Costa Rica Research

See our most recent tropical research papers :

--- the bacterial symbionts of Costa Rican beetles Blankenchip_2018.pdf

--- Betaproteobacteria isolated from Costa Rican bromeliads Klann_et_al-2016-MicrobiologyOpen.pdf

Costa Rica - Summer 2016

Costa Rica - Summer 2018

Costa Rica - Summer 2019

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Beneficial associations between insects and bacteria include a wide range of interactions, from protective (against both abiotic and biotic factors) to nutritional. In insects subsisting on unbalanced diets, or those of low digestibility or low nutritional value, symbionts are thought to provide the host with limiting nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins, and useable nitrogen. In this regard, the insect host can successfully avoid competitors by taking advantage of an under-utilized niche (ex. toxic, lacking in essential nutrients, etc.). Although of great ecological interest, the degree to which these insect-bacterial associations relate to local adaptation is often not known. It has been suggested recently that bacterial status (i.e. presence, diversity, and pervasiveness) is a necessary and integral component of investigations of insects, especially those understudied in the tropics, and that we will only truly understand their nutritional ecology in light of this important piece of the puzzle. For this project our broad research objective is to better understand the reciprocal influence of nutritional strategy and bacterial presence and diversity in tropical herbivorous insects. The three specific research objectives are to comparatively examine the interrelationships between bacterial status, defined as presence, diversity, and prevalence and 1) toxicity of foodstuffs, 2) host niche diversification, and 3) the occurrence of facultative bacteria-mediated nitrogen fixation, all within insects found in a lowland tropical rainforest of Costa Rica.  See the Creature Feature page for more photos.

In this project we aim to characterize both the phylogeny and the functionality of the microbial community living in the tank water of plants in the family Bromeliaceae, commonly known as bromeliads. Species within this family are known for being epiphytes and can grow without soil exposure. Many species develop tanks, which are composed of a tight rosette of leaves and that collect water. These watery microcosms are believed to provide nutrients for the plants; however little is known about the exact process. It is believed that bacteria live in the water and digest trapped insects and other materials, despite any research examining the exact kinds of bacteria and how they degrade the organic matter.  In our previous research we have been able to develop a protocol for amplifying bacterial 16S DNA from the tank water and have been able to identify the microbes present within commercially available species Aechmea fasciata. Over the summer, we have obtained many wild samples from the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica and plan to examine the phylogeny of the bacteria in these samples as well as test for chitinase genes, which produce enzymes commonly used by bacteria to degrade the exoskeleton of insects.  Furthermore, we will be able to determine from our samples if the plants location (either in the canopy or on the ground) will affect the bacterial community in the tanks.

See our paper on bacteria in bromeliads [Klann_et_al-2016-MicrobiologyOpen.pdf].

Click to see a slideshow of our 2010 trip to Costa Rica

Phylogeny and function of bacteria associated with tank bromeliads

Reciprocal influence between bacterial status and nutritional strategy in tropical insects

Costa Rica - Summer 2012

top row: Reid Sakamoto, Kenji Quides, Gene Jang, Carly Phillips, Arlin Alger, Kristen Treat

bottom row: Gretchen North, Shana Goffredi, Beth Braker

Scroll down to see our latest adventures in the rainforest

Costa Rica - Summer 2014

Shana Goffredi, Ben Scott, Gretchen North, Darwin Bobblehead, Kyle Fukui, Marvin Browne, Chelsea Blankenchip, Dana Michels, Kalia Bistolas

Costa Rica - Summer 2015