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The Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) is a consortium of almost 60 universities and research institutions from seven countries on four continents.  OTS is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) institution, incorporated in the state of North Carolina and based at Duke University.  Its mission is to provide leadership in education, research, and the responsible use of natural resources in the tropics. 

Celebrating almost 50 years, OTS has become an internationally respected leader in tropical biology by functioning as a catalyst for the U.S. academic community.  Progress toward the original NSF-mandated goal of developing a cadre of experts in tropical biology has been remarkably successful.  Today, OTS offers hands-on, research-oriented, field courses in tropical biology and related fields; awards an array of research fellowships to graduate students from the OTS consortium; and provides course scholarships for a growing number of U.S. and Latin Americans, including students from the OTS consortium and students underrepresented in the sciences.


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For many institutions, membership in OTS is viewed as

  1. an extension into the tropics for their own graduate programs in biology and related fields;
  2. a research base for their students, Postdoc, and faculty interested in tropical studies;
  3. an outlet for their undergraduates to receive priority placement in science-based, international semester abroad programs and summer courses; and
  4. a provider of research-mentored initiatives for their undergraduates. 


Graduate training opportunities include intensive field courses and individual research experiences at OTS stations and other contrasting ecosystems in Costa Rica, Brazil, México, and Perú.  The mainstay of the graduate program is the hands-on, field course, Tropical Biology:  An Ecological Approach, offered once a year in English in Costa Rica, twice a year in Spanish (once in Costa Rica and once in the Perúvian Amazon), and once a year in Portuguese near Manaus, Brazil.  OTS also offers rotating specialty courses on a select basis, including Tropical Plant Systematics (in both English and Spanish), Coastal Ecosystems, and two-week short courses, such as Bats and Echolocation, Tropical Herpetology, Adaptive Management for Conservation Planners, Neotropical Social Insects, Genetics and Tropical Conservation, and Agroecology.  Consortium students receive preferential admission (often to the exclusion of non-consortium students), substantially lower tuition rates, and scholarships.

Graduate research fellowships are awarded for short-term projects, such as research undertaken after an OTS course, and for pre- and postdoctoral research in the tropics.  These awards provide an excellent opportunity for young researchers to pursue independent projects or to become associated with ongoing programs that benefit from long-term scientific inquiry.  These fellowships are exclusive to consortium graduate students and alumni of the graduate program.  Typically, they are centered in Costa Rica at one of the OTS research stations where research mentors and station personnel are available to provide advice and assistance. 


OTS offers science-based, international semester abroad programs and summer courses for undergraduates in partnership with member institution Duke University. The Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet semester abroad program in Costa Rica includes courses in Environmental Science and Policy and Spanish Language and Culture as well as science courses in Fundamentals of Tropical Biology and Field Research in Tropical Biology. The Global Health semester abroad program in Costa Rica includes the courses Spanish Language and Culture, Tropical Medicine and Public Health, Ethnobiology, and Research Practicum. OTS also offers a four-week summer course called Tropical Field Ecology. These three courses in the OTS undergraduate program travel in ecosystems throughout Costa Rica with instruction focusing on the OTS method of field-based, experiential learning. OTS also offers an undergraduate semester abroad program on African Ecology and Conservation, based in South Africa’s world famous Kruger National Park. This program offers courses in South African Ecosystems and Diversity, Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in South Africa, History and Culture of South Africa, and Field Research in Savanna Ecology. Also in South Africa, OTS offers a four week summer program on Global Health. Consortium students receive preferential admission and scholarships to the three programs in Costa Rica and two programs in South Africa.

OTS also offers comprehensive research experiences for undergraduates (REU) at its La Selva Biological Station and Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica. These eight-week programs provide students with fully funded research experiences under the mentorship of senior researchers, as well as a summer stipend for participating. The REU program at Las Cruces targets Native American and Pacific Island students. The REU program is offered exclusively to consortium students, students underrepresented in the sciences, and those from non-R-1 institutions.


With a pilot grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1999, OTS initiated course scholarships to undergraduates underrepresented in the sciences and from consortium schools. This effort was consolidated in 2001 with the establishment of the Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellowships Program and the creation of OTS’ Advisory Committee for Academic Diversity (ACAD), a standing committee of faculty and administrators from historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, and Hispanic-serving institutions.  In 2004, OTS welcomed Howard University into the OTS consortium as its first historical black university; and, in 2005, OTS received the first of two grants from the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program at NSF to provide Native American and Pacific Islander undergraduates with research experiences in Costa Rica (NAPIRE).  In addition to all of the traditional elements of an OTS research experience, students travel to indigenous communities in Costa Rica and Panamá to learn about the conservation issues facing these communities.  Today, student diversity is an integral part of the OTS program, and the friendships formed are highly valued by participating students.


