Undergraduate Opportunities - Organization for Tropical Studies

NAPIRE (Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience)
Summer Program in Costa Rica

  • NAPIRE (Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience) in Costa Rica
  • NAPIRE (Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience) in Costa Rica
  • NAPIRE (Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience) in Costa Rica
  • NAPIRE (Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience) in Costa Rica
  • NAPIRE (Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience) in Costa Rica
  • NAPIRE (Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience) in Costa Rica

Program Details

When: Jun 7- Aug 3, 2016

Duration: 8 weeks

Language: English

Deadline:February 29


NAPIRE (Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience)
Summer Program in Costa Rica

The NAPIRE program introduces undergraduate students to scientific research by making them responsible for completing a research project. Students are supported to this end by giving them their basic living needs (travel, room and board), guidance by a Research Mentor, Home Mentor and OTS staff, a small budget for supplies, and a venue for presenting the Research results, the NAPIRE Symposium. All this takes place in Costa Rica, in the beautifully conserved biological stations of OTS.


As part of the program, students will complete a field project, including experimental design, data gathering, and analysis and presentation of results, in collaboration with fellow students and a research mentor. Students will experience the process of applying the scientific method to ecological inquiry and discovery in a collaborative and team-oriented environment. In addition to completing a research project, students will participate in lectures, seminars and field activities that focus on tropical ecology and conservation. Participants will also have the opportunity to interact with indigenous groups of Central America, allowing a first-hand look at the role of Native People in tropical forest conservation. Each student will be assigned a Research Mentor who will assist them with their independent project as well as provide support throughout the research experience. Two faculty coordinators and a teaching assistant will lead the program, which will be primarily based at Las Cruces Biological Station, with visits to other sites in Costa Rica.


June 7 Arrival of NAPIRE participants to Costa Rica
June 8 San Jose-Orientation
June 9-12 La Selva: Introduction to the Tropics
June 13-14 Talamanca: BriBri Indigenous community
June 15-19 La Selva
June 20 Mentor Organizational Meeting
June 21-August 1 Travel SJO to Las Cruces – Orientation LC
August 2 Travel to San Jose, night in San Jose
August 3 Depart San Jose to Home


Juan Moreira

Juan Moreira, M.Sc,

NAPIRE 2016 Coordinator




Scott Walter

Scott Walter, Ph.D.

NAPIRE 2016 Co-Coordinator





NAPIRE 2016 Research Mentors

Anne Brasher, PhD
Research Ecologist

Anne BrasherResearch Interests: human impacts on aquatic systems. My research focuses on how human activities in the watershed (creating water diversions, introducing non-native species, producing contaminants) can cause habitat alteration. Habitat alteration is a major threat to native stream species throughout the world. Over the past ten years I have conducted about half of my research in the tropics, the other half in the semi-arid desert southwest. Recently I have become very interested in using photography and art as a way to communicate science to the general public, and I would like to incorporate that into our studies this summer. I envision doing a range of habitat measurements and analyses in the field, collecting macroinvertebrates (for example insects and snails) in the streams, and then doing multivariate statistical analyses to associate certain habitats with certain organisms. Then, depending on the students’ interests, we could do detailed photographs or illustrations of habitats and organisms (for example using microscope camera set-up to take pictures of very small insects). The goal will be to compare various habitat types at different sites, and prepare a brochure for the general public that describes associations between habitat and the animals that live in a stream.

Potential Student Research Projects:

In this project students will select three sites in two streams (ranging from tiny tributaries to larger rivers) to conduct a thorough description of stream habitat characteristics. The primary research questions will be based on habitat availability versus habitat utilization. We will use a variety of tools to measure habitat including flow characteristics, substrate, and riparian vegetation. Students may also use microscopes, cameras, GPS, and laptops during their research. The primary purpose of this project is to identify which species of insects, shrimp, crabs, and snails are associated with which type of habitats. This project is especially suited for students with an interest in photography, drawing or painting; and/or communicating science to the general public. The project will have five components:

  1. Thorough habitat descriptions at each site
  2. Collection and identification of invertebrates that live in a particular site
  3. Using multivariate analysis and descriptive statistics to associate invertebrates with habitat, and evaluating habitat availability and utilization at different spatial scales
  4. Visually characterizing invertebrates and/or habitat through pictures (photography, drawing, etc.), using GIS and mapping skills, or mapping and illustrator skills


