By Barkley Dai, Yale University ’20

If there is one word that I can use to summarize our 2017 Summer Tropical Biology course in Costa Rica, the word is adaptability.

On the first night after we arrived at Las Cruces, our first study site, our professor Scott raised the question: what is the most important thing that you will need in this course? Some of us answered curiosity, others answered analytical skills. Scott smiled and said “nope, it’s adaptability. Because we forgot to bring the mist nets from San Jose office, and we need to adapt to that and change our plan to catch bats on the next day instead.” We all laughed.

But soon we realized that it is not merely a joke. As we are thrown into the wild, our ability to adapt is constantly challenged. On the first day, mosquitoes left at least one kiss on everyone; on the second week, we went off the grid and lived in a wooden cottage in the mountain with no electricity; and at our last site, all of us stepped into the muddy water of the marsh, where there are crocodile dwells. We were constantly stepping out of our comfort zone, and then adapting to the wilderness, expanding our comfort zone.

But what’s more awesome about adaptability is that while we adapt to the nature, nature also reveals all kinds of adaptability to us, and each single one of them is a marvelous story. At the botanical garden of Las Cruces, we learned about how the super long tongue of bats is an adaptation to the structure of the flower, forming a mutually beneficial relationship; at La Selva, we saw the beautiful “strawberry dart frog”, who eats poisonous insects and gather the poison at their back, so they would not be eaten by predators; at Palo Verde, we learned how iguanas change their color between dry season and wet season, so they can better blend into their surroundings to avoid predators. All of these marvelous adaptabilities can rarely be seen outside of Costa Rica, where the diverse habitat and high biodiversity formed a paradise for nature lovers. And even after three weeks in the program, we are still stunned by nature, and its ability to shape all the beautiful creatures, giving them different niche and ability to adapt.

And that leads us to think about the question, how is human adapting to nature? What is the relationship of human to other creatures? Besides seeing all the beauty of nature, we also learnt about various threats like deforestation and habitat lost, that are causing the disappearance of the beauties in nature. While it seems that human is strong enough that all the other creatures need to adapt to us, the result of a worsening global environment is something that we cannot afford. And though conducting our group projects on bird and spider diversity and how human influence these creatures, and then designing our individual projects, we are constantly exploring the question: how shall human as a whole take actions and adapt to a changing environment? While the answer is still far to reach, we are definitely closer to a solution after adapting ourselves to nature and seeing the adaptability of all those marvelous creatures in nature.

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