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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.”