Students explore the ecosystems of Costa Rica

Biology students explore the ecosystems of Costa Rica
Monteverde Group960

Over winter break, a group of Oakland University biology students left the campus behind to explore the vast landscapes and biodiversity of Costa Rica. 


Rio Frio boat tour

Students take a boat tour along the Rio Frio River, in the Caño Negro wetlands of northern Costa Rica.

The excursion was part of a tropical field ecology course that brought students into a world teeming with untold varieties of animals and plants. Under the supervision of biology professor Scott Tiegs, students had the chance to explore lakes, streams, rainforests, and other ecosystems.


According to Dr. Tiegs, the experience gives students an up-close look at tropical ecosystems that isn’t possible through classroom instruction.


“Textbooks and classroom experiences can only take you so far,” Dr. Tiegs said. “By the end of the course, the students have a much better appreciation of how diverse the tropics are in terms of the types of ecosystems and organisms that can be found there.”


From the wildlife refuge at Caño Negro, to the mountainous cloud forests of Monteverde, students were immersed in the wonders of nature at every turn.


Senior biology major Caroline Haygood was among the 15 students who went on the trip, along with Dr. Tiegs and two teaching assistants.


She said, “There is no better way to learn about an ecosystem than to actually be in it, and observe and experience it. When you’re there, you see how everything is working together – plants, animals, fungi – to complete the complex cycle of life.


“I think this is the most effective way to learn – hands-on, in the field observation. It stimulates different parts of the brain with visual and physical stimuli like the feel of the river water, the breeze through the trees, the humidity of the rainforest, the beauty of the landscape, the sound of the birds and monkeys in the trees.”


Brendan Brisendine also marveled at the Costa Rican landscape for its aesthetic and life-sustaining qualities.


“Monteverde was the most beautiful place I have ever seen,” said Brisendine, a junior biology major. “Overlooking any valley and seeing a constant wave of water droplets moving across and down it was an amazing experience. It really helped me understand the whole idea and function of the cloud forest and explain all of the plant life that we were seeing.”


For the past six years, Dr. Tiegs has organized trips to Costa Rica for his Biology 474 class. To learn more about programs and opportunities in OU’s Department of Biological Sciences, visit Or learn more about study abroad and study away opportunities at

Monteverde Group

Pictured near a cloud forest in Monteverde, from left: Scott Tiegs, Lizz Parkinson, Chandler Mancuso, Kennedy Phillips, Emily Messick, Tanya Kechichian, Elias Perez, Caroline Haygood, Emily Seever, Jasmine Mancuso, Allison Kulka, Alex Carabulea, Whitney Roemer, Thomas Gildner, Brendan Brisendine, Jennifer Oresti and Kyle DePalma.


Brendan and Caroline

Brendan Brisendine shows off a Metallic Wood Boring Beetle, with Caroline Haygood.