Biology of Neotropical Social Insects
This two-week course will be based at Las Cruces and La Selva, with short stops at to other sites in different life zones. It is directed toward graduate students at all levels interested in social insect behavior, evolution and ecology. Social insects are major ecological players in terrestrial ecosystems, functioning as detritovores, herbivores, predators, pollinators, and ecosystem engineers. An array of topics will be covered including social evolution, species richness, subterranean faunas, sampling methods, behavioral observations, and symbiotic associations. A combination of diurnal and nocturnal field exercises, discussions and lectures will be used to explore insect sociality, an important level of biological organization.
Course participants are eligible for pilot and research awards provided by the OTS Fellowship program. Students most complete the course successfully to be eligible. For more information click here
Important course activities at each site will include:
- Faculty-led orientation walks (focusing on local social insects) at each site
- Faculty lectures and faculty research talks
- Short student research talks
- Faculty-led group field problems
- Research design and statistical analysis; scientific writing
- Student individual or group research projects
Topics to be covered
- Introduction to Costa Rica (lectures on weather, geology, conservation)•
- Major taxa of social insects and their natural history
- Ecology of social insects: seasonality, elevation, and directional change
- Evolution of social complexity
- Castes and division of labor
- Neurobiology and behavioral physiology
- Social parasites and symbionts
Biology of Neotropical Social Insects is designed to make the most out of the students’ time. As is typical of OTS field courses, the schedule is intense and the pace is fast.
A students’ day during the Filed Ecology course will usually begin at 06:00 hrs. with breakfast at 06:00 or 06:30 and a start to the field by 07:00 hrs. Lunch will be at 12:00 hrs. (Lunch may be out in the field depending on the circumstances) and dinner at 18:00 hrs.
We will have a review of the next day's work after dinner, usually followed by student talks or a faculty lecture and occasional general group discussions or data analysis.
Biology of Neotropical Social Insects will be based at two important tropical research stations with access to forest habitat. The stations are in different elevational life zones and different biogeographic provinces (Atlantic lowlands; Pacific Talamanca slope) in Costa Rica. Costa Rica has an incredible diversity of ecosystems and the course field sites represent most of the major ecosystem types in the country, ranging from wet forest to dry forest, low elevation to high elevation. The course visits two OTS field stations (La Selva and Las Cruces), and make short visits at other sites while travelling.
La Selva Biological Station. Situated in wet lowland rainforest on the Atlantic slope, La Selva is not only OTS' largest and longest-running station, but also one of the world's premiere centers of tropical forest research. Over 1500 hectares of old- and second-growth rainforest is readily accessible via an extensive trail system. Besides its impressive forest and excellent laboratory and classroom facilities, one of La Selva's great assets is the opportunity to interact with researchers from around the world. In addition to this, the station connects to Braulio Carrillo National Park via a forested altitudinal transect ranging from 30 m to 2500 m above sea level.
Las Cruces Biological Station. Situated in premontane rainforest on the Pacific slope, Las Cruces has a world-class plant collection in the Wilson Botanical Garden and an associated 160 hectare tract of old growth mid-elevation forest. Las Cruces is surrounded by agricultural landscapes, ideal for research on fragmentation and restoration ecology.
Biology of Neotropical Social Insects will have two full-time coordinators and a teaching assistant from renowned universities.
Sean O’Donnell (coordinator) is a Professor of Biodiversity Earth & Environmental Science (BEES) and Biology at Drexel University.
Floria Mora-Kepfer Uy (co-coordinator) is a Research Assistant Professor and the OTS faculty delegate for the Department of Biology at the University of Miami
Feel free to email us for any questions.
Invited Faculty List
Students will have the opportunity to interact, be taught by and participate in group field projects with faculty from different universities and research interests. A list of potential invited faculty is provided.
Dr. Terrence McGlynn – California State University Dominguez Hills
Dr. Paul Hanson – Universidad de Costa Rica
Please make sure to review this page frequently as invited faculty members may be changed or added to the list as the course draws near to the start date.
Tuition and Financial Aid
Biology of Neotropical Social Insects course costs are $1400 for member institution students and $2100 for students from non-OTS institutions.
Cost includes: all lodging and meals, transportation during the course, and all course materials. Personal expenses such as laundry, mail, entertainment, international travel, airport tax ($29), insurance, medical expenses, etc. are not covered. Also, students planning additional time in Costa Rica before or after the course should allow $50-60 per day.
Course fees are due in full one month prior to start of course
Additional scholarships may be available for students with demonstrated financial need. If you are interested in being considered for a partial scholarship please make sure to include a request for a partial scholarship along with the rest of the required documents. The letter should outline your financial situation, previous scholarships/grants (if any), and the amount you are seeking from outside sources to cover the costs of the course. The letter will help us asses your situation individually and determine your eligibility for a partial scholarship if you are selected for the course.
Please note that the scholarships are awarded and applied only to the tuition/course cost. They cannot be applied in any other way, for example travel expenses. Although we may be able to award a partial scholarship, we recommend that you seek funds for the course outside through you own means, such as applying for grants from your department or organizing small fund raisers.
Course enrollment is limited to 22 students. Selection of participants is highly competitive. Qualified students from OTS member schools will have first priority, and any number of applications will be considered from each OTS institution. Applications from non-OTS institutions are welcome. The course is taught in English; however, Spanish is useful, and participants are encouraged to develop basic Spanish skills.
