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Conserving Wild Bees and Other Pollinators of Costa Rica

Expedition Briefing


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Please read the following information before leaving for your expedition.

It provides the most accurate information available and will likely answer any questions you have about the project. You may also reach out to your Program Coordinator with any questions you may have.


COVID-19 Enhanced Health and Safety Measures

This project has been amended to incorporate several health and safety measures to allow responsible fielding of teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please refer to the COVID Disclosure Form for more details. 

Before Fielding 
  • Vaccination against COVID-19 is required for all participants. Staying up to date with your vaccinations, including receiving booster doses if available, is strongly encouraged. 
  • Become familiar with and abide by the local COVID requirements up-to-date vaccinations, including boosters, mandatory quarantine, or other guidelines. 
  • Do not travel to your Earthwatch expedition or program if you: 
    • are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or a new loss of taste or smell), 
    • are confirmed or suspected as having COVID-19 within the past ten days
    • have been in close contact with someone suspected or confirmed as having COVID-19 in the past ten days 
  • You are highly encouraged to take a COVID-19 test one day before or the morning of your rendezvous before meeting up with your team.
While in the Field 
  • Face masks will be required in line with local regulations and/or when instructed by project leadership. In areas or on projects where mask use is no longer required, face masks will be optional. Any individual who wishes to continue to mask will be supported in that decision. 
  • Participants and project staff will continue to wash or sanitize hands frequently and maintain physical distance whenever possible. 
  • All team members will be asked to monitor their health through daily health checks. 
  • Recreational activities may be limited or require additional face mask requirements to reduce the risk of exposure to team members or the local community.
  • Meals and activities will take place outside whenever possible. 
  • Ventilation will be increased indoors and within enclosed vehicles whenever possible. 

The Research

More than three-quarters of the world’s crops depend on pollinators. These animals provide essential ecosystem services and play a crucial role in producing many fruits and vegetables (Garibaldi et al., 2013). But, a changing climate, pesticide use, and habitat loss or degradation threaten pollinator communities, although the full impact of these threats is not well understood. For example, warming temperatures could force pollinator species to shift their ranges to higher elevations, which could impact agricultural production, or it could be that a changing climate will cause these species to disappear altogether.

Dependence on animal pollinators is even more important in the tropics than in the rest of the world, as nearly all tree species in the tropics are pollinated by diverse species of bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators (Bawa 1990). Throughout Central America, there are still many regions where it is largely unknown which species of pollinators are present and if pollinator species populations are declining or remaining stable (Freitas et al. 2009). To properly protect pollinators in these regions, it is critical to understand which species exist where, their impact on pollination services, and what the biggest threats to these pollinators are, such as changes in climate (Deutsch et al. 2008). 

This project aims to address all three questions above by studying pollinators and pollination services over an elevational gradient that includes tropical dry forest, pre-montane, and montane forest in a semi-forested landscape. The findings from this project, combined with other research on pollinators in the region, could help Costa Rica become the first country in Central America to institute a national policy to protect pollinators. The project also aims to understand the most effective way to restore pollinator diversity and pollination services in the tropics and includes an experimental test of one restoration approach.

Research Aims

The research study has four core objectives:

  1. Understand how climate change and habitat loss will impact native bee species and the ecosystem service of pollination.
  2. Understand how agroforestry systems like silvopasture and home gardens can be managed to support pollinators and pollination services.
  3. Determine which plant species have the greatest potential for use in the restoration and conservation of pollinators and pollination services.
  4. Improve knowledge and taxonomy of Costa Rica bee species. 

The expedition will take place in the Monteverde area of Costa Rica, along an elevational gradient that spans from the low-elevation towns of Sardinal and Guacimal to the San Luis Valley up to the Monteverde town. You will examine how pollinator species and the services they provide may be affected by a changing climate, including warming temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, in part by assessing their populations and interactions with flowering plant species at different elevations. Furthermore, the project will seek to understand whether these climate change responses may be mitigated by the presence of forests in the landscape. Also, beginning in 2023, we will be setting up experimental plots in pasture to test the effectiveness of certain flowering shrub species to recover pollinator communities and pollination services. Potential priority plant species for pollinators have been selected for the study, and these shrub species now need to be planted in experimental plots to test their role in pollinator recovery. Baseline data on bee communities in the plots needs to be collected alongside the planting of the shrubs. Post-planting, data on bee communities and pollination services using sentinel plants will be collected within the differing restoration treatments to test for their effectiveness in the recovery of pollinators.

