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\The Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History (RTPI) provides innovative programs that bring nature back in people’s lives. RTPI researchers work with school and college students to give them a change to study natural history first-hand, and open their eyes and minds to the workings of the natural world. Whether in our own backyard, or in a remote corner of Costa Rica, RTPI works to increase understanding of the natural connections between species, habitats, and people that are critical to effective conservation.

Researchers from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History (RTPI) have been monitoring these Ghost Glass Frogs and other amphibian species for more than two decades – not only to keep these frogs from extinction, but also to learn how the recovering populations were able to survive such catastrophic declines. Hopefully this information will help us as we try to find ways to help other endangered species as well.

Education and outreach are key components of every RTPI program. Providing people with the resources and information needed to better understand the natural world is a critical first step towards generating a sense of stewardship. As our motto says: ”learn it, love it, protect it!”

Here, RTPI President Twan Leenders photographs a False Coral Snake (Erythrolamprus mimus), which was found recently during a herpetological survey with North American high school students in Rara Avis Rainforest Reserve, Costa Rica. All amphibians and reptiles encountered during this survey were recorded, measured, and weighed by students and safely released again – after they had their picture taken. The resulting information and the photographs, will be included in Leenders’ forthcoming field guide on the Reptiles of Costa Rica (Cornell University Press) which, in turn, will become a valuable resource for many more people who want to learn about nature. The recently released field guide to the Amphibians of Costa Rica by Leenders was in-part created in a similar fashion. Student efforts, as part of RTPI led tropical biology courses or internships, supported the creation of a powerful resource to support additional education and conservation. Learn more about RTPI’s conservation through education efforts in other sections of our website.

Spider silk is the world’s strongest natural fiber known – it is incredibly durable but also extremely lightweight and flexible. One strand of spider silk is one-tenth the thickness of a human hair, and its flexibility resembles that of thread. These qualities are unmatched by other fibers, such as cotton or nylon, giving it a wide variety of industrial applications. The value of spider silk is increased by the fact that it can be a renewable resource.

RTPI conservation staff works with the Forman School during research expeditions in Costa Rica to explore the potential to “farm” Golden Orb Weaver (Nephila clavipes) spiders for their silk – an endeavor which could not only benefit the spiders by improving their creepy reputation, but also provide an alternative to more detrimental uses of rainforest resources which often result in the destruction of vital habitat. The ultimate goal of this project is to establish a fair trade between local farmers in Costa Rica and a new sustainable industry.

“There is a deadly force decimating amphibian populations around the globe; a fungal disease commonly known as chytridiomycosis. This disease is caused by the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). The fungus inhabits the same moist areas amphibians are found in, and infects their skin. When infection levels become too high for a frog or salamander to fight off, chytridiomycosis may set in and keratinize (thicken and harden) sensitive regions on the skin of adults, which impedes water absorption and gas exchange through the skin. In larval amphibians (tadpoles) the fungus de-keratinizes their mouthparts and inhibits their ability to feed. Infected individuals of many species usually succumb relatively quickly to chytridiomycosis, and Bd mortality is a leading contributor to amphibian population declines worldwide. However, certain species of frogs are able to survive low-grade Bd infection, and now act as carriers and vectors of the disease in their natural environments.

RTPI conservation staff work with research partners in Central America to better understand the dynamics of chytrid fungus outbreaks, and to make sense of how and why a select few amphibian populations seem better able to cope with (or even recover from) the impacts of this often fatal pathogen. This video production created by Orbitist describes our recent efforts to monitor the tadpoles of tropical frog populations in Costa Rica for evidence of and resistance to chytrid infection, and how this research might be applied to addressing other global disease outbreaks. RTPI staff and research associates work with high school and college students to educate them on the critical conservation needs we address and to inspire the next generation of naturalists and natural scientists.”

Golden-winged Warblers are among the most imperiled birds in North America. Their numbers have plummeted nearly 70% in the past 50 years, and this species continues to decline at a staggering 2.5% each year. Outside of their core breeding range in the upper Great Lakes Region (mostly Minnesota and Wisconsin) they have just about disappeared altogether, and several northeastern states now no longer have viable populations of Golden-winged Warblers around. What causes these declines? Well, a number of factors play a role here. Golden-winged Warblers prefer to live in open, wet areas that are harder to come by now that forests are covering areas that were once prairie habitat; invasive reeds (Phragmites) replace the sedge tussocks that they like to nest in, and closely-related Blue-winged Warblers continue to expand their range into Golden-winged Warbler territory and both forms now hybridize at the expense of the rarer Golden-wings. Things are not looking great for these beautiful birds and scientists are working hard to reverse the declining trend in a variety of ways.

While studying migratory birds on their Costa Rican wintering grounds this past March, we were able to add some important data to the understanding of Golden-wing Warbler biology. RTPI affiliate Sean Graesser, who was working in a remote rainforest reserve in northeastern Costa Rica with other RTPI staff on a tropical biology course for high school students, captured a gorgeous male Golden-winged Warbler. When he extracted it from the net to collect data and band it, he realized that this bird already had a uniquely numbered band on its leg – a band that Sean had put there himself a year ago! Since we last saw this bird in March of 2016, it had flown to North America – likely somewhere in that upper Great Lakes Region area, possibly nested and raised young against all odds, and returned to Costa Rica to overwinter. This bird looked healthy as could be and was getting ready to make the same trek again – possibly travelling as far as 6,000 miles each year between its breeding and wintering grounds.

This exciting recapture gives us a strong indication of where these birds go when not breeding, helping to narrow down the core wintering habitat for Golden-winged Warblers that needs to be protected in order for the species to survive. Even though the odds seem steep, we’re going to try our best to help save the Golden-winged Warbler from disappearing altogether. Even though RTPI staff sees a lot of birds each year, some really stand out. You can share in the excitement of one of these truly amazing finds buy watching this video, and please consider supporting our work to learn, love and protect our imperiled birds by making a donation.