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I never thought that it would be hard to find a tree in a forest. Then again, I had never looked for endangered Ocotea Monteverdensis saplings in a cloud forest. Four of us were searching through the dense underbrush trying to measure and catalogue damage to the saplings that were planted last year. Most were under 35 cm, and it was a tough slog through the underbrush to find all of the places where the trees were planted. Spending a couple hours looking for signs of fungal growth and herbivory on 3-inch leaves got me thinking about the role of science in our service work and how it influences the way in which we go about our day here in Costa Rica.

It is not hard to see that reforestation is focused around science, and the ecological benefits of forests and native environments. Clinometers measure the height of trees in forests that were planted 10, 15 years ago. We looked for macroinvertebrates (which are bioindicators of a healthy ecosystem) in rivers in the community of San Luis. For Ocotea Monteverdensis we counted each leaf to assess the damage to the plant. We also learned how to find the volume of trees in order to gauge how much carbon they sequester. These are all example of science in action; however, it is the connection of this science to the community, and the services it provides, that makes this program truly embody DukeEngage’s mission of meaningful assistance to address critical human needs.

Every tree we plant sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, creates habitat for animals like the Three-Wattled Bellbird, and helps protect waterways from eroding their banks and destabilizing the soil. The science behind conservation allows humans to exist in harmony with other organisms, in harmony with different ecosystems, and in harmony with the planet. It is this harmony that directly influences the wellbeing of local communities. Protected forest in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve shelter streams that become the Rio San Luis, which provides water to towns and villages in the lowlands. The conservation of the Bellbird provided for the creation of the Bellbird Biological Corridor, which establishes the Bellbird as a key resource that draws in tourism and research into the local area. Surveying secondary forests allows us to tailor the reforestation plan to find out what works and to implement those measures to best serve our community. Without science, our efforts would not go as far, nor would they be as successful. Indeed, without science there probably would not be a DukeEngage Costa Rica.

Students Tiffany Ouyang (Trinity 2021) and Grant Larson (Trinity 2020) gather data on the dissolved oxygen content, the temperature, and the turbidity of the Rio San Luis.
An Ocotea Monteverdensis sapling being measured in the Aguti Wildlife Preserve, Monteverde.
Luke Sallmen (Trinity 2021) and Tiffany Ouyang (Trinity 2021) search for macroinvertebrates in the Rio San Luis. Macroinvertebrates are key bioindicators that allow scientists to indirectly measure the health of the river.