Collected bees will contribute to the Bee Barcode of Life Initiative to ensure that the bees are properly identified and to create a database for future bee work.

How You Will Help

As an Earthwatch volunteer, you may be involved in any of the following research areas to help achieve the scientific objectives. Specifically, you will:

  • Hand collect bees and other pollinators from flowering plants using aerial nets and jars. All insect pollinators collected will be preserved in ethanol*. PI will later export specimens for identification at the EKU lab.
  • Help identify plant species by taking photos and submitting them to iNaturalist or collecting specimens to be dried and mounted. Interaction networks will later be constructed to capture individual interactions between plant and bee species.
  • Hike up the mountain to set out bee traps (small colored bowls and vane traps filled with soapy water). Collect traps at the end of the day and preserve collected specimens in ethanol. (This task will not occur on 2023 or 2024 teams.)
  • Honey solution will be sprayed onto a patch of vegetation and used to attract stingless bees of the tribe Meliponini. Vegetation will be monitored for visitors to the honey solution, and the bees will be captured in jars. All bees will be taken to the lab at EKU for identification.
  • Observe sentinel squash or pumpkin plants: Observe squash plants' flowers and collect all flower visitors to these plants. Across 30 home gardens spanning an elevational gradient from 200m–1500m above sea level. In July–August, fruits will be collected from these plants to quantify fruit size and pollination effectiveness.
  • Collect baseline data on pollinator communities from experimental restoration plots in pastures using colored pan traps and vane traps.
  • Plant or help maintain focal flowering shrub species in experimental restoration plots. Collect seeds or cuttings from forest trails or roadside and help maintain a plant nursery of these focal shrub species.

*This preservation process is essential to the research to best understand the area's wide variety of bee species. Scientists can only identify the majority of these tropical pollinator species with a microscope. Distinguishing the internal anatomical differences is key to helping determine which species are most at risk and to better direct conservation response. This method helps scientists understand which plant species support the most species-rich bee communities. The data, in turn, helps inform their recommendations to farmers about which plant species are best to plant for protecting bee communities. 

Life in the Field

Monteverde has been at the forefront of field study in environmental protection since the 1960s when it began attracting scientists to marvel at its biodiversity. As a result, Monteverde is the ideal place to study ecology, conservation, sustainability, and agriculture and explore ways to protect its future, live more sustainably, and educate others to do the same.

This region is very mountainous and high elevation. Here, as you hike within or up the mountains daily, you will see breathtaking views of the Gulf of Nicoya and the overall landscape of Northeastern Costa Rica.

Teams at the Guacimal site will complete the same research tasks at a lower elevation. Keep an eye out for howler monkeys and white-throated magpie jays, as they are known to be more abundant and far more likely to be seen in this area. 

Each day, you will have an opportunity to observe flowering plants to help quantify the importance of each plant species for pollinator communities. These plant flowering shrub species were previously identified to support higher numbers of pollinator species in restoration plots or participate in measuring other habitat variables that may be important for pollinator species.

Other activities may include preparing shrubs for restoration plots, planting trees in agroforests, talking to local farmers, setting out passive traps for collecting pollinators, and learning about different sustainable farms in the project area. These opportunities may vary across teams depending on the weather and what is logistically feasible at each team's time. There will be lots of walking and fun times, collecting, identifying, and learning the many pollinator species of the region.


Weather and research needs can lead to changes in the daily schedule. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

Week 1 (“A” Team)

  • The day before the team starts: Volunteers arrive in Costa Rica
  • Day 1: Rendezvous, introductions, travel to accommodations 
  • Days 2–6: Fieldwork days
  • Day 7: “A” team volunteers depart the project.

Week 2 (“B” Team)

  • The day before the team starts: “b” team volunteers arrive.
  • Day 7: Rendezvous, introductions, travel to field station (for "b" team volunteers)
  • Days 8–12: Fieldwork days
  • Day 13: The team departs.

