Multi-University Team Explores Costa Rica’s Pacific Rainforests Guided by CAO Data
28th September 2015

Multi-University Team Explores Costa Rica’s Pacific Rainforests Guided by CAO Data

Research
Biogeochemistry
Forests
Costa Rica
Imaging Spectroscopy
Laser Scanning
Osa from Plane

The Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica is home to the largest intact lowland tropical forest on the Pacific coastline of the Americas, and is considered a biodiversity mega-hotspot. The forests of the Osa Peninsula contain trees that commonly reach heights of over 50 m, making it one of the highest biomass forests in the Neotropics. The structural complexity and species diversity of the Osa Peninsula has drawn researchers from all over the world, and holds clues to nutrient cycling, evolution and species distribution (to name a few).

Osa MapRecently, the CAO team joined forces with researchers from four universities: Univ of Colorado-Boulder, Brown Univ, Univ of Montana, and Duke University to explore the environmental factors that have generated such a high-biomass, high-biodiversity forested landscape through the Osa.  The team is basing their field and laboratory studies, which incorporate work on forest canopies, soils and topography, on CAO maps generated in 2012.  The CAO data have already yielded detailed maps of forest structure and aboveground biomass. Even more recent breakthroughs in CAO’s imaging spectroscopy have generated new maps of nitrogen and other chemicals that reveal ecological patterns across the Osa that were unknown until now.

The multi-university, multidisciplinary team has just returned from a recent trip to the Osa, where they were able to identify individual tree species using CAO-generated forest height and canopy nitrogen maps. To experience working CAO data on the Osa Peninsula, watch this video:

Another example of mapping Caryocar costaricensis, a huge canopy tree that is native to this area of the world is shown below. This rainforest giant, shown on the left, and circled in white in the CAO images, is easy to identify based on its unique crown shape and low foliar nitrogen, compared to many of the surrounding species, such as Hieronyma alchorneoides (circled in red).

Osa Costa Rica

Airborne and field work will be continuing on the Osa, with scientific updates and reports scheduled for roll-out in the coming year.  Field and laboratory work on this project are supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.  Local support is provided by the Osa Conservation. Video, photo, and text materials were provided by Phil Taylor and Chris Balzotti, two CAO postdocs working on the Osa of Costa Rica.