Tropical Landscape Conservation

  • Tropical Landscape Conservation
  • Tropical Landscape Conservation
  • Tropical Landscape Conservation
  • Tropical Landscape Conservation
  • Tropical Landscape Conservation
  • Tropical Landscape Conservation

Program Details

Where: OTS La Selva Research Station.

When:January 15 – 31, 2018

Cost:$1400 OTS members; $2100 Non-OTS members

Duration: 3 weeks

Accreditation:2 credits

Deadline:Octuber 27, 2017

Language: English

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Tropical Landscape Conservation

Key problems for biodiversity conservation are the loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitats. Specifically, urban growth can lead to the disappearance of important biodiverse habitats. This can result in high rates of extinction of native species, a major global threat to biodiversity. But, in recent years and in an incremental way, researches on urban biodiversity and its value has grown, suggesting that its conservation should focus on the preservation and establishment of native species within well-designed habitats in urban and peri-urban connexions.

This course complements the academic training with interdisciplinary work in the area of research, social action, and public/private interactions. Students will work with local communities, national and international professionals from natural sciences, biodiversity specialists, and related design and engineering areas. Students will learn to comprehend, conceptualize and contextualize biological and ecological principles derived from scientific research to draw landscape proposals using regional, national and international standards with local relevance. Developing these proposals will give the students the opportunity to address the challenges of landscape design and management and will provide a great opportunity to design ecosystem services at different scales.

The course is aimed at graduate students or young professionals with interest in landscape design, restoration and management. Experience or a background in landscape architecture, architecture, biology, forestry, urban planning or ecology is favourable.

Course participants are eligible for pilot and research awards provided by the OTS Fellowship program. Students must complete the course successfully to be eligible. For more information, click here.


Program Description

The course will train students in landscape interpretation, so they may propose ecologically and socially integrated solutions that add value and identity to places, according to its historical origins, life zones and natural latitudinal range distributions. In addition to this, students will learn to innovate in various design guidelines with the implementation of scientific information on conservation, restoration and rehabilitation of the landscape in order to reduce loss and fragmentation of natural habitats, generating conceptual basis about ecology and landscape connectivity. Students will propose and generate interventions at the architectural, urban and/or landscape realm, at different scales according to the conditions, and natural and cultural characteristics of the sites. The course will complement academic training in different disciplines of natural science, design and engineering to stimulate an interdisciplinary approach in teaching, research, social action, and public and private consulting.

Scope of the course

Students will acquire knowledge for the interpretation of the landscape, particularly in terms of the methodology of drawing up an inventory of species, as well as the criteria for selecting the species to identify the structure and native species composition, and in turn illustrate the biodiversity of the landscape of the site.

Students will study and analyse criteria for conservation, restoration and rehabilitation of landscapes, within applied social, biological and ecological principles.

Students will learn to understand and shape interventions of architectural, urban and / or landscape character at different scales.

Students will interact as an interdisciplinary team, with stakeholders and local and national authorities, to apply the knowledge learned, and to evaluate and discuss the fundamental issues related to the development/application of the proposed projects.


Tropical Landscape Conservation is designed to make the most out of the students’ time. A students’ day during the course will usually begin at 06:00h with breakfast and a start to the field or class by 07:30h or 08:30h. Lunch will be at 12:00h. (Lunch may be out in the field depending on the circumstances) and dinner at 18:00h.

We will have a review of the next day's work after dinner, usually followed by a lecture and group work. The pace can be overwhelming at first, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you get used to it, and by how much you see and learn.

Sites Visited

The course takes place at La Selva Research Station. It is situated at the confluence of two major rivers in the Caribbean lowlands of northern Costa Rica (10° 26' N, 83° 59' W), comprises 1,600 hectares (3,900 acres) of tropical wet forests and disturbed lands. It averages 4 meters (over 13 feet) of rainfall that is spread rather evenly throughout the year. The Station is bordered on the south by Braulio Carrillo National Park, which contains more than 46,000 hectares of forest land and is the core conservation unit of the 91,000-hectare Cordillera Volcánica Central Biosphere Reserve.

