Tropical Biodiversity

Basic Information

Address: Tropical Science Center Apdo. 86-1200 San Jose, Costa Rica
Phone Number: (506)22311236
Fax Number: n
Director: Humberto Jimenez-Saa
Duration: two weeks

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Additional Information

School Information:

The Tropical Science Center (TSC) is a private institution founded in 1946 in San Jose, Costa Rica.
TSC was stablished by the late Dr. L.R. Holdridge with the purpose of preserving the forest environment.
TSC is now the owner and administrator of several wild protected areas; one is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve and another is the Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary, where the late Dr. Alexander Skutch worked for forty years.
The TSC includes 56 members of diferent nationalities, devoted to the preservation of nature in Costa Rica.

Tuition: US$ 1600 which includes: fees, materials, lodging and meals, insurance, course-related local transportation, farewell dinner, and certificate of attendance. Airfare costs are not included
Financial Aid:

None at the moment

Curriculum Highlights:

University Studies:
• Ingeniero Forestal (1958-1963, Universidad Distrital, Bogotá, Colombia).
• Magister Scientiae (1965-1967, Plant ecology; Dendrology; IICA, Turrialba, Costa Rica).
• Doutor em Ciencias Florestais, Ph.D. level (1985-1988, Information, Silviculture; Universidade Federal do Paraná, Curitiba, Brazil).

Professional Experience:
• University professor: 1963-1971; Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela
• FAO consultant: 1966, 1971-1972; Costa Rica, Surinam
• Information Officer: 1973-1975; CIAT, Cali, Colombia
• Agricultural Documentalist: 1975-1977; IICA-CIDIA, Turrialba, Costa Rica
• Information Specialist and Professor: 1977-1984; CATIE, Turrialba, Costa Rica
• Doctoral studies: 1984-1988; UFPR, Curitiba, Brazil
• Private Consultant: 1987 to the present; Training Program and Consultant at the Tropical Science Center, San José, Costa Rica
• Different activities in tours guiding, and scientific tourism: 1991 to the present. San José, Costa Rica.

School Setting:

Four contrasting climatic enviroments in Costa Rica will be visited, all of them very close one each other, as follows: the Central Valley (Premontane Moist Forest), the Monteverde Cloud Forest, the Guanacaste Dry Forest, and the Atlantic Moist and Wet Forests. This way, this course offers opportunities of both learning dendrology and getting to know a great deal of Costa Rica. It has been also considered a unique way to get the first contact with tropical environments.

Program Information:

The course is offered every year in Spanish (March or April) and in English (June-July) and is given in four different enviroments (Life Zones) of Costa Rica. 
In this course we apply a highly efficent methodology to identify trees, shrubs and other plants just in the field, developed by Dr. L. R. Holdridge and expanded upon by Dr.  Alwin H.  Gentry, that has been successfully applied in Central and South America. Such method has been followed for years in some Latin American universities to teach courses on dendrology. 
The Dendrology course has been attended by students,
 professionals and lay persons in biology, forestry, biodiversity, enthomology, birding and ornithology, ecology, ethnobotany, medicinal botany, agroforestry, field guiding, and other areas in the natural resource field. Plant Taxonomists, who usually work both at the herbarium or in the countryside, and persons not directly involved with such kind of professions but having special interest in botany , have also attended the course.


The course is addressed to professionals and lay persons in biology, forestry, biodiversity, birding and ornithology, ecology, agroforestry, ethnobotany, field guiding, and other areas in the natural resource field. Also professional taxonomists, working both at the herbarium or in the countryside, have attended the course. Some of them mentionned that normally they found themselves well prepared to identify plants in the herbaria, but they usually failed when they tried with fresh samples in the field. For instance, we want to mention that in one group we had four students with Ph.D. degrees: Dr. Ed Jensen, Professor of Dendrology at Oregon State University; Dr. Dwight Smith, Professor at West Indies University in Jamaica; Dr. Keith Shawe, plant taxonomist working for The Natural Resources Institute in Kent, England and starting a field work in Belize; and Dr. Marco Gutiérrez, Professor at Universidad de Costa Rica in San José.
It was another group when Dr. Silviano Camberos Sánchez, and Dr. Mark Plotkin, author of the bestseller
"Tales of a Shaman's apprentice; an ethnobotanist searches for new medicines in the Amazon rain forest", also attended the course as students.
We want to stress the point that, although the course has proven to be of great help to people with experience in dendrology, it is not necessary to have that experience to take advantage of our course. For instance, the above mentionned course with four students with Ph. D degree, was also attended by a tourist guide, a student of Biology, and a specialist in computer science whose hobby is botany. Other students were teachers of Biology at high school level in Colombia and in France, and others were: one curator of Herbaria in Ghana (Africa), and a field forester in Costa Rica. All people mentioned above gave excellent references about the course (both academic level and organization).


The Tropical Dendrology course is devoted mainly to teach predetermination techniques i.e. to prepare students to define at a glance, just in the field the most probable genera and/or family to which a tropical plant belongs. It is accepted that after having the family, it is easier to get the genus and, from here to get the species. Students obtain the species name of most of the trees and shrubs found during the course; they also learn how to find genera and species names in the literature or in the herbaria, when working in their own countries. This system is devoted mainly to the American tropics but, according to participants from Africa and Asia, it will work also in their countries, where species are different, but families and genera are mostly the same as in tropical America.
The course sequence followed to teach the various subjects is very important; for example: at the beginning of the course, students learn those groups which are very easily recognizable and common in the surroundings. When the course advances, instructors show those groups of plants which are increasingly "difficult to be recognized" and rare or less common in the surroundings. At the end of the course we teach those species which do not fit with the normal characteristics of its group (the exceptions).
Students are urged to examine three characteristics to typify genera and families, namely: leaf class (simple, different compound types), leaf arrangement (opposite, alternate, etc), and the presence and types of stipules. Combining these three characteristics with others such as type and color of exudates, pellucide-punctate structures, leaf blade consistence, nectaries, odors, etc, there appear short descriptions which are very easy to be memorized, and which enable students to predetermine most of the plants.

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