Accommodations and Food

* Please note that not every expedition has couples’ or singles’ accommodations available. Please call or email Earthwatch to check availability before reserving your space(s) on the team.

  • The 2023 December teams and all 2024 teams except for Team 2b (June 22–28, 2024) and Team 4 (July 7–13, 2024) will stay at the Monteverde Preserve, owned by the Tropical Science Center (Centro Científico Tropical, or CCT). Detailed information can be found here on their website.
  • 2024 Team 2b and Team 4 will stay at a lower elevation site called Guacimal.

At all sites, all bedding is provided, and beds are either full or bunk beds. Mosquito netting will be provided at the Guacimal site but is not necessary for teams in Monteverde. Single or couple room requests can be accommodated depending on the available space at the accommodations. Please inform Earthwatch of a special rooming request in advance. Whenever possible, requests will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis. Single-gender* rooms are assigned with two to four volunteers per room. 

* Earthwatch will honor each person’s assertion of gender identity respectfully and without judgment. For both teen and adult teams, where logistics dictate single-sex accommodations or other facilities, participant placements will be made in accordance with the gender identity the participant specified on their Earthwatch Participant form and/or preferences indicated in discussions with Earthwatch.


Bathrooms at all sites are single-gender and shared. Showers and hot water are available.


You are welcome to bring electrical equipment. Electrical outlets in Costa Rica are 110v, just like in North America. However, although most wall outlets are switched to 3 prongs if your device uses a 3-prong plug, we recommend bringing an adapter that converts from 3 to 2 prongs. Power can be unreliable at these remote locations, so come prepared for outages.


All locations will have wireless internet access, which can sometimes be unreliable. You may bring your laptop or tablet for free-time use. PIs and staff can be reached via telephone, cell phone, and email for emergencies and casual communication. 

Please note: Earthwatch encourages volunteers to minimize outgoing calls and immerse themselves in the experience; likewise, family and friends should restrict calls to urgent messages only. Emergency communications will be prioritized.


Monteverde Teams: CCT lodge is located at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve entrance. Nearby is the Hummingbird café and two small gift shops. The reserve is well known for its diversity of birds, including quetzals, spider monkeys, and white-faced monkeys. Groups that stay here will have free access to enter the Reserve during free time. The town of Santa Elena is about a 45-minute walk. Smoking is not permitted on the CCT campus in Monteverde.

Guacimal Teams: Guacimal houses are located on a large 112-hectare farm with cows, pigs, stingless beekeeping, horses, cats, dogs, mango trees, and a large, picturesque river running nearby. Howler monkeys are commonly seen and heard. Several small stores called Pulperias can be found in the town of Guacimal. Teams staying at this site will have the opportunity to visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve on their recreation day.


Most days will include bag lunches, but breakfast and dinner will be sit-down, family-style. Volunteers will not have to do meal prep or shopping. 

Personal refrigerator space is only available for special circumstances, e.g., medicine storage.

Most meals are typical Costa Rican fare—beans, rice, vegetables, and poultry or beef, but occasionally, other options may be pasta, pizzas, or sandwiches.


The following are examples of foods you may find in the field. Variety depends on availability. We appreciate your flexibility.

  • Breakfast: Gallo pinto (rice and beans), eggs, toast, pancakes, arepas, cheese, plantains, fresh fruit, coffee
  • Lunch: Sandwich bag lunch with peanut butter & jelly, or lunch meat and cheese options plus juice, cookies
  • Dinner: Chicken, beef, or fish option, plus steamed vegetables and rice, beans, or pasta
  • Dessert: Tres leches cakes, and other pastries, fruit, rice pudding
  • Beverages: Fresh juice, water, coffee, hot chocolate

Please alert Earthwatch to any special dietary requirements (e.g., diabetes, lactose intolerance, nut, other food allergies, vegetarian or vegan diets) as soon as possible and note them in the space on your volunteer forms.

Vegetarians and vegans can be somewhat accommodated on this project if they are prepared to be flexible. Usually, there is plenty of food that meat and dairy can just be avoided, and avocados and beans will usually be good protein substitutes, but processed vegetarian meat substitutes are not available. The typical Costa Rican diet does not include much dairy, so lactose intolerance should be easy to accommodate. Wheat-based foods are also not typical in Costa Rica (rice is the primary grain consumed), so a gluten-free diet should be easily accommodated with sufficient notice.