Szymek Drobniak, PhD
Institute of Environmental Sciences
Jagiellonian University
Kraków, Poland

Szyme kDrobniakResearch Interests: sexual selection and evolutionary ecology of birds, evolutionary history of color (esp. bird plumage), evolution of cooperation, genetics, and role of phenotypic plasticity. I have just completed o post-doc at the University of Zurich (Switzerland), currently I’m continuing my collaboration with Zurich and the Uppsala University (Sweden). Other interests include carnivorous plants and graphic design (I’m an active designer, I produce book covers, info graphics and illustrations). I won the FameLab Poland, 4th edition. I am in love with “big data”. I organize and teach introductory and advanced workshops on the use of R computing environment. Finally, I write children books about animal sexual rituals (as odd as it sounds, it’s possible), I also regularly perform during scientific stand-ups organized by the Copernicus Science Centre in Poland.

Potential Student Research Projects:

  1. Ecological drivers of variation in bird plumage coloration/bird song: tropical forests offer an ideal system for performing comparative analyses at varying levels; even simple observational studies can provide interesting insights into the ecological drivers of variation in plumage coloration of birds; the project may involve an observational census of local birds together with detailed analysis of their environment to discover trends and perform phylogenetically-informed comparative analysis; analyses in such project involve field surveys of birds and advanced statistical analyses that account for phylogenetic information available for each species. It may involve recording bird songs using mobile recorders and the use of a portable spectrophotometer to measure color (which I can supply).
  2. The role of different plant components of the ecosystem on the diversity of soil communities: the project may involve creating several controlled plots varying in taxonomical group of plants removed from the plot + control un-manipulated plots; diversity of soil microorganisms and fundamental measurements of soil properties (total biomass, humidity, acidity, conductivity) reveal the consequences of each plant component; the project teaches strict and rigorous experimental design and introduces the most fundamental concepts of statistical analysis of replicated experimental data.
  3. Context-dependent sensitivity of predators to varying levels of mimicry: the project may involve creating transects through ecologically diverse habitats (varying in plant cover, species composition, altitude, proximity to human installations); at each location artificial food (bird eggs) treated with three different mimicry-painting methods would be placed; the relationship between ecological properties and “survival” of each food/mimicry type would be measured providing and interesting insight into sensory variation of predators in relation to their inhabited environment.
  4. Biology of color: determining the role of plant/insects color in avoiding predators, mimicry, pollination. The project may involve producing artificial plant dummies and painting them with a range of visible and UV-reflecting colors. Flowers would contain sweetened water (an analogue of nectar) and be placed in varying habitats to observe the consequences of their color variation.

Patricia Esquete Garrote, PhD
Postdoctoral researcher
Universidade de Aveiro (Portugal)

Patricia Esquete-GarroteResearch Interests: Invertebrate ecology, diversity, and population biology with focus on benthic environments. My research interests are invertebrate ecology, diversity, and population biology, in particular in benthic environments. In addition to my work on general invertebrate ecology, I specialize on peracarid crustaceans, a group that mostly inhabits benthic environments of the sea and freshwaters, but also with a number of terrestrial representatives. The taxon has been demonstrated to be useful as a bio-indicator in both freshwater and marine aquatic systems.

Although my main experience to date is focused on the ecology of marine benthic environments, I am now interested in the study of freshwater communities. Specifically, there are few studies on the environmental factors affecting benthic communities in Neotropical rainforests, including the ecology of the benthos in rivers and streams Central America. Students can take advantage of the streams in Las Cruces for a number of possible research projects.

Potential research projects for NAPIRE 2016

  1. Community structure of benthic invertebrates in different microhabitats of a Stream in Las Cruces
  2. Environmental factors affecting the faunal composition of the benthic community of a stream in Las Cruces
  3. Differences of benthic faunal composition in different levels of a stream
  4. Using invertebrates for water quality assessment: Testing biotic indices for neotropical water systems

These are only some examples of the questions that can be outlined. Students will not only become familiar with main faunal groups, but also with field and laboratory methodology, as well as ecological concepts such as abundance, dominance, diversity, biomass, biotic/abiotic factors, etc. Also, they will use basic statistical concepts.


