University of Maryland Maile C. Neel  
Natural Resource Sciences & Landscape Architecture



Sustainable Tropical Ecosystems

January 8-21

This two week course provides you the opportunity to comprehend relationships between Costa Rica's agricultural development and sustainability of its tropical ecosystems and culture. Visits to small and large agricultural production facilities will be interspersed with immersion in Costa Rica's natural ecosystems, including La Selva, Arenal volcano and rainforests surrounding Monteverde. The latter includes an option to view the cloud forest from a bird’s eye view via a suspended zip line. Site visits will often be physically demanding including hikes in rough terrain and in rainy conditions.

Why Costa Rica?

With a land area of 19,730 square miles, Costa Rica is a bit larger than Maryland (12,406 square miles), and smaller than West Virginia (24,774 square miles). Despite its extremely small size, this tropical country supports ~5 percent of the world's total biodiversity. Its biological richness is due to its position as a transition zone between South and North America, and to its complex array of microclimates that are created by a wide range of elevations. With one of the most enlightened and dedicated approaches to conservation in the world, the country has made an impressive effort to preserve its natural resources. Costa Rica has 1,206 protected areas, comprising ~23% of the total land area. As a result, it has become one of the prime eco-tourism destinations in the world, offering among other things, tropical rainforests, active volcanoes, and an abundance of flora and fauna. At the same time, much of the unprotected land in Costa Rica has been extensively modified for agricultural production, ranging from subsistence farming to international agribusiness operations that produce worldwide. The challenges inherent in sustaining both natural diversity and human populations in an increasingly globally connected world make Costa Rica a perfect place to study sustainability.


Day Morning Afternoon Stay at
Sunday 08  Flight from Maryland  Flight from Maryland Ave Paraíso
Monday 09 Introductory lectures on agriculture, environment, and culture of Costa Rica Alvaro Castro (organic vegetables)/Cartago Ave Paraiso
Tuesd 10 Coffee production and processing- Small farm and ill Coffee - Coope Tarrazu Ave Paraíso
Wedn 11 Corbana (Research facilities & Labs) Banana & Pineapple production Ara Ambigua
Thursd 12 La Selva Guided Rainforest walk Fundecor Sustainable Forestry Don Juan
Friday 13 Hydroelectric Don Juan. Organic vegetable production Don Juan
Saturd 14 Don Juan’s Volcan Arenal, El Lago Arenal, Drive to Monteverde Monteverde
Sunday 15 All day guided hike in cloudforest All day guided hike in cloudforest Monteverde
Monday 16 Zipline through cloudforest Monte Verde Cheese Factory; Monte Verde conservation history lecture Monteverde
Tuesd 17 Guanacaste – rice farm Tilapia farming Cabinas Rancho Curubandé
Wedn 18 Tropical Dry Forest – Santa Rosa National Park Drive to Playa Hermosa Hotel Villa Huetares
Thursd 19 Beach in Guanacaste Depart Playa Hermosa in late afternoon Ave Paraíso
Friday 20 Prepare presentations Presentations Ave Paraíso
Saturd 21 Departure for Maryland    

Required Reading

Download all readings in one zipfile


IUCN. 2006. The future of sustainability: Re-thinking environment and development in the twenty-first century. Report of the IUCN Renowned Thinkers Meeting, 29-31 January, 2006.

Pretty, J. 2008. Agricultural sustainability: concepts, principles and evidence. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 363:447-465.

Vucetich, J. A., and M. P. Nelson. 2010. Sustainability: Virtuous or Vulgar? Bioscience 60:539-544.

Ecosystem Services

Goldman RL. 2010. Ecosystem services: How people benefit from nature. Environment 52: 15-23.

Goldman, R. L., and H. Tallis. 2009. A Critical Analysis of Ecosystem Services as a Tool in Conservation Projects The Possible Perils, the Promises, and the Partnerships. Pages 63-78 in R. S. S. W. H. Ostfeld, editor. Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology 2009.
Payments for Ecological Services

Blackman, A., and R. T. Woodward. 2010. User financing in a national payments for environmental services program: Costa Rican hydropower. Ecological Economics 69:1626-1638.

Cole, R. J. 2010. Social and environmental impacts of payments for environmental services for agroforestry on small-scale farms in southern Costa Rica. International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology 17:208-216.

Forest and Biodiversity Conservation

Calvo-Alvarado, J., B. McLennan, A. Sanchez-Azofeifa, and T. Garvin. 2009. Deforestation and forest restoration in Guanacaste, Costa Rica: Putting conservation policies in context. Forest Ecology and Management 258:931-940.

DeClerck, F. A. J., R. Chazdon, K. D. Holl, J. C. Milder, B. Finegan, A. Martinez-Salinas, P. Imbach, L. Canet, and Z. Ramos. 2010. Biodiversity conservation in human-modified landscapes of Mesoamerica: Past, present and future. Biological Conservation 143:2301-2313.

Holl, K. D., G. C. Daily, and P. R. Ehrlich. 1995. Knowledge and perceptions in Costa Rica regarding environment, population, and biodiversity issues. Conservation Biology 9:1548-1558.

Holl, K. D., G. C. Daily, S. C. Daily, P. R. Ehrlich, and S. Bassin. 1999. Knowledge of and attitudes toward population growth and the environment: university students in Costa Rica and the United States. Environmental Conservation 26:66-74.