Project Conditions

The information that follows is as accurate as possible, but please keep in mind that conditions may change. 

The project takes place along a tropical elevational gradient that spans three life zones: Tropical Dry Forest, PreMontane Forest, and Montane Forest. The elevational gradient is along a main road leading to the world-famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, encompassing three main towns: Guacimal, San Luis, and Monteverde.

Field sites will be farms or home gardens located off the main road. Because the field sites are scattered among the elevational gradient, project conditions can vary based on the elevation you are sampling each day.

  • Guacimal and the lower half of San Luis (200–800m elevation) are considered to lie within the tropical dry forest life zone where the average daily high temperature is 88°F and the low is 74°F. San Luis spans 800–1100m and falls within the pre-montane life zone, with average daily highs of 80–84°F and lows of 70–74°F.
  • Monteverde falls within the Montane life zone, with average daily highs of 75°F and lows of 65°F.

The rainy season is from May to October; these months can feel cooler when heavy rains or fine mist occur. The dry season from December to April can be extremely windy.

The terrain here is rocky and mountainous, with some field sites offering spectacular views of the Golfo de Nicoya. In contrast, other sites provide views of the forested peaks of the Monteverde Reserve. Rainbows and double rainbows are frequently observed. 265 bird species have been observed in the San Luis Valley during Christmas counts and other observations. White-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, agoutis, and coatis are commonly seen among mammals. 

While daily fieldwork and tasks may occur anywhere along the elevational gradient, the accommodations for most weeks will be in Monteverde. However, to increase the logistical ease of collecting data from field sites at the lowest elevations along the gradient, some weekly accommodations will be in San Luis or Guacimal towns. 


Please visit Wunderground.com and search for your project location for weather and region-specific information.

Essential Eligibility Requirements

All participants must be able to: 

  • Hike up to 2–5 miles daily over steep, slippery mountain terrain.
  • Enjoy being outdoors all day in all types of weather, including rain, heat, and humidity, in the potential presence of insects, snakes, and other wild animals. Fieldwork will continue in rainy conditions.
  • Watch footing while moving through dense, tangled vegetation.
  • Get low enough to the ground to plant tree seedlings and other plants and collect bees from bowl traps.
  • Carry personal daily supplies such as lunch, water, and some small field equipment.
  • Be comfortable in vehicles moving along steep, winding, and occasionally bumpy roads for up to an hour. The drive between the SJO airport and the accommodations is the longest and can induce motion sickness for susceptible people. 
  • Get yourself up into and down out of a four-wheel-drive vehicle, minibus, or car and ride, seated, with a seatbelt fastened.
  • Be able to get along with a variety of people from different backgrounds and ages, often in close proximity, for the duration of your team.
  • Follow verbal and/or visual instructions independently or with the assistance of a companion.
  • Take an active role in one’s safety by recognizing and avoiding hazards if and when they arise (including, but not limited to, those described in Earthwatch materials and safety briefings). Always comply with project staff instructions and recommended safety measures.
  • Be able to effectively communicate to the staff if experiencing distress or need assistance.
  • Be able to get along with a variety of people from different backgrounds and ages, often in close proximity, for the duration of the team.
  • Be comfortable being surrounded by a language and/or culture that is not your own.

Health and Safety


Project staff members are not medical professionals.

The project will have cell phones and two-way radios for communication among the team while conducting fieldwork.

Earthwatch has a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week emergency hotline number. Someone is always on call to respond to messages that come into our live answering service.


Please be sure your routine immunizations are up to date (for example, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella) and that you have the appropriate vaccinations for your travel destination. Medical decisions are the responsibility of each volunteer and their doctor. Visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization for guidance on immunizations.

If traveling from countries or regions where yellow fever is endemic, you must have a certificate of vaccination.

Vaccination against COVID-19 is required for all participants. Staying up to date with your vaccinations, including receiving booster doses as applicable, is strongly encouraged. 

Project Risks and Precautions


We may encounter poor road conditions, including landslides. Only qualified, experienced drivers will transport volunteers in project vehicles; we ensure project vehicles are well maintained. Seatbelts must be worn at all times. Volunteers are not permitted to drive. Driving after dark will be avoided, except in cases of emergency.


