Conserving Wild Bees and Other Pollinators of Costa Rica

Expedition Briefing


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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 the production of 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 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, in some areas, pollinators have been misidentified (Freitas et al. 2009). To properly protect pollinators in these regions, it is critical to understand which species exist where, what their impact is 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 of the above questions by studying pollinators and pollination services over transects that span an elevation gradient in a semi-forested landscape. The findings from this project, combined with other research on pollinators in the region, could help Costa Rica to become the first country in Central America to institute a national policy to protect pollinators. The project will also include an experimental test of different restoration strategies to understand the most effective way to restore pollinator diversity and pollination services to previously degraded land.

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 climate change and habitat loss will affect other important Neotropical pollinators, particularly butterflies.
  3. Determine which plant species have the greatest potential for use in the restoration of pollinators and pollination services.
  4. Improve knowledge and taxonomy of Costa Rica bee species.

The expedition will take place in two locations: San Luis de Monteverde and Las Cruces in the Coto Brus. In Monteverde, 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 at different elevations. Furthermore, the project will seek to understand whether these climate change responses may be mitigated by the presence of forest in the landscape. At Las Cruces, we will experimentally test the role of flowering duration in the restoration of pollinator populations and pollination services. Key shrub species have been identified from observational studies of flowering shrub species in Southern Costa Rica, and these shrub species now need to be planted in experimental plots. Baseline data on bee communities in the plots needs to be collected alongside with planting of the shrubs. Post-planting, data on bee communities and pollination services using sentinel plants will be collected within the differing restoration strategies to test for their effectiveness in the recovery of pollinators.

Collected bees in both locations 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 will be involved in all areas of research to help achieve the scientific objectives. Specifically, you will:

  • Hand collect bees and other pollinators from plants using hand nets and jars. All insect pollinators collected will be preserved in ethanol or dried and taken to the lab for identification.
  • Conduct timed observations (30 min) at focal flowering plants. Collect all bees and butterflies observed to visit the flowers.
  • 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 so that the pollinators can be sorted and observed back in the lab.
  • Collect and survey butterflies along transects.
  • Honey solution will be sprayed onto a patch of vegetation and will be 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 plants of squash or pumpkin: Observe and count pollinator visits to these plants at the different stations where they are set up. Collect fruits from these plants and count seeds to quantify pollination effectiveness.
  • Collect baseline data on pollinator communities from experimental plots using colored bee bowls, vane traps and hand collection.
  • Plant focal shrub species in experimental plots. Collect seeds and cuttings from forest trails and create a plant nursery of focal shrubs.
  • Talk to landowners to learn about potential non-timber agroforestry products.
  • The two locations for our fieldwork provide two different ways to experience life and science in the field in Costa Rica.

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 up the mountains each day, you will see breathtaking views of the Gulf of Nicoya and the overall landscape of Northeastern Costa Rica. Work here will involve surveys for bees and butterflies.Each day you will get to hike a different transect for the surveys. Some volunteers will observe sentinel plants and other flowering plants for flower visitors. There will be lots of walking and fun times, collecting, identifying and learning the many pollinator species of the region.

The rugged topography in the region around Las Cruces provides habitat for a diversity of fauna and flora. Within a 10 km radius around the station, the flora has at least 2,000 plant species including more than 20 endemic plants, 113 mammal species (60 species of bats), more than 400 montane and lowland bird species, an estimated 70 species of reptiles, and much more than 1,000 species of insects including 800 species of butterflies. The region around Las Cruces is a complex mix of fragmented forests and agricultural land. This setting provides outstanding opportunities for cutting-edge research and conservation in a typical tropical landscape. Decades of research in the area has resulted in numerous articles on forest fragmentation, corridors, and tropical forest restoration. Outreach to the local communities and collaborative work to improve sustainable livelihoods and landscapes are a key priority of this research station.

  • Day before team starts: Volunteers arrive in Costa Rica
  • Day 1: Rendezvous, introductions, travel to field station
  • Days 2–6: Fieldwork days
  • Day 7:  “a” team volunteers depart project
WEEK 2 (“b” TEAM)
  • Day before 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: Team departs

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

Accommodations and Food

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

Monteverde: Volunteers on Teams 1(a and b), 2(a and b), and 4 (a and b) will stay at the CIEE Monteverde campus. Being a study abroad campus for the Council On International Educational Exchange allows for a singular experience of educational and nature based activities, as well as interaction with the local community.

Las Cruces: Volunteers on Teams 2c and 3 will be staying at The Las Cruces Biological Station, a very comfortable field station. In addition to providing housing for researchers (short and long-term), Las Cruces also receives Natural History Visitors (i.e, ecotourists). Given this, the station is able to provide many amenities.