OTS maintains three biological research stations in Costa Rica, which are among a small group of scientific research stations for tropical research. The infrastructure and facilities at these sites provide a broad array of scientific inquiry with modern, scientifically-equipped laboratories, global information system (GIS) coverage, well-maintained trails, a rapidly growing database of publications, biological inventories and meteorological records, and high-speed internet connections. As a result, these stations experience over 35,000 user-days a year, including hundreds of researchers and students, each of whom seek their own highly individualized research and educational opportunity.

Las Cruces Biological Station.

This mid-elevation site is located on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific slope. Las Cruces contains 270 hectares of lower montane rain forest as well as 10 hectares of cultivated collections, known as the Robert and Catherine Wilson Botanical Garden, a diverse assemblage of more than 7,000 species (1,000 genera in 212 families) of tropical and subtropical plants.  In addition to numerous studies on the basic biology of particular plant and animal species, several long-term research efforts are ongoing at the station, such as forest fragmentation and the maintenance of biodiversity, forest bird distribution and migration, and forest regeneration in abandoned pastures.

Palo Verde Biological Station.

This dry forest site is situated in the heart of Palo Verde National Park in the northwestern lowlands of Costa Rica.  The station lies between a seasonal dry forest and an extensive seasonal marsh that is an important wetland area for 60 species of resident and migratory waterfowl. Long-term research includes the analysis of historical land-use patterns through core sampling, dry forest ecology, and wetland management and restoration.

La Selva Biological Station.

 This rainforest site is located in the Caribbean lowlands and comprises 1,600 hectares of tropical wet forest.  La Selva borders Braulio Carrillo National Park via a forest corridor that connects the station to the 46,000-hectare park.  La Selva is recognized as one of the foremost sites in the world for tropical rain forest research, with an average of 300 researchers working on more than 150 different projects annually.  Current research includes studies of carbon fluxes to determine the impact of global climate change on old growth forests, reforestation by native species, limnological studies on streams, and cutting edge inventories of arthropod and plant diversity.

In compliance with rules using U.S. federal funds, OTS offers one standard rate to offset the cost of its three field stations in Costa Rica.  To serve its mission and provide benefit to consortium institutions, OTS offers automatic financial assistance to researchers, faculty members, and students; a substantial benefit to faculty conducting research or bringing their own courses to the field stations and to long-term graduate and post-doctoral researchers. Researchers from OTS consortium schools automatically receive a higher level of aid – up to 55% – to offset their station fees.


Member institutions appoint two representatives to the Assembly of Delegates, who convene annually to review progress and programs, conduct long-range planning, and elect members to the OTS Board of Directors.  The Board of Directors meets at least twice a year to conduct business, monitor progress, oversee finances, and evaluate accomplishments. The overall executive leadership and fiscal responsibility for OTS programs and facilities are the responsibility of the President and CEO, based at Duke University.  The Director General in the Costa Rican Office in San Jose oversees all of OTS’ operations and field courses, where logistic support is provided for the field stations, education and research programs, and the thousands of tropical scientists who come to Costa Rica each year.


Leading research-oriented institutions of higher learning benefit from membership in OTS by being part of an elite group of institutions that share interests in tropical education, research, conservation and responsible land use.  A bond exists that promotes participation and vitality in a consortium with over 5,500 alumni and hundreds of faculty and researchers located throughout the world. 

Benefits that have been deemed important to institutional members include: 

