Student Research: Diverse Costa Rica spot at risk?

Adam Yaney-Keller was checking videos that showed up on his camera trap. He had placed the video camera at a small, dried-up waterfall pool where he thought he would catch a video of monkeys carrying their babies on their backs. But while checking the videos from New Year’s Day at 6 in the morning, he was surprised to find a 3-year old female jaguar (Panthera onca) walk right across the camera trap, possibly on its way to find food among the local sea turtle population. After sending the video to collaborators in Santa Rosa National Park, they used spot pattern analysis to trace the jaguar back to its home in the park.

This was a part of Yaney-Keller’s master’s research at Purdue University Fort Wayne on the biodiversity in an area in northwestern Costa Rica, off the coast of the Gulf of Papagayo called Playa Cabuyal. Yaney-Keller presented his research in a poster titled “A Camera Trap Assessment of Terrestrial Vertebrate Biodiversity in Tropical Dry Forest & Mangrove Estuary Ecosystems in Pacific Costa Rica,” during the annual TWS conference in Cleveland and received first place.

A female Great currasow taken in the Cabuyal region during the survey. ©Adam Yaney-Keller

He found in the area, which is made up of tropical dry forest, mangroves and cattle ranches, there’s a surprising amount of overall diversity. “The shear amount of diversity was surprising,” he said. “Chances are there are more out here and things we missed.”

The problem is, while the area is pretty untouched by humans right now, with only a few houses, Yaney-Keller said development is likely in the near future. “It’s one of the last underdeveloped, unprotected on the north Pacific Coast ,” he said. “Tourist development could occur in this area, as it has to many beaches nearby. Change is rapid and it’s definitely going to happen. What we wanted to do was get an idea of what was there before it might be gone.”

A puma captured in a camera trap photo. ©Adam Yaney-Keller

Unfortunately, some threatened or vulnerable species stay in the area, Yaney-Keller found, which could soon be at risk. His camera traps detected a male and female great curassow (Crax rubra), a large pheasant-like bird that is widely hunted and vulnerable in Costa Rica. They also detected American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus), including baby crocodiles, as well as ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), jaguarundis (Puma yagouaroundi), pumas (Puma concolor) and the 3-year-old jaguar.

“I was very much hoping to find a jaguar, and there had been rumors of one in the area,” he said. “This was the first time there was a real recorded photo in this area, which was very exciting to show. And charismatic species like that could afford a ton of protection and let people know what they have in the area.

[But, he said, there’s more work to be done, including finding how many of each species are in the area and studying the importance of connectivity for species such as the jaguar.

An ocelot in the Cabuyal region. ©Adam Yaney-Keller

“I think it provides a nice baseline to go forward so we can say we know that this is here, let’s see how many are endangered, what protections we can afford and where can we maximize our efforts,” he said.

Header Image: Researchers recently detected a jaguar in a remote area of Costa Rica, which likely traveled from the nearby Santa Rosa National Park. ©cuatrok77