Monteverde: All bedding is provided and beds are either full or bunk beds. No mosquito netting is needed at this elevation. Each room for three to four people includes an en suite bathroom with flush toilet and shower. Depending on the available space at the research station, single or couple room requests can be accommodated. Single gender rooms are assigned with three to four volunteers per room.

Las Cruces: The Wilson House will be used for this team, as well as student groups and teen teams, as it provides sleeping and classroom space, and a wonderfully sunny common room in a spacious building located in the center of the botanical gardens. Wilson House dormitory accommodations have several comfortable bunk beds per room.

* Earthwatch will honor each person’s assertion of gender identity, respectfully and without judgement. 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.


Monteverde: A full en suite bathroom is located in each shared single-gender bedroom. Showers and hot water are available.

Las Cruces: Ample shared bathrooms, with several toilet and shower stalls, are located on each of the two floors on each floor. The showers are supplied with solar hot water— this means there is often hot water available for showers, but not when there has not been a lot of sun.


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 being switched to 3 prongs, if your device uses a 3-prong plug, we recommend bringing an adapter which converts from 3 to 2 prongs. Power can be unreliable at the at these remote locations, so come prepared for outages.


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

Please note that personal communication with outsiders is not always possible while participating in an expedition. Earthwatch encourages volunteers to minimize outgoing calls and immerse themselves in the experience; likewise, family and friends should restrict calls to urgent messages only.


Monteverde: The CIEE campus is a field education campus. It boasts labs, classroom space, and dormitory-style living accommodations to support independent student projects of the study abroad students. These facilities may be in use by other groups when your Earthwatch team is present.

There are limited shopping opportunities nearby. If there is something that you like to have every day, we recommend that you bring it with you.

Smoking is not permitted on the CIEE campus in Monteverde.

Las Cruces: This research station is operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies. There are labs, classroom space, and various accommodations to support researchers and students. These may also be in use by other groups when your Earthwatch team is present.

Laundry service is available for a fee of $10 USD per bag. Plan to allow up to 16 hours for your laundry to be washed, dried and available for pick-up.

There are limited shopping opportunities nearby. Several small grocery stores are located in San Vito, which is ~4 miles from the field station and is reachable by bus. Since it would not be possible to make this trip very often, and as items typically available in US grocery stores may not be available in Costa Rican grocery stores, if there is something that you like to have every day, we recommend that you bring it with you. There is a small craft shop nearby that teams may visit for souvenir opportunities. Las Cruces also has a small gift shop at the reception building.


Monteverde: CIEE dining hall staff will prepare all meals. 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. Clean up will only include taking plates and utensils to the counter near the sink.

No personal refrigerator space is available at the CIEE facilities in Monteverde, unless needed for special circumstances, e.g. medicine storage.

Las Cruces: Las Cruces Biological Station provides family-style meals prepared by the dedicated kitchen staff. There is also an area with coffee and tea available throughout the day. Volunteers and research staff will not be involved in any cooking, shopping, or cleaning up--other than bussing their dishes.

The kitchen has refrigeration, and can be used for storing medications needing refrigeration. Also, if you are accustomed to snacking between meals, please note that this is not a typical custom in Costa Rica so you should plan to bring your own supply of snacks. You may store them in the refrigerator to avoid attracting ants.

Water from all taps at Las Cruces is spring-sourced and safe to drink.

The following are examples of foods you may find in the field. Meals are typical Costa Rican fare—beans, rice, vegetables and poultry or beef. 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 or other food allergies, vegetarian or vegan diets) as soon as possible, and note them in the space provided 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 the 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. There is not much dairy included in the typical Costa Rican diet so lactose intolerance should not be a problem to accommodate. Wheat-based foods are also not typical in Costa Rica (rice is the primary grain consumed) and so a gluten free diet should also 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.

Monteverde: Here the climate is cool, around 80°F during the day and 60°F overnight. Rainy season is from May to October and these months can be cooler, with heavy rains or fine mist. Dry season can be extremely windy. The terrain here is mountainous. The life zone is considered pre-montane. The research station sits in the valley below the Monteverde Reserve and the scenery can be breathtaking as the mountains surrounding the research station are dense with forest (an unusual sight these days!) Rainbows and double rainbows are frequently observed. 265 bird species have been observed during Christmas counts and other observations. White-faced monkeys, agoutis and kinkajous and coatis are commonly seen.

Las Cruces: Las Cruces Biological Research Station is located at 1,200 m (3,900 ft) above sea level along a spur of the Fila Cruces coastal range, and is about 300 km southeast of the capital San José in Coto Brus County. The prevailing temperatures at Las Cruces are pleasant and range from 21°–27° C (70°–80° F) during the day and 15°–21° C (low 60° F) at night. The dry season runs from January to April, and mean annual rainfall is ~4,000 mm (157 inches).

The Garden and adjacent forest (365 ha total) also have an impressive diversity of native plants (2000 species). Over 410 species of birds have been censused around Las Cruces, as well as 800 species of butterflies, more than 100 species of mammals (of which over 50 are bats), and a high diversity of reptiles and amphibians.