Braulio Carrillo National Park extends down to La Selva through a forest corridor that descends in elevation from 2,906 meters at Volcán Barva to 35 meters above sea level at La Selva. This reserve, consisting of both La Selva's protected environs and the Park, has four major tropical life zones and includes more than 5,000 species of vascular plants, of which more than 700 species are trees.

The fauna is similarly diverse. Large predators include jaguars, pumas, and bushmasters. Thousands of arthropod species are being currently recorded at La Selva, and more than 400 species of resident and migratory birds have been sighted in the reserve, representing almost half of Costa Rica's bird species.

La Selva was originally established in 1954 by Dr. Leslie Holdridge, as a farm dedicated to experimentation on mixed plantations for the improvement of natural resources management. It was purchased in 1968 by the Organization for Tropical Studies and declared a private biological reserve and station. Since then, it has become one of the most important sites in the world for research on tropical rain forest. Over 240 scientific papers are published yearly from research conducted at the site.



Tropical Landscape Conservation is characterized by having two full-time coordinators and a teaching assistant.



Jorge is a PhD in Urban Planning from the University of Lisbon, Portugal. He has a Master in Environmental Management from the University of London, England and graduated as a Landscape Architect from the University of Évora, Portugal. Since 2005, he has been teaching at the Faculty of Architecture, University of Lisbon and his fields of studies are Landscape Planning and Design.
Jorge is the Partner-Manager/Founder and Technical Director of the private consultancy company BIODESIGN Ambiente e Paisagem, Lda since 1991. He has 30 years of international experience (Portugal, Algeria, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé y Principe, Angola, Mozambique, Brazil, Ecuador, China, Costa Rica) in Landscape Planning and Design. His specific interests are ecological design, sustainable agriculture, protected areas, green infrastructure and civic ecology.
Jorge is currently the president of the board of the Portuguese Association of Landscape Architects (APAP).



Costa Rica

Alejandra is a PhD candidate in Urban Planning at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. She has a Master in Landscape Design and Site Design at the University of Costa Rica and is a Licensed Architect from the University Veritas, Costa Rica. She's also a landscape and biodiversity researcher at the Centre for Research in Architecture, Urbanism and Design (CIAUD), Faculty of Architecture, University of Lisbon, Portugal.

Alejandra is the Partner-Manager/Founder and Technical Director of ENDÉMICA Arquitectura del Paisaje S.A. since 2007. She has professional experience in Costa Rica, España and Portugal. Her specific interests are sustainable architecture projects, landscape and urban design, ecological restoration and architectural renderings and animations.



Students will have the opportunity to interact, be taught by and participate in group field or class projects with faculty from different universities and research interests. The list of invited professors will be provided in the following weeks.

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

Tropical Landscape Conservation course costs $2100 per student. Students from OTS-member institutions are charged $1400 (less an $700 OTS discount).

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.

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.

Application Process

Course enrollment is limited to 22 students. Applicants must be enrolled in, or accepted for, a Ph.D. or Masters level graduate degree program. 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 urged to develop basic Spanish skills.

Students must have health insurance that is valid in Costa Rica.

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 needed 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 is downloaded from the online application page. After signing, the form must be uploaded to the online application page.

  • OTS Delegate Endorsement (only applies to OTS member institution students). This form is downloaded from the online application page. Once completed the form must be uploaded to the online application page.

Please request that letters of recommendation be sent directly to 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 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 See list of member institutions.

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 See member institutions list.

Applications should be submitted simultaneously to OTS ( and to one of your OTS Delegates a few days before the deadline. Check with your Delegate regarding their timetable. Applicants from non-member institutions should forward their application directly to OTS.

Students are expected to make their own travel arrangements to Costa Rica. The cost of airfare varies tremendously; consult your local travel agent or study abroad office as they may offer reduced fares for students. Advance purchase discounts can be substantial.

Accommodations and Meals

It is important to recognize that the OTS program differs from your typical on-campus life in at least four very important ways.

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, et al. The Ticos Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica (1999, ISBN 978-1555877378) 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). Please feel free to ask OTS staff 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

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