While cadets majoring in Energy Systems Engineering are in Costa Rica, we will be sharing papers that the cadets wrote as they prepared for their Winter Experience. What a great opportunity for you to learn along with the cadets!
Please Note: These papers are being shared as they were presented. They have not been edited.
Costa Rica takes pride in having one of the largest percentages of protected land, going up to 25%. This is for good reason since this country is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Biodiversity is the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem, and due to the fact that Costa Rica has a plethora of habitats and ecosystems, it can house a copious amount of biodiversity. Some of these environments can include : Dry forests, Forests of lowlands, Highland Ecosystems, Middle elevation forests, and finally coral reef and wetland ecosystems. These ecosystems hold a variety of different species, contributing to the large biodiversity mass.
Initially, the large number of ecosystems contributes greatly to the large number of species that inhabit this land mass, and each ecosystem has different niches that are occupied by unique creatures. For example,the Dry Forests of Costa Rica are like grasslands and only see up to 2 meters of rainfall a year. All plant life in these areas are accustomed to a long period without any rain which is a 6 month dry season, in which most plant life flowers and produces fruit. This makes a mass of flowering trees during this dry period. This ecosystem is fascinating for tourist because during the dry season animals are easily seen. Most of these animals are mammals such as Coatis, Racoons, deers, Anteaters, Monkeys, and maybe the occasional feline. This type of landscape can be found in the Guanacaste Province, Tempisque Area, Santa Ana and Ciudad Colón. The national tree,Guanacaste, is found here, among many other tree species, such as the Mahogany and Bull-Horn Acacia.
Another ecosystem is the Lowland Forests, which is found in the elevation from 0-500. This place has a very short dry season and gets up to 8 meters of rainfall, making it one of the highest amounts of rainfall in Costa Rica. This causes the plant life to be extremely abundant here and diversity among plant species through the roof. Semidecidual and evergreen trees make up most of the canopy, some of which can grow as high as 50 meters. The ground is littered with small palms and ferns. These tropical wet forests are the most abundant in Costa Rica. Some of the animals that are represented here include reptiles and amphibians, and due to the perfect climate for these animal groups, (warm and tropical) this is where they can be most found. Diversity of birds is high and aquatic birds are plentiful here, as well as the Scarlet Macaw, Great Green Macaw, and the Toucan. This ecosystem can be found along the Pacific and Atlantic slope. It is also protected in many of Costa Rica’s National Parks.
Additionally, another extremely biodiverse place is the Highland ecosystem, which is an evergreen forest. Plant life grows on just about every surface here, even telephone wires and this area can be found at an elevation of about 1500-3500. Plant life includes oaks, shrubbery, some places include bamboo, and a certain type of moss called Tuberas in spanish. These mosses cause an acidic area in which most plant life is shut out, but is extremely important for the filtration of groundwater. This is the home of the most impressive oaks amongst much other plant life. Many different kinds of rainforests fit in this category and are divided by the amount of rainfall. They are found on slopes of mountains, the “cloud Forest” belongs to these areas. There are species that can only be found in Costa Rica. Some examples of animal life includes the Quetzal, a type of colorful bird and an abundance of hummingbirds. These places are also protected by many of the National Parks in the country.
Middle Elevation Forests are the ecosystems after the Forest Lowlands and its life zones include Premontane Moist Forest, Premontane Wet Forest, Premontane Rainforest. Tree height ranges from 25-40 meters. All kinds of animals and plant species that inhabit the island, inhabit these places. They are found on the lower foothills of the mountains. There is thick growth in the understory and it is populated mostly by shrubs and ferns. Popular areas that these forests can be found are Rincón de la Vieja NP, Monteverde PZ, Volcán Arenal NP, Juan Castro Blanco NP, Braulio Carrillo NP, Volcán Turrialba NP, Volcán Poás NP, Volcán Irazú NP, Corcovado NP. These areas are spread throughout Costa Rica but not as common as the lowland forests.
Not only is the land of Costa Rica heavily populated by a numerous amount of different plant life and animals, but there is a great amount of life found in wetlands and the ocean. Mangroves are an important part of the ecosystem as they are wildlife refuge and are used as spawning areas for many aquatic organisms. Aquatic birds and species of fish are plentiful in this area among many other organisms. Amongst these mangroves, are other semi-aquatic habitats such as more wetlands. Palo Verde and Caño Negro Wetlands are two such important wetlands. These permanently shallow waters are home to many migratory birds who nest here. Also resident aquatic birds spend their time nesting and foraging here. Both of these wetlands support a species of Stork like birds called Jabiru, as well as a species of Caiman and tropical fish called Atractosteus tropicus which is a living fossil. Coral Reefs are also present here in Costa Rica. You can find these coral reefs on both sides of the island and along the South Pacific Coast is the most extensive coral reef. The greatest coral reef is protected by the Cahuita National Park and this is one of the most studied reefs around. Coral Reefs are an extensive ecosystem and one of the most biodiverse habitats that are found on the Earth. They harbor numerous species and aquatic plant life.
All in all Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on the Earth. Considering it is only .03% of the world’s landmass and contributes to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, you can tell that the amount of variety in life is incredible for such a small area. This biodiversity comes from the fact that so many of the world’s habitats are represented here, from grassland like forests, to amazing Coral Reefs, the diverse list of places for an organism to inhabit make it so that all walks of life can occur here. I am incredibly excited to see this place and all of the life that it holds within its ecosystems.