Priceless monitoring without cost

the significance of incidental detection of species to conservation efforts
David Jones1, Diogo Verissimo1 and Rebeca Chaverri1 1Global Vision International Costa Rica, Apartado Postal 78-7209, Cariari de Pococí, Limón, Costa Rica. Email:

The goals of any field station should include increasing the scientific knowledge and contributing to the better management of the area in which they are based. At Caño Palma Biological Station (CPBS), Global Vision International Costa Rica (GVICR) are recording the species incidentally detected around the property, set in the southern extent of Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica. Beginning in 2007, GVICR developed a methodology that requires minimal to no expertise to establish and accounts for variations in people’s knowledge and effort to allow maximum accurate data collection. Over time, the basic data will help to document the presence of species in the area, seasonal trends and changes in species compositions.

Applications and Implications of the Incidental Species Study
Key Management Points for the Incidental Species Study
• Simplification of the data and method of recording has allowed wider participation in the study, which in turn has helped gain higher record numbers of a wider range of species. • Using visual aids appears to have assisted in identification and recall of species, together with increasing awareness of the study: there is an initial increase in consistency of records for those species pictured on ID plates and again for those species designated as target species.

Developing the study
CPBS, owned by the Canadian Organization for Tropical Education and Rainforest Conservation (COTERC), is home to staff, researchers and volunteers to varying degrees throughout the year. The original concept was to document the baseline species composition for the station and continue to monitor over time to build up a better understanding of the seasonal utilization of the station. Changes to the local environment would be expected to impact the species composition observed and could be further investigated to provide information useful to the management of the area. The organizations and visiting researchers working from CPBS have full-time commitments to several large monitoring and conservation programs, together with the day-to-day running of the station itself. As such, and with so many conservation efforts, resources are extremely limited. Because of this the study was designed to be conducted incidentally by all personnel present at the station. The limits of the study are set to animal species identified on or from the property borders. No special effort or resources are allocated to the detection of species - all species observed during day-to-day activities are recorded in the main room of the station. During the first year of the study, all personnel arriving at the station were asked to record all species that they could positively identify in this way, including information about the number of individuals and area of the station species were observed. The premise of the study was explained and some of the most commonly seen species described. As the study takes place at a biological station, all personnel had access
Manacus candei Pitangus sulphuratus Alouatta palliata Psarocolius montezuma Euphonia gouldi Turdus grayi Iguana iguana Querula purpurata

to a variety of field guides and often to more experienced researchers to verify sightings. No record is made unless there was certainty of the species. Due to the variation in knowledge and experience of station personnel the study was limited to the most obvious and easily identified and verified classes: amphibia, reptilia, aves and mammalia. Each morning at 6am the species recorded for the past 24 hours were transcribed into a log book, before later being added to a database managed by a staff member. For the year 5,957 separate records were made, of 190 species. For the second year of the study, identification plates were designed to help facilitate species identification and remind personnel to record any sightings. The data collection was simplified to record only the species presence on the property each day, without number of individuals or location. The plates displayed approximately 120 of the most commonly recorded species from 2007, with an additional blank plate where other species could be recorded. When less common species were recorded the sighting was signed with the recorders initials for verification by a staff member. The plates were laminated and placed prominently in the main room of the station. Next to the picture of each species was a tickbox to be marked with a dry-wipe marker when the species was seen within the 24 hour period. The simplification and visual aid appeared to be

popular and effective as 11,250 records of 274 species were recorded this year. To begin the third year of the study the identification plates were slightly modified. The number of species displayed was reduced to around 100 to allow the images to be made larger. We also identified eight target species from the previous two years data collection. The target species were selected based on the following criteria: • Known to occur in the area • Conspicuous and where possible charismatic to aid recall and identification • Can be used as a bi-proxy indicator species for one or more of the following: biodiversity, environmental or ecological pressures.


Limitations of the Study
• Due to the development of the study to fulfill the objective of producing a monitoring program with little to no cost, it is difficult to compare data between years. • • There are also inconsistencies in the data for times when very few people were present at the station, making it difficult to establish trends in the current data. • The current incarnation of the study now appears to accurately record species presence, but a lack of species record cannot automatically be classed as an absence. For example, Manacus candei, the most consistently recorded species at the station and is thought to be resident to the property, was recorded for only 90% of study days.


