This research project has honestly not gone at all the way I anticipated – there have been so many obstacles that have prevented me from completing the work I set out to accomplish (from red tape issues to a global pandemic, which I definitely did not see coming). However, I am still immensely grateful for the opportunity that I was given to even begin this research and the incredible things that I learned during my time working on this project.
The smell of leaves after rain is something that I will now forever associate with Costa Rica and the beautiful nature there, and every time I think of the rainforest I remember how important it is to do everything that we can to protect it. This project is extremely close to my heart, as I truly believe environmental restoration, especially of tropical ecosystems, should be a top priority in our lives.
Even though I lived in Costa Rica before coming to college, this summer was the first time I had the opportunity to visit the cloud forest of Monteverde. It was really striking to see the climate difference even between the cloud forest, the area near my home, and the rainforest area I had worked in last summer. The short distance between these vastly different areas helped me to better understand how biodiverse the tropics truly are and how they contain so many different genera of animals, plants, and microbes in such a small geographical area.
I had an amazing time working with the Monteverde Institute and learned a lot of things that I did not foresee when I started the project, like information about native plants and their properties as well as an in-depth history of environmentalism in Monteverde and Costa Rica. I was also fortunate enough to spend a good amount of time with the leader of the Monteverde Institute (MVI), who inspired me with her life story and passion for her research that she conducts in the cloud forest.
Furthermore, I was able to work with my faculty mentor, MVI employees, and my peers to collect these soil samples and extract our DNA onsite at the MVI laboratory. Collecting the samples was a lot of work, as we crawled through the forest with our gear, often in the rain to collect over 100 unique soil samples, and purifying and extracting the DNA from these samples took weeks to complete, but the people I had working alongside me made the experience truly enjoyable.
Even though the data analysis portion of our project remains unfinished, I am excited to work on it as soon as possible. I hope that the data leads to further development of microbial ecology research as a tool to work towards environmental restorative land management practices.