  • The exceptional training opportunities that OTS field courses provide to graduate students working toward advanced degrees in a variety of disciplines, such as biology, ecology, conservation, and natural resource management.  OTS courses are truly unique programs whose participants are selected on a highly competitive basis and the faculties (two full-time and 10-20 visiting scientists) are chosen from among the world's leading tropical scientists.  OTS graduate courses are 2-8 weeks long, field-oriented, intensive, and extremely mobile in order to enable students to engage in problem-solving examination of diverse tropical ecosystems.
  • Preferential admission of consortium graduate students into the OTS graduate courses (often to the exclusion of non-consortium students), substantially lower tuition, and eligibility for consortium scholarships. 
  • The availability of funds for graduate research fellowships to support pilot projects and thesis research in Costa Rica.  The 200+ awards in the past ten years have ranged from $100 to over $5,000.  Approximately $75,000 per year is currently budgeted for graduate fellowships.
  • Preferential admission into the OTS Research Experience for Graduate Program centered at OTS’ Palo Verde Biological Station.  Graduate students work closely with Costa Rican mentors, with all their expenses paid plus a stipend for their ten week experience.
  • The recruitment of graduate students and faculty to member institutions.  The high visibility and academic credibility of OTS serves to attract students and faculty to institutions that are members of the consortium.  Top quality students identified by the OTS undergraduate program are directed to member institutions for their graduate degrees.
  • Preferential admission into OTS’ undergraduate study abroad programs, automatic waiving of program fee for semester programs, and eligibility for scholarships.  An exciting opportunity for internationalizing the science curriculum is through OTS’ science-based undergraduate study-abroad programs.  Centered in Costa Rica and South Africa, the undergraduate semester abroad programs provide excellent field experiences in tropical biology and research, global health, environmental policy issues, language and culture in both semesters and summer sessions.
  • Preferential admission into the OTS Research Experience for Undergraduate Program (REU) centered at La Selva Biological Station.  All costs are covered in this program and REU students receive a stipend for their ten-week summer experience.
  • Student and faculty participation in exciting research programs.  The institutional mix of scientists working in the biologically rich tropics offers course participants access to cutting-edge research and world-class scientists, resulting in productive interchanges of ideas and collaborative ventures.  Recent examples include the Arthropods of La Selva with principal investigators from Evergreen State, University of Connecticut and UCLA, plus a large supporting cast from Costa Rica, the U.S. and Canada; and Current and Future Carbon Budgets for Tropical Rain Forests: A Cross-Scale Analysis with researchers from Florida International University, University of Missouri-St. Louis, University of New Hampshire and Gottingen University (Germany).  Opportunities are also afforded by OTS' engagement in contracts and grants with funding agencies such as NSF, DOE, NASA, USAID and USF&WS.
  • The ability of OTS to provide the critical mass and quality of programs, personnel and facilities that help ease the burden of becoming engaged in tropical education and research.  Access to OTS' extensive logistic resources opens the door for those getting started in tropical studies and provides a support mechanism for those with long-term research programs.  OTS helps dozens of colleges and universities bring their own undergraduate courses to Costa Rica. Member institutions receive financial aid at the OTS stations to help reduce the cost of international travel.
  • Financial aid of 15-55% at the OTS field stations to help cover the standard station fee rate.
  • Opportunities for graduate student, postdoctoral and faculty participation as short-term instructors, advisors, and consultants.  Opportunities for academicians to be associated with OTS range from the educational and research programs to the more applied natural resource projects that build on the solid scientific bases established at the field stations. 
  • Institutional affiliation with a highly respected consortium.  OTS has received international recognition and awards for its efforts in graduate training and research.  OTS shared the Tyler Prize in 1986.  In 2000, the Ecological Society of America recognized OTS with their Special Recognition and Merit Award for our outstanding education program.
  • Consortium involvement in matters of international concern such as global climate change, deforestation, and the loss of biodiversity.  Active efforts to stem the tide of tropical forest destruction have included public symposia in the U.S. and Costa Rica, environmental education programs, and direct involvement in land purchase and conservation in connection with the La Selva and Las Cruces field stations.  For example, OTS joined forces with The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund-US and Fundación de Parques Nacionales to match a $1 million challenge grant from the MacArthur Foundation.  Through this collective effort, approximately 8,000 hectares were purchased to extend Braulio Carrillo National Park from La Selva near sea level to the mid-elevation slopes of Volcán Barva.  This conservation effort is continuing as buffer areas to widen the Park, and programs are being implemented by local people to integrate basic ecological knowledge into land-management decisions.
  • Networking with students, educators, researchers and decision-makers from other countries.  Latin American students of tropical ecology and senior decision-makers throughout Central and South America participate in OTS courses.  International friendships formed today are the intellectual bridges of tomorrow.  The availability of Internet at all OTS offices and field stations makes OTS accessible to a vast audience; the OTS Home Page http://www.ots.duke.edu addresses questions about the programs, while our facilities simply intensify the global focus.  An European consortium, the Tropical Biology Association (TBA) sponsors OTS-style field courses in East Africa; OTS reciprocally lists TBA field courses and exchange of students with TBA.
  • Internationalizing university programs.  Many universities are seeking ways to internationalize their programs.  The outreach provided through OTS, plus the prospects of attracting Latin American graduate students interested in doing thesis research that is relevant to their home country, makes membership in the consortium a very attractive way to diversify their campus.