Target species:
Great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) Central American spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) Marine toad (Bufo marinus) Strawberry poison-dart frog (Dendrobates pumilio) Green iguana (Iguana iguana) Great potoo (Nyctibius grandis) Neotropical river otter (Lontra longicaudis) Black river turtle (Rhinoclemmys funereal)

Benefits of the Study
• Minimal start up or running costs • Helps facilitate increased awareness and appreciation of the local wildlife for station personnel and guests • The ID plates and log-book provide a point of interest and “guest book” of species for visitors to the station • Despite variations in personnel and expertise, the wide scope, incidental nature and consistency of the study (daily) will account for this over time • Once protocols and management systems are set in place it will be possible to quickly build a large and consistent dataset on a broad spectrum of species. • Minimal effort or expertise is required after the establishment of the study; the study could be continued indefinitely • The continuous nature of the survey and large dataset enables errors to be accounted for when analyzing the data


The target species were given more prominence, displayed four per A4 plate (as opposed to the regular 12) and a text box explaining the reason for their selection included to increase awareness of the potential importance of these species to the area. Until August we have collected almost 8,000 records of over 230 species for 2009, resulting in almost 25,000 records of over 440 species to date.

Potential Data Uses
Trends Over the period of data collection there has been an increase in the number of records of Iguana iguana, with a positive trend line with an r2 value of 82% - this is higher than expected based on modifications to the study alone. With such an expansive dataset it would be possible to investigate an array trends, from individuals species, to families or classes or variations in diversity or temporal distribution.


# Days Recorded



Ramphastos sulfuratus Dendrobates pumilio Pteroglossus torquatus Rhynchonycteris naso Rhamphastos swainsonii Trogon massena Basiliscus plumifrons Gonatodes albogularis Phaethornis longirostris Patagioenas nigrirostris Ameiva festiva Bufo marinus

Figure 1. Top 20 most recorded species and number of days recorded (of a possible 922).

Case studies
Quiscalus mexicanus was first recorded at CPBS in March 2009. Common to urban areas but rare in extensively forested regions, preferring degraded habitats, this bird was unknown to the Caribbean coast until the 1960s (Styles & Skutch, 1989) but is now resident in the area and has been recorded at the station every month since March.

Figure 2. Example of identification plates displayed at the station to aid identification and recording.
# Records Species
721 540 331 180 114 Strawberry Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates pumilio) Marine Toad (Bufo marinus) Smoky Jungle Frog (Leptodactylus pentadactylus) Common Tink Frog (Herotilapia multispinisa) Fitzinger’s Rain Frog (Eleutherodactylus fitzingeri)

Basic species composition
# Records Species
564 475 203 160 22 Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) Green basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons) Yellow-headed gecko (Gonatodes albogularis) Central American Whiptail (Ameiva festiva) Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus)

Table 1: Top five most recorded species by class.

White-collared manakin (Manacus candei) Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma) Olive-backed Euphonia (Euphonia gouldi) Clay-colored Robin (Turdus grayi)

# Records Species
831 817 715 690 610 Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata) Brazilian Long-nosed Bat (Rhynchonycteris naso) Central American Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) White-throated Capuchin (Cebus capucinus) Mexican Mouse Opossum (Marmosa mexicana)

# Records
596 489 486 477 276

Author Contacts: GVI Costa Rica

The most basic application of the data is the documentation of species present in the area. This methodology has shown to be a fast and effective way of building a database of a wide range of conspicuous species and producing basic species lists for an area. This can be further investigated to provide information on the wider area. These are simple examples of how the data could be further explored, either for individual species or in combination to increase knowledge of an area and potentially assist in its management. GVI Costa Rica collected data is available to parties interested in further exploring these or other areas of interest and invite others to adapt this study for their own use.

The GVI Costa Rica Incidental Species Study is carried out in partnership with the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET). GVI Costa Rica wish to thank all the staff and volunteers who have contributed to the collection of data, and the Canadian Organization for Tropical Education and Rainforest Conservation (COTERC). Poster design: Theropod Design

References Stiles, F.G. & Skutch, A.F. (1989). A guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Comstock Publishing Associates.


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