UMass Amherst Professor Teaches Graduate Students About Wildlife Habitats In Costa Rica

AMHERST, Mass. - Wildlife heeds no political boundaries. For that reason, researchers themselves must cross boundaries to learn about a species’ connection to its environment, says a University of Massachusetts wildlife expert. And understanding habitat, she says, is crucial in any global attempt at wildlife conservation and management.

That was one of the reasons why Rebecca Field spent six weeks this semester in Costa Rica teaching graduate students, including two from UMass and nine from Latin American universities, about habitat association. But she also hopes that her field course in the Costa Rican forest will help to pave the way for similar programs in the future.

Field is an adjunct associate professor in the UMass department of forestry and wildlife management. She is also assistant unit leader for wildlife at the Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, a federal program based at UMass. Field taught her course in collaboration with Joel Saenz, a professor at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma, in Heredia, Costa Rica. Since 1990, her relationship with the Costa Rican institution, along with similar arrangements with four other Latin American universities, has helped to foster an exchange program that periodically brings wildlife professionals to UMass for training and has likewise allowed UMass faculty to teach on a short-term basis in Costa Rica. "It’s very exciting to work with both the students and the professionals in Costa Rica. They’re appreciative of our perspectives," says Field, "and this kind of experience likewise gives our students a more global perspective on management concerns."

The issues that are most pressing here and in Costa Rica are similar, says Field, such as habitat destruction, "to hunt or not to hunt" in controlling wildlife populations, and "people" management, to name a few. Twenty-five percent of the land area in Costa Rica is protected, she notes. "The Costa Ricans in general are in a different place than we are in terms of wildlife management and the development of management policy. We can show them where we’ve gone, but their road will be different."

Field’s course occurred at three different sites in northwest Costa Rica: a coastal rain forest, a mid-elevation dry forest, and a high-elevation cloud forest. This allowed her group to study habitat association at three different elevations.

"If we’re really going to put our energy behind issues such as global conservation and eco-system management, then we’ve got to know what’s going on beyond our own borders," says Field.