Patrick Hart, PhD
(Co-mentoring with Dr. Esther González) 
Professor and Chair 
Department of Biology, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo phart@hawaii.edu

Patrick HartResearch Interests: I have broad interests in the community ecology and conservation of Hawaiian forests and forest birds. The relationships between habitat variables and bird distribution, abundance, and demography as they relate to the conservation of forest birds have been a major theme of much of my past and current research. Most recently my lab has focused on “conservation bioacoustics” to get a better understanding of the role of habitat fragmentation and population decline on culturally transmitted behaviors such as birdsong.


Esther Sebastián González, PhD
Post-doctoral Researcher
University of Hawaii in Hilo. Biology Department
200 W Kawili st, Hilo Hawaii 96720

Esther Sebastián GonzálezResearch Interests: Structure and biogeography of the acoustic traits of avian communities. My work has always been related to the ecology and conservation of avian communities, including factors affecting the distribution of species, structure of species interactions in seed-dispersal communities and management or conservation of bird communities. I have worked with several groups of birds such as waterbirds, raptors, seed-dispersers and forest birds. Currently, I am using bioacoustics to study how avian communities are distributed and compete for the soundscape in forest birds. The field of bioacoustics has increased exponentially in the last years because acoustic information is easy to gather on the field and it is much less invasive than other techniques, so I am planning to use this tool for all the projects in Las Cruces.

Gonzalez/Hart Potential Student Research Projects:

  1. How does the acoustic diversity and song complexity change with habitat fragmentation? We will use automatic sound recorders to capture the acoustic diversity of fragments with different sizes.
  2. How do species compete for the soundscape? Do species change their acoustic vocalization in the presence of other noises?
  3. Does habitat fragmentation affect calling patterns of cicadas and other species of insects?


Stephen Hess, PhD
US Geological Survey- Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center
Kīlauea Field Station, PO Box 44, Building 344
Hawai‘i National Park, Hawai‘i 96718

Stephen HessResearch interests: Population dynamics and interactions of tropical plants and animals. My current research addresses the abundance and distribution of terrestrial mammals and their interactions within tropical forest environments. I primarily study invasive mammals in Hawaii, but also movement and foraging ecology of native birds. I am interested in small mammals and birds as dispersers and predators of plant seeds, particularly for seeds of potentially invasive plants, either in Costa Rica or other locations. How do organisms become invasive? What life history characteristics predispose them to become invasive?

Potential student research projects:

  1. Using remote wildlife cameras to quantify the abundance and behavioral interactions of small mammals in tropical forest environments.
  2. Using radio-telemetry to quantify the movements and habitat use of small mammals in tropical forest environments.
  3. Monitoring the fate of animal-dispersed plant seeds in tropical forest environments.


Faith Inman-Narahari, PhD
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management
University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (and Forest Service Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry)

Faith InmanResearch interests: Forest ecology, regeneration, restoration, ecophysiology, conservation biology. I get excited about learning about almost everything, but my graduate research focused on how trees in tropical forests grow on their own, from seeds to seedlings to trees. This was in the hopes that understanding the natural processes would give us clues for how to efficiently restore them where they have been disturbed or destroyed. As a faculty at the University of Hawaii, I worked with scientists and landowners/managers to develop a forestry program with koa (Acacia koa), a native Hawaiian tree with substantial economic, ecological, and cultural value. While I am primarily interested in doing useful work that can contribute to conservation and restoration of tropical forests, I also get fascinated by basic scientific questions about how nature works. Contrary to the view presented in most textbooks, there is still much left to learn! Someone once said that we will only conserve what we love, and we only love what we know. I am stoked to have the opportunity to help students engage their curiosity, and to guide them through the - sometimes painful but always rewarding - process of learning to think scientifically. The scientific method is a powerful tool for discovery; ideally we will work together to create new ways of merging this and other perspectives to expand our knowledge (and love) of nature. As such, I am open to a range of projects, with a few suggested below.

Potential student research projects

  1. Ecophysiology: Investigate how plant functional traits (e.g., leaf size, leaf mass per area, stomatal size/density) vary among various groups such as: 1) primary versus secondary forest species, 2) epiphytic and terrestrial plants, 3) leaves in different canopy positions on the same tree.
  2. Geography: Build on recent studies of regional landscape changes to analyze how patterns of forest cover correlate with demographic patterns (e.g., population growth and distribution, economic development, economics of export crops).
  3. Entomology/restoration ecology: Expand recent studies of leaf litter arthropod diversity across land use types ranging from pasture, agricultural land, secondary forest, and primary forest using pit-fall traps.