You’ll likely traverse uneven terrain and hike uphill in humid tropical conditions; there’s a risk of sprains, strains, bruises, or breaks due to falling or tripping. You should never walk ahead of your team leader and should follow the leader’s instructions. Wear appropriate footwear, with good treads and ankle support, while hiking. You may wish to use a walking stick to help with balance while hiking.


Venomous snakes are present in the area. Team members should wear tall rubber boots or snake guards in the field and should under no circumstances attempt to handle snakes. You’ll likely encounter many insects; wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and apply insect repellent frequently to avoid bites. Those with insect allergies should bring the proper emergency treatment (such as an Epi-pen, with spares) and inform staff of the problem and the location of the treatment; they should take special precautions while collecting field data. While hiking, we may encounter plants with irritating spines or sap. These plants are easy to avoid by not reaching out or touching plants while hiking.


Dehydration, heat exhaustion, sunburn, and other heat-related illnesses can occur, but you can protect yourself by drinking sufficient water, wearing high-SPF sunscreen, and wearing appropriate clothing. Dehydration from sweating can be a problem; please bring your water bottles that you can easily carry and refill them with electrolyte-replacing packets.

Because of the high humidity, people who use a hearing aid device may find it doesn’t work properly. Consider purchasing a hearing aid dehumidifier. You must be able to stay outside in the rain for extended periods.


Avoid areas designated as off-limits by project staff.


Depending on where daily research activities take you, it may take an hour to reach the nearest hospital or more to arrange transport and reach the hospital. If you have a chronic condition that could require immediate medical care (e.g., heart conditions, kidney problems, severe asthma, etc.), or if you are pregnant, please discuss your participation on this expedition with your physician.


All volunteers should see a travel doctor before leaving to discuss immunizations and other precautions against tropical diseases.


COVID-19 is an infectious disease. Although most people with COVID-19 will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness, it can cause severe illness and even death. Some people are at increased risk of severe illness. The COVID-19 virus spreads from person to person via close contact, primarily through exposure to the respiratory droplets of an infected person. Medication availability and treatment for COVID-19 varies from country to country, and specific treatment options may not be possible in your destination.

Projects and participants fielding with Earthwatch commit to several enhanced safety measures described in the COVID Disclosure Form. Enhanced safety measures may include physical distancing, wearing face masks, regular hand washing and surface sanitizing, heeding advice from project leadership or local authorities, adjusted logistics, and monitoring one’s health throughout the expedition. If you get symptoms of COVID-19 or test positive while traveling, you may be subject to quarantine and other local regulations that may disrupt your travel plans. Please plan for extended travel days. 

Travel Planning


Either the Holiday Inn Express San José Airport Costa Rica or the San José International Airport (SJO). Details will be confirmed in your expedition Logistics Document once booked on a team.

* Additional information will be provided by Earthwatch to meet your team. Please only book travel arrangements such as flights once you have received additional information from Earthwatch.


Earthwatch strongly recommends that travelers investigate their destination before departure. Familiarity with the destination’s entry/exit requirements, visas, local laws, and customs can ensure smooth travel. The U.S. Department of State's Traveler’s Checklist and Destination Guides are helpful resources. For LGBTI travelers, the U.S. Department of State's LGBTI Travelers page contains many helpful tips and links.


You are responsible for reviewing and abiding by your destination's local COVID guidelines and regulations. This may include proof of testing upon arrival or departure, up-to-date vaccinations against COVID-19, including boosters, mandatory quarantine, or other requirements. 

For information regarding Costa Rica, please visit: https://cr.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/ 

Entry visa requirements differ by country of origin, layover, and destination and do change unexpectedly. For this reason, please confirm your visa requirements at the time of booking and again 90 days before travel. Please apply early for your visa (we recommend starting six months before the start of your expedition). Refunds will not be made for volunteers canceling due to not obtaining their visa in time to meet the team at the rendezvous. You can find up-to-date visa requirements at the following website: www.travisa.com. 

If a visa is required, participants should apply for a TOURIST visa. Please note that obtaining a visa can take weeks or even months. We strongly recommend using a visa agency, which can both expedite and simplify the process.

Generally, passports must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry, and a return ticket is required.


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