Costa Rica: Tropical Ecology and Geology of Costa Rica
Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
Instructor: Drs. Susan Willson and David Kratzmann
Dates: June 8- June 21
Cost: $4,780 + airfare*
Listing: BIO 248/GEO 248
Units: 1 SLU Unit/3.6 Credits
Course Description: The Isthmus of Panama was formed as a result of active tectonic activity among four lithospheric plates: the Cocos, Nazca, Caribbean, and South American plates. The closure of the Panama Gap — the space between North and South America — resulted in the formation of a barrier between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, changed oceanic circulation patterns, and prompted large migrations between North and South American species. As a result the region is considered a hotspot for global biodiversity.
The Late Miocene – Early Pliocene Cordillera de Talamanca is the largest and highest mountain belt in Costa Rica. Reaching 3,500 m in elevation, it is related to rapid uplift associated with subduction of the Cocos Ridge below southeastern Costa Rica. The geologic component of this course will examine processes related to explosive and effusive volcanism, depositional mechanisms, and the deposits formed by these processes. Students can expect to examine the geologic activity of Turrialba, Irazú, and Poás volcanoes depending on the level of volcanic activity at the time of the course.
Biological content will focus around adaptions of organisms to the diverse ecosystems of Costa Rica, and an examination of the ecological and evolutionary reasons for Costa Rica's high biodiversity. We will explore habitats ranging from lowland rainforest, through foothill and higher elevation cloud forest, as well as high elevation oak ecosystems and the paramo, found above treeline. How do animals and plants survive and flourish in these habitats? Using walking lectures, workshops, guest researchers, and hands-on investigation of plant life, insects, and birds as model organisms, students will gain a deep understanding of the ecology this tropical region. We will also consider the direct and indirect impacts of large-scale human agriculture on local biodiversity and habitat fragmentation, and will visit both an industrial banana and coffee plantation.
*This is an estimated cost for the program, and is subject to change.