Department of Biology
Armstrong State University

Justin MontemaranoResearch Interests: Community-level effects on decomposition dynamics in aquatic systems. My current research investigates community-level effects on decomposition dynamics in aquatic systems. Such an approach allows me to integrate community and ecosystem ecology, and explore direct and indirect consequences of biotic interactions and anthropogenic stressors on a critically important ecosystem process: decomposition. I choose to study aquatic systems, including streams and wetlands, in part because biological diversity in such systems is comparatively greater than many terrestrial systems, particularly in temperate systems, and also because I personally find them intriguing. Further, decomposition pathways account for the majority of carbon and nutrients driving animal communities in many aquatic systems (e.g., leaves entering forested, temperate streams come to mind); thus, examining biotic interactions and patterns of decomposition is crucial in the understanding of community and ecosystem function, particularly in managed and changing environments.

Potential Student Research Projects:

  1. What are the distributions and comparative roles of invertebrate and vertebrate detritivores in Las Cruces stream systems?
  2. What role do amphibians play in decomposition of coarse particulate organic matter in stream systems?
  3. How does stream invertebrate diversity respond to variation in litter species richness?
  4. What are the stocks, transportation rates, and retention rates of coarse particulate organic matter in Las Cruces streams?
  5. How do riparian tree species contribute to organic matter dynamics of streams?


Bree Putman
PhD Candidate
Joint Doctoral Program in Ecology
San Diego State University/University of California Davis

Bree PutmanResearch Interests: Evolution of animal fear responses and antipredator behavior; using behavior to understand how animals will respond to novel, human-induced threats. Much of my work has focused on understanding antipredator defenses in small mammals that are preyed upon by snakes. I have spent the past 5 years studying how California ground squirrels manage their rattlesnake predators. In particular, I examined the function and ontogeny of ground squirrel tail flagging; a snake-directed signal that presumably deters snakes from striking and alters their hunting behavior. I answered several outstanding questions regarding animal communication theory and also contributed to our understanding of the foraging ecology of rattlesnakes, important predators in many North and South American ecosystems. I am intent on studying free-ranging animals, and I often use innovative techniques and new technologies (e.g., biorobotics and videography) to test difficult questions in the natural environment. My current research interests lie in determining whether evolved antipredator responses can inform us on how animals might respond to novel challenges such as the spread of invasive species and human-altered environments.

Potential Student Research Projects:

Students would work on answering the following questions using reptiles, amphibians, and/or small mammals as model organisms:

  1. Are there synergistic effects of ecotourism (i.e., human disturbance) and habitat fragmentation on animal risk assessment?
  2. Can we empirically determine whether tolerance to humans promotes increased vulnerability to real predators?
  3. Does human presence reduce vigilance by distracting prey and diverting their attention?
  4. Do animal populations that occur in human-dominated habitats have lower variances in traits than populations in more natural habitats? In other words, does ecotourism similarly lead to the biotic homogenization that occurs with urbanization?


Lindsey Swierk, PhD
Gaylord Donnelley Postdoctoral Fellow
School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Yale University

Lindsey SwierkResearch Interests: Behavioral ecology: mate choice, mating competition, and social influences on reproductive strategies.
In my research, I am interested in gaining a fundamental understanding of why animals look and act they way they do. To do so, I examine the process of sexual selection; I explore how and why animals choose mates, how they compete for mates, and what consequences their strategies and preferences have on their offspring. I find this topic fascinating not only because it can shed light on the evolutionary origin of traits, but also because it can aid breeding conservation efforts for small or fragmented populations. Previous research at Las Cruces focused on the aquatic anole (Norops aquaticus), a fascinating small lizard with colorful social signals that lives at the edge of small streams.
I am eager to mentor students that have interests in animal behavior and/or animal reproductive strategies. These are diverse and exciting topics, and there is ample opportunity at Las Cruces for students to develop unique projects from the ground-up.

Potential Student Research Projects:

  1. Identifying how social signals influence competitive strategy, conspicuousness and/or species recognition in a variety of habitat types
  2. Determining the physiological and/or social causes of rapid color change in aquatic anoles.
  3. Examining how elaborate sexual traits affect predation risk (may include using clay/painted animal models)
  4. Adaptation to human-modified habitats—how does habitat type affect social signaling, time budgets, and reproductive effort in aquatic anoles?

Tuition, room and Board

The NAPIRE award covers the cost of room, board and travel to and from Costa Rica. Students also receive funds to help cover costs of field equipment and a $4000 stipend.