The benefits of membership in the OTS consortium must be viewed in terms of commitments and responsibilities.  Institutional members are committed to:

  • Grant credit for OTS’ graduate courses as non-transfer units.  The graduate courses are valued at roughly one credit per week’s length for high quality programs that run night and day for 3-8 weeks.  Official grades and transcripts are issued through the auspices of a local member university (i.e., UCR, UNAP); however, most member institutions list the OTS courses in their own catalog and issue full university credit. 
  • Grant credit for OTS’ undergraduate program.  The undergraduate courses currently offered by OTS are fully accredited by Duke University.  However, consortium institutions are urged to review the intellectual content of the OTS courses and take appropriate action with their faculty accreditation committees to adopt the slate of tropically-focused courses as one of their own.  In this way, the listings and credits can be included in their institution’s course catalogs along with full sanction and local accreditation.  This “adoption” program dramatically eases the administrative hassles for students interested in studying abroad.
  • Provide funds to cover tuition and airfare for graduate students selected to participate in an OTS course.  Tuition for the OTS graduate courses varies largely with course length, in-country living expenses and travel.  However, the tuition charged to consortium students is greatly reduced and heavily subsidized by OTS through its unrestricted operating funds.  Member institutions should try to cover the remaining cost for graduate students interested in participating in an OTS course. 
  • Provide release-time for faculty to teach in OTS courses during the academic year.  Because OTS has a large constituency of institutions and university faculty, requests to provide paid release-time for visiting faculty to OTS courses (1-3 weeks) are infrequent.  However, faculty members are strongly encouraged to participate as short-term instructors.
  • Provide funds to cover the institutional dues.  Institutional dues are reviewed annually by the Assembly of Delegates.
  • Provide funds for their institutional representatives to attend the annual meeting of the Assembly of Delegates (AoD).  The AoD meeting is normally held once a year in Costa Rica; an important meeting for members to vote on a new board, discuss current issues in education and research, and provide advice on relevant operational concerns.

For further information about membership in the Organization for Tropical Studies, please contact Dr. Elizabeth Losos, President and CEO, at (919) 684-5774, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ,or Susan Gillespie at (919) 684-5774, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .


The Organization for Tropical Studies is a not-for-profit consortium of colleges, universities, research institutions, and government agencies dedicated to the responsible use of natural resources in the tropics.  Endorsement of the OTS mission and the payment of annual dues are the principal criteria for admission of new institutional members.


  • Payment of annual dues (fiscal year July 1-June 30) is reviewed by the Assembly of Delegates.  Dues for FY10 are $9,600.  Latin American institutions may arrange payments in local currency or through a negotiated provision of in-kind services.


  • Provide travel support for institutional representatives to attend the Assembly of Delegates annual meeting, and elected assembly members to the Board of Directors to participate in biannual meetings concerning the planning and governance of OTS.
  • Provide release-time for faculty members to participate occasionally as visiting professors in one of the many OTS courses.
  • List OTS courses in their home institution course catalog and grant non-transfer, residency credit.
  • Provide fellowships, when needed and possible, for undergraduate students; make every effort to cover tuition, travel, and subsistence for graduate students.


Institutions applying for election to membership must submit a formal letter of application from the President, Provost or Chancellor.  The letter must endorse the objectives of OTS and acknowledge acceptance of the basic commitment for payment of annual dues.  Furthermore, each of the “strongly recommended commitments” should also be addressed.  The application must be accompanied by a brief statement covering the following points:

  • Interest and plans for involvement in tropical studies.
  • Size and kind of undergraduate and graduate programs, and student potential for tropical studies.
  • Non-degree granting institutions should detail the nature and extent of affiliated universities that cover student training and research.
  • Special resources that may aid the OTS consortium.
  • Names and contact information of two prospective institutional representatives to the Assembly of Delegates. 

The official application should be dispatched directly to:
Chair of the Board of Directors
c/o OTS, 410 Swift Ave.
Durham, NC 27705

Initial inquiries and requests for literature may also be sent to:
OTS North American Office
410 Swift Ave.
Durham, NC 27705
Telephone: (919) 684-5774
Email: info @ tropicalstudies.org


Applications for membership may be submitted at any time.  They can be presented to the Assembly of Delegates by mail ballot or at the annual meeting.
Last Updated ( 03/28/18 )
Organization for Tropical Studies
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