The Wilson Botanical Garden at Las Cruces is part of “La Amistad Biosphere Reserve” that encompasses 472,000 hectares of park-land and buffer zones centered in the southern Talamanca mountain range, in Costa Rica’s south pacific. Meet hundreds of bromeliads and orchids; dozens of philodendrons and other aroids of all sizes; scores of heliconias, plus giant bamboo and more than 650 species of palms.


For weather and region-specific information, please visit and search for your project location.

Essential Eligibility Requirements

All participants must be able to:

  • Follow verbal and/or visual instructions independently or with the assistance of a companion.
  • Take an active role in one’s own safety by recognizing and avoiding hazards if and when they arise (including, but not limited to, those described in Earthwatch materials and safety briefings). Comply with project staff instructions and recommended safety measures at all times.
  • 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.
  • 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. Field work WILL continue in rainy conditions.
  • Hike up to 2–5 miles total per day, over steep, slippery mountain terrain.
  • Watch footing while moving through dense, tangled vegetation.
  • Get low enough to the ground to plant tree seedlings and other plants, as well as collect bees from bowl traps
  • Carry personal daily supplies such as lunch, water, and some small field equipment.
  • 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
  • Get yourself up into and down out of a four-wheel-drive vehicle, minibus, or car and ride, seated, with seatbelt fastened.

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 field work.

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 you have the appropriate vaccinations for your travel destination. Medical decisions are the responsibility of each volunteer and his or her doctor. Visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization for guidance on immunizations.

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

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.

Climate/ Weather

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 own 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 of time.

Personal Security

Avoid areas designated as off limits by project staff.

Distance from Medical Care

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 which 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.

Travel Planning


Teams 1, 2a, 2b, and 4 (Monteverde location): Holiday Inn Express San José Airport Costa Rica

Teams 2c and 3 (Las Cruces location): Golfito Airport (GLF), Puntarenas Province, Golfito, Costa Rica

* Additional information will be provided by Earthwatch to meet your team. Please do not book travel arrangements such as flights until you have received additional information from Earthwatch.


Earthwatch strongly recommends that travelers investigate their destination prior to departure. Familiarity with the destination’s entry/exit requirements, visas, local laws, and customs can go a long way to ensuring 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 useful tips and links.


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 prior to travel. Please apply early for your visa (we recommend starting 6 months prior to the start of your expedition). Refunds will not be made for volunteers cancelling 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:

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.


  • Bee observer cards to learn your bees!
  • Vanbergen AJ, and Insect Pollinators Initiative. 2013. Threats to an ecosystem service: pressures on pollinators. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11: 251-259.
  • Garibaldi LA, et al. 2014. From research to action: enhancing crop yield through wild pollinators. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 439-447.
  • Bees: An Up Close Look at Pollinators Around the World. By Sam Droege and Laurence Packer
  • Bawa, K.S. 1990. Plant–pollinator interactions in tropical rain forests. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 21: 399–422.
  • Deutsch, C.A., J.J. Tewksbury, R.B. Huey, K.S. Sheldon, C.K. Ghalambor, D.C. Haak, P.R. Martin. 2008. Impacts of climate warming on terrestrial ectotherms across latitude. PNAS 105: 6668–6672.
  • Freitas, B.M., V.L. Imperatriz–Fonseca, L.M. Medina, A.M.P. Kleinert, L. Galetto, G. Nates–Parra, J.J.G. Quezada–Euan. 2009. Diversity, threats, and conservation of native bees in the Neotropics. Apidologie 40: 332–346.
  • Garibaldi, L.A., I. Steffan–Dewenter, R. Winfree, M.A. Aizen, R. Bommarco, S.A. Cunningham, C. Kremen, L.G. Carvalhiero, L.D. Harder, O. Afik, I. Bartomeus, F. Benjamin, V. Boreux, D. Cariveau, N.P. Chacoff, J.H. Dudenhoffer, B.M. Freita s, J. Ghazoul, S. Greenleaf, J. Hipolito, A. Holzschuh, B. Howlett, R. Isaacs, S.K. Javorek, C.M. Kennedy, K.M. Krewenka, S. Krishnan, Y. Mandelik, M.M. Mayfield, I. Motzke, T. Munyuli, B.A. Nault, M. Otieno, J. Petersen, G. Pisanty, S.G. Potts, R. Rader, T.H. Ricketts, M. Rundlof, C.L. Seymour, C. Schuepp, H. Szentgyorgyi, H. Taki, T. Tscharntke, C.H. Vergara, B.F. Viana, T.C. Wagner, C. Westphal, N. Williams, A.M. Klein. 2013. Wild Pollinators enhance fruit set of crops regardless of honey bee abundance. Science 339: 1608–1611.

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