Environmental policy in collaboration with the University of FloridaEmerging Challenges in Tropical Science Program

ECTS 1: How do tropical ecosystems respond to a changing climate?

Is OTS Right for You?

Rationale: Changes in temperature, precipitation, and the frequency and nature of extreme events can have extraordinary ecological and evolutionary impacts on tropical ecosystems (natural and human), which can, in turn, influence the ability of tropical terrestrial ecosystems to moderate the global climate or possibly contribute to the problem if they start releasing carbon.

OTS field stations have generated decades of data that serve as key reference points to quantify changes in biodiversity and biogeophysical features. When combined with the advent of new technologies such as fine-grain remote sensing, drone technologies, embedded sensor networks, powerful GIS, and advanced molecular tools, scientists can explore topics such as the effects of climate changes on: organism ecological and evolutionary responses, ecosystem services, and spread of invasive species.


Previous work on ECTS 1 at OTS research stations

In the lowland wet tropical forest at La Selva Research Station, long-term investigations of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems have generated data sets on nutrient cycling, plant and animal demography, community interactions, and their relationships to a changing climate.

For example: La Selva hosts some of the most extensive datasets of long-term demographic and distributional change for tropical birds, trees, frogs, and other taxa. Researchers at La Selva have shown, for example, that changes in the climate affect plant phenological patterns and vegetation growth at the decadal scale.

At a larger landscape scale, the Central Volcanic Cordillera Conservation Area (ACCVC) – which includes La Selva, the Barva Corridor, and Braulio Carrillo National Park – provides arguably one of the best locations in the tropics to monitor and model organismal and ecosystem adaptation to climate change along an elevational gradient, taking advantage of a continuous, largely forested, and accessible transect. Baseline data along the gradient are available for a number of taxa such as birds, arthropods, and plants.

On the Pacific basin of Costa Rica in the dry tropical forests at Palo Verde Research Station, climate models suggest that drier and hotter climates will dominate in the near future, a local consequence of global climate change and deforestation.

These new regimes may result in dramatic changes in the flora and fauna of the region. Baseline data available include forest composition and structure in permanent dry forest tree plots, and the hydrological model of the lower basin of the Tempisque River.

The Las Cruces Research Station to La Amistad Biosphere Reserve landscape spans a mid-elevational region in the western versant of the Talamanca range.

Scientists working at and around Las Cruces have already documented changes in altitudinal distribution among some bird species.

Access to Las Alturas Research Station – an OTS satellite station that abuts La Amistad – provides a broad (but manageable) transect to explore higher elevation sites and examine these shifts further. Long-term bird and bat data and old historic data sets such as early amphibian and forest surveys provide baseline data for this line of study.

Examples of questions for ECTS 1:
How do tropical ecosystems respond to a changing climate?

These questions are posed for inspiration, but bear no weight on prioritization of proposals. We encourage creativity in the types of questions posed in the proposals.

  • How are tropical forest organisms (above and below ground) responding ecologically and evolutionary to environmental change?
  • How will human adaptation to water scarcity affect already drought-strained tropical dry forests?
  • How will ecosystem services change with changes in climatic conditions?
  • What will be the next generation of tropical invasive species under changing climates?