Our group visited Bosque Eterno de los Ninos (The Children's Eternal Rainforest), managed by the Monteverde Conservation League. Bosque Eterno de los Ninos (BEN) borders Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal and is Costa Rica's largest private reserve, measuring 22,500 hectares. The reserve contains 6 of Costa Rica's 12 life zones, which means it contains a high degree of biodiversity in a variety of ecosystems. Bosque Eterno de los Ninos came into being through the Children's Rainforest Movement which involves children around the world raising money to support the private reserve. The movement started in Sweden in the late 1980's, and today children from 44 countries have helped support Bosque Eterno de los Ninos. The Monteverde Conservation League's mission is to, “conserve, preserve, and rehabilitate tropical ecosystems and their biodiversity.” They view Bosque Eterno de los Ninos as especially important because of its location, bordering a number of other reserves – Parque Arenal, Monteverde Reserve, and a UCR Reserve. For biodiversity to be best preserved, large swatches of forest, as opposed to disconnected fragments, must be protected. The Monteverde Conservation League would like to continue to buy property and expand Bosque Eterno de los Ninos per their mission of conservation and preservation.
We entered Bosque Eterno de los Ninos through Finca Stellar near the La Tigra area. Part of Finca Stellar is a native tree species nursery. Marcelino, who works for the Monteverde Conservation League, showed us around the nursery and explained its importance. He collects many of the seeds from the native species in Bosque Eterno de los Ninos and germinates them in a greenhouse. The plants begin their lives in trays filled with sand, which makes it difficult for weeds to grow and compete with them. When the seeds first germinate they get nutrients from their cotyledons so they do not need soil. Once they have sprouted and are getting larger, the small saplings are