Schelhas, J., and G. A. Sanchez-Azofeifa. 2006. Post-frontier forest change adjacent to Braulio Carrillo National Park, Costa Rica. Human Ecology 34:407-431.

Schelhas, J., and M. J. Pfeffer. 2005. Forest values of national park neighbors in Costa Rica. Human Organization 64:386-398.

Andam, K. S., P. J. Ferraro, K. R. E. Sims, A. Healy, and M. B. Holland. 2010. Protected areas reduced poverty in Costa Rica and Thailand. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107:9996-10001.

Agriculture and Biodiversity

Ricketts TH. 2004. Tropical forest fragments enhance pollinator activity in nearby coffee crops. Conservation Biology 18: 1262-1271.

Perfecto, I., and J. Vandermeer. 2010. The agroecological matrix as alternative to the land-sparing/agriculture intensification model. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107:5786-5791.

Perfecto, I., and J. Vandermeer. 2008. Biodiversity conservation in tropical agroecosystems - A new conservation paradigm. Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology 2008 1134:173-200.


Haaland, H., and O. Aas. 2010. Eco-tourism Certification - Does it Make a Difference? A Comparison of Systems from Australia, Costa Rica and Sweden. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism 10:375-385.

Horton, L. R. 2009. Buying Up Nature Economic and Social Impacts of Costa Rica's Ecotourism Boom. Latin American Perspectives 36:93-107.

Matarrita-Cascante, D., M. A. Brennan, and A. E. Luloff. 2010. Community agency and sustainable tourism development: the case of La Fortuna, Costa Rica. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 18:735-756.

Additional Suggested Background Reading

Beddoe, R., R. Costanza, J. Farley, E. Garza, J. Kent, I. Kubiszewski, L. Martinez, T. McCowen, K. Murphy, N. Myers, Z. Ogden, K. Stapleton, and J. Woodward. 2009. Overcoming systemic roadblocks to sustainability: The evolutionary redesign of worldviews, institutions, and technologies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106:2483-2489.

Chen, N. W., H. C. Li, and L. H. Wang. 2009. A GIS-based approach for mapping direct use value of ecosystem services at a county scale: Management implications. Ecological Economics 68:2768-2776.

Costanza, R. 1993. Developing ecological research that is relevant for acheiving sustainability. Ecological Applications 3:579-581.

Costanza, R. 1996. Ecological economics: Reintegrating the study of humans and nature. Ecological Applications 6:978-990.

Costanza, R. 2003. Social goals and the valuation of natural capital. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 86:19-28.

Costanza, R., L. Graumlich, W. Steffen, C. Crumley, J. Dearing, K. Hibbard, R. Leemans, C. Redman, and D. Schimel. 2007. Sustainability or to collapse: What can we learn from integrating the history of humans and the rest of nature? Ambio 36:522-527.

Costanza, R., and R. V. Oneill. 1996. Introduction: Ecological economics and sustainability. Ecological Applications 6:975-977.

Di Castri, F. 2000. Ecology in a context of economic globalization. Bioscience 50:321-332.

Farina, A. 2000. The cultural landscape as a model for the integration of ecology and economics. Bioscience 50:313-320.

Jenerette, G. D., W. A. Marussich, and J. P. Newell. 2006. Linking ecological footprints with ecosystem valuation in the provisioning of urban freshwater. Ecological Economics 59:38-47.

Mageau, M. T., R. Costanza, and R. E. Ulanowicz. 1998. Quantifying the trends expected in developing ecosystems. Ecological Modelling 112:1-22.

McMichael, A. J., B. Bolin, R. Costanza, G. C. Daily, C. Folke, K. Lindahl-Kiessling, E. Lindgren, and B. Niklasson. 1999. Globalization and the sustainability of human health - An ecological perspective. Bioscience 49:205-210.

Molnar, J., M. Marvier, and P. Kareiva. 2004. The sum is greater than the parts. Conservation Biology 18:1670-1671.

Morse, S. 2006. Is corruption bad for environmental sustainability? A cross-national analysis. Ecology and Society 11.

Musacchio, L. R. 2009. The scientific basis for the design of landscape sustainability: A conceptual framework for translational landscape research and practice of designed landscapes and the six Es of landscape sustainability. Landscape Ecology 24:993-1013.

Naidoo, R., A. Balmford, R. Costanza, B. Fisher, R. E. Green, B. Lehner, T. R. Malcolm, and T. H. Ricketts. 2008. Global mapping of ecosystem services and conservation priorities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105:9495-9500.

Norton, B., R. Costanza, and R. C. Bishop. 1998. The evolution of preferences - Why 'sovereign' preferences may not lead to sustainable policies and what to do about it. Ecological Economics 24:193-211.

Shi, T. 2004. Ecological economics as a policy science: rhetoric or commitment towards an improved decision-making process on sustainability. Ecological Economics 48:23-36.

Siche, J. R., F. Agostinho, E. Ortega, and A. Romeiro. 2008. Sustainability of nations by indices: Comparative study between environmental sustainability index, ecological footprint and the emergy performance indices. Ecological Economics 66:628-637.

Sutton, P. C., and R. Costanza. 2002. Global estimates of market and non-market values derived from nighttime satellite imagery, land cover, and ecosystem service valuation. Ecological Economics 41:509-527.

Turner, W. R., K. Brandon, T. M. Brooks, R. Costanza, G. A. B. da Fonseca, and R. Portela. 2007. Global conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Bioscience 57:868-873.

Some Useful Websites

PROCIG - Central American Geographic Information Project

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