” family from Estacion Cacao, ACG.
Photo, bottom: A new species of parasitoid fly, 
Uramya lunula, recently described from the rain forest near Estacion Caribe, after one of the parataxonomists reared it from a caterpillar.

“BioCol” project starts in ACG

One of the operating principles for ACG “biodevelopment” that Dan Janzen articulated many years ago has been:  “…that to properly manage a protected area of ACG’s size and complexity you have to know what lives in it and what it does.”  While scientists have been long familiar with the megafauna (e.g. birds and mammals) that inhabit tropical forest systems, it is the “small stuff” that is the real engine of these ecosystems and which determine their survival. This philosophy was first applied to ACG caterpillars and general insect inventory in the 1990’s, then applied to the startup of BioMar in 2015 for knowledge of coastal marine diversity, and now to the understanding of beetles, the large order of insects known formally as Coleoptera. With generous support from our friends Richard and Rita Ashley, we have been able to grant-support Costa Rica’s foremost beetle expert, Sr. Angel Solis, working with the parataxonomists in the systematic inventory of ACG’s many beetle species.

Photo: Spodistes mniszechi, in the subfamily Dynastinae of the scarab beetle family.  Found in Sector Santa Rosa by parataxonomist Guillermo Pereira.

Southern Wings project brings the birds into view

A special community-based project envisioned and realized by the indefatigable Maria Marta Chavarria, the co-director of ACG’s research program, puts birds and their natural history within reach of local grade school and high school  students.  Through this project, dubbed “Los Trogones” locally, Maria coordinates visits by the students to different ACG ecosystems to explore and document the region’s hundreds of species of birds.  The project provides binoculars and cameras to participating students. Their photographs are nothing short of extraordinary! One example is this photo of a gray hawk taken by Jeffrey Cortes in Sector San Cristobal (mid elevation Caribbean rain forest).  Our deep thanks go to Carrol Henderson and the State of Minnesota Southern Wings program as well as to many individual donors who have made this project possible.

Photo: Gray hawk (Buteo plagiatus) photographed by Jeffrey Cortes of Los Trogones club

Organizational News

  • Jason W. Green joins Board of Directors. We are pleased to welcome Jason, who is the President of Mosaico Management investment fund and was previously the Chief Investment Officer of blue moon fund, Inc. where he helped create and manage the endowment’s mission-driven investment strategy, and initiate the first three years of ACG plant barcoding by GDFCF’s three plant parataxonomists. 
  • Philadelphia, PA events. GDFCF Board of Directors and senior government staff of ACG were welcomed by our long term collaborators at the Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale PA for our mid-year Board meeting that included a standing-room-only lecture by Dan Janzen and a well attended Philadelphia event hosted by Howard Verlin and Jinous Kazemi at their beautiful Millesime interior design store.  Jinous and Howard also featured ACG-inspired artwork by Joe Rossano on the walls at Millesime for several months.
  • ACG road show. When available, Dan and Winnie continue to give talks about the history, mission and philosophy of ACG “biodevelopment”.  In addition to Philadelphia and Cancun noted above, the past year has taken them to Grand Rapids (Meijer Gardens), Princeton University, and several talks inside Costa Rica to visiting teams of scientists and government policymakers.  Please contact Eric Palola if you are interested in learning more and possibly hosting a talk with them.
  • New research papers. The flow of technical science research from ACG, with co-authorship by Dan and Winnie and their international taxonomic collaborators, continued strongly through the year. A small sample from this year includes a chapter about ACG in a new book entitled Costa Rican Ecosystems, (edited by Maarten Kappelle, University of Chicago Press); a paper on the DNA barcoding of Lepidoptera in ACG for a special edition of the journal Genome entitled “Barcodes to Biomes”; co-authorship of a paper by Schmiedel, et.al on the “Contributions of paraecologists and parataxonomists to research, conservation, and social development” in the journal Conservation Biology; and several species-specific taxonomic papers.  A list of these papers can be found on the GDFCF website and we’re happy to send a pdf upon request.

We are proud that we keep our organizational structure to a minimum so that the bulk of our resources can go to support our parataxonomists in the field, maintain our research stations, buy land where opportunities occur, foster community based conservation education, and co-support the operation of ACG in many ways. As our workshop with protected areas managers illuminated, our public-private model of biodiversity management remains a bright light of hope and possibility for conservation in the tropical world. Our work is made possible by the financial and sweat-equity generosity of many individuals and organizations both large and small.

Our best wishes for the Holiday Season and New Year from Eric, Dan, Winnie, Tom, our Costa Rican leadership team of Sigifredo, Luz Maria, Felipe and Federico, and the entire GDFCF Board of Directors and Advisors. 

Thank you for your continued support!