Please keep in mind that the transcripts from the course may take up to two months to process before they are sent out to your institution. Accepted students are encouraged to consult with their advisor and department what is need to transfer the credits once the course is over.
How to apply?
The application process is simple.
Click on the Apply Now button on the program page and follow the online instructions to fill out the application on-line.
At the end of the application you will be required to upload the following documents in pdf format.
- Curriculum Vitae (4 page max.)
- Transcripts (official)
- Letter of Interest
- Letter requesting financial aid (if applicable)
You will be required to request the following:
- Two letters of reference.
- A graduate advisory supplement which needs to be filled out and sent to us by your graduate advisor. This form can be downloaded from the online application page.
- OTS Delegate Endorsement (only applies to OTS member institution students). This form is downloaded from the online application page.
Please request that these documents be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will not accept any reference letter, supplement or endorsement that is not sent directly from the referral person.
Prospective applicants from member institutions must consult with one of the two representatives of the OTS Assembly of Delegates at their institution.
Advice and endorsement by the local representative are a necessary part of the application process. There are two Delegates at each OTS member institution and their names can be found on the Assembly of Delegates page or by contacting OTS Costa Rica Education Program at email@example.com. See list of member institutions.
Accommodations and Meals
t is important to recognize that the OTS program differs from your typical on-campus life.
You will be a guest in Costa Rica, and consequently you will need to be sensitive to and respectful of Costa Rican customs and culture. In general, Costa Ricans (“Ticos” and “Ticas”) are warm, friendly, and courteous. We encourage you to interact with many Ticos, and we hope you will develop some good friendships.
It is important to remember that certain behaviors that are acceptable among fellow classmates at an OTS site may not be acceptable when dealing with non-course participants. For example, Costa Ricans tend to be conservative in their attitudes toward nudity and sex. Thus, stages of undress that are acceptable and inevitable in field station dormitories are offensive in public. Also, nudity on beaches, no matter how apparently deserted, is inappropriate.
Costa Ricans tend to be much more tolerant of noise (say, the loud music coming from the neighbor’s house or the children shouting and running in the living room) than many of us are in the U.S. While we ask that you be respectful of Costa Rican ways and customs, we also understand that cultural norms can often be subtle, complex, and even counter-intuitive. If you would like some advance preparation regarding Ticos and their way of life, we suggest you read Biesanz, Richard et al. The Costa Ricans (1982, Waveland Press, Inc., ISBN 0-88133-340-9) before coming to Costa Rica. Other sources you should consider are Palmer and Molina´s (2004) The Costa Rica Reader History, Culture, Politics (ISBN 0-8223-3372-4), Baker´s (2015) Moon Costa Rica and Coates' (1997) Central America a Natural and Cultural History (ISBN 0-300-08065-4). Also, please feel free to ask OTS staff or Dr. Mora-Kepfer Uy about any questions you have regarding cultural differences and norms at any time.
Though you may have one or two roommates on campus, in Costa Rica you will be living closely with 15-25 other students and two to five professors or field assistants. This means communication and respect will be crucial. All of us need to be as open, honest, and cooperative as possible. We also need to have sincere respect for one another, regardless of different opinions and lifestyles. This includes respect for privacy, respect for rules and regulations, and even respect for the fact that unpredictability is an inherent feature of field-based programs such as ours. Indeed, next to communication and cooperation, flexibility and a good sense of humor are the most important characteristics of a successful student in our program. By living and working with the same people for several weeks, you will undoubtedly develop a number of very close friendships. The combination of uncomfortable (being wet, muddy, and tired), wacky (a bunch of Gringos on the dance floor), wonderful situations (watching iguanas sunning on the bridge at La Selva), and truly amazing (interacting with people from all sorts of social back-grounds in very different settings) creates great images and memories. You will, for sure, share these with your fellow participants well beyond the end of the course.
As OTS students, you must not only be proactive in asking the questions (and finding the answers) that are important to you, you must also be ready to share your own knowledge and experience with the rest of the group.
Passport and Visa Information
You must have a valid Passport to travel to Costa Rica. It is important that the passport does not expire within 6 months of entering Costa Rica. If you are NOT a citizen of a North American or European country, you will probably need a special visa to get into Costa Rica. We recommend that you contact your respective consulate or embassy services to determine if you need a visa to travel to Costa Rica. It is important to take into account the requirements to get a visa approved before you apply for one of our courses. If you are accepted into one of our courses we will provide any information necessary (within reason) to help with the visa application. Please keep in mind that visa application processes can take several months depending on the country of issue. For more information on this topic please visit http://www.migracion.go.cr/extranjeros/visas.html
U.S. citizens entering Costa Rica are automatically granted a 90-day tourist Visa. Students planning to stay in Costa Rica after the program end date need to take this into account.
Please consult OTS if you have any questions about this.
Health and Safety
OTS is deeply committed to student safety and well-being and does not expose students to unnecessary danger or risk. In cooperation with the Duke University Global Education Office for Undergraduates (GEO), OTS monitors national and international events that might affect our students. Five decades of risk assessment, emergency response, and crisis resolution have enabled OTS to maximize student safety and security. All students participate in an on-site orientation program upon arrival in Costa Rica. For our most current safety information, contact the OTS Enrollment Management staff at firstname.lastname@example.org