Application Process

The NAPIRE application deadline is: February 29, 2016.

There are four items required to complete a NAPIRE application:

  1. NAPIRE Student Application Form
  2. A Letter of Recommendation from an On-Campus Mentor
  3. A Letter of Recommendation from a Faculty Member
  4. Official Transcript(s)

NAPIRE Student Application Form (Word document 160 kb)

Click on the application link above and open the MS Word application file. Upon opening the document, please click in the blank areas of each field and insert the appropriate application information. After you complete the first two pages of the general application, you will need to write the ‘Statement of Purpose’, which is on the third page.

Please save your application using the following format:


For example, if your name is Jane Elizabeth Smith, you should label your application:


After the application has been completed and saved, please send it as an attachment to:

If you do not receive a return email about the reception of the document, please let us know as soon as possible

Recommendation Letter from a Designated On-Campus Mentor (Word document 100 kb) – One letter of recommendation will come from your designated on-campus mentor. This person will serve as the primary institutional contact for the student and is expected to provide administrative, emotional and academic support for the student throughout the program, including application and selection, preparation for study abroad, and processing of the experience upon return home. You must download this form and send it to your on-campus mentor who is providing your recommendation. Instructions of how he/she is to submit the form are included within the document.

Recommendation Letter from a Faculty Member (Word document 95.5 kb) – One letter of recommendation is required from a science faculty member who knows you well, is from your major department, and/or with whom you have taken at least one class within the past two years. You must download this form and send it to the professor who is writing your recommendation. Instructions of how he/she is to submit the form are included within the document.

Official Transcript(s)

Official transcripts from all universities attended must be sent to OTS for review. Please send them via US Regular Postal Mail to:

OTS NAPIRE – Undergraduate Program

Organization for Tropical Studies


7801 NW 37th Street

Doral, FL 33195-6503

These forms will be automatically forwarded to the OTS Costa Rican Office (CRO) in San Jose, Costa Rica and should arrive within 5-7 days.

*** Should you have any questions about the program, or how to apply, please contact Kattia Mendez, Undergraduate Program Assistant at the OTS Costa Rican Office, at:

Accommodations & Meals

Our program is labor intensive. In addition to completing a full independent research project, you will be attending lectures, participating in occasional field trips, and 12 participating in discussions about tropical research. In the field, your typical daily schedule might look like this:

6:30am –     Breakfast.

7:30am –     Field work for your independent project. Most field activities take all morning, and in many cases will continue late into the afternoon. If you plan to be out in the field past lunch time, you should request a bag lunch from the cafeteria. This can be the best part of the day; be prepared to get wet and muddy!!

3:00pm –     Return to the station. Shower

3:30 pm-     Afternoon workshop/training opportunities.

5:00pm –     Work on data, literature search, individual research projects

6:00pm –     Dinner.

7:00pm –     Scientific Seminars, and group discussion sessions.

8:00pm –     Continue individual research projects

As you can see, most days are pretty well packed with course-related work. The good news is that we are aware of the need for down time and arrange the program to include one free day per week while we are in the field.

Though you may have one or two roommates on your home campus, in Costa Rica you will live with other students, the program Coordinators, and many graduate students and researchers. 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 being in the field. 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 8 weeks, you will undoubtedly develop a number of very close friendships. The combination of uncomfortable (fighting off the mosquitoes), wacky (a soccer game in the mud), and wonderful (listening to tropical birds at sunrise) situations creates great images and memories. You will, for sure, share these with your fellow participants well beyond the end of the summer.

Passport & 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


U.S. citizens entering Costa Rica are automatically granted a 90-day tourist Visa. Students will receive a second 90-day tourist visa when the course enters Costa Rica again following a visit to Panama, and that second visa will last until the end of the program. Remember that according to current immigration laws in Costa Rica, you MUST leave the country for at least 72 hours when your visa expires. 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


Native Americans and Pacific Islanders who are undergraduate students enrolled in accredited institutions in the United States (and Pacific Island Territories) are encouraged to apply to the program. Incoming freshmen and graduating seniors are not eligible. Students must be AMP students at LSAMP institutions. LSAMP is the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, a National Science Foundation (NSF) program that was designed to foster achievement by minority students seeking careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Health and Safety

OTS is deeply committed to student safety and well-being and does not expose students to unnecessary danger or risk. OTS monitors national and international events that might affect our students. Nearly 5 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.