Biology students explore tropical ecology from the ocean to the mountaintops of Costa Rica

Karly-Jo Kreitzer found that a two-week expedition to the tropics gave her insights she could never have had in a classroom.

“It's an entirely different world and it was an amazing learning experience,” said Kreitzer, one of 14 students who participated in a University of Windsor field course on the ecology of Costa Rica.

Studying plants and animals in ecosystems ranging from ocean-side mangrove forests to mountaintop cloud forests, the biology students gained a unique firsthand understanding of tropical ecology.

Biology professor Dan Mennill, one of the leaders of the fourth-year course, said that most of the world’s biological diversity is concentrated in the tropics.

“For example, there are almost 900 species of birds in the small country of Costa Rica compared to 450 in all of Ontario,” Dr. Mennill said. “Training students in the ecology of these biodiverse regions of Earth is critically important for their careers as biologists.”

He said that many students have expanded their career paths after taking field courses.

“This is the seventh year the University of Windsor has offered the tropical ecology field course, and the course has helped many students gain knowledge and skills that have opened up new career possibilities,” said Mennill. “For example, a student from a prior year’s field course now works as a researcher studying the biology of monkeys in Costa Rica. She delivered a guest seminar to our students this year, and it was exciting to see the educational process come full circle.”

Talia Masse, a third-year biology major, said the field course has helped put her on a career path: “I have never learned as much as I have in the last two weeks.”

The Department of Biological Sciences offers the Tropical Ecology of Costa Rica field course each year in coordination with the Ontario Universities Program in Field Biology. The program provides undergraduate students across Ontario unique hands-on learning experiences through intensive, fourth-year undergraduate classes.

Find more photos of the students’ experiences on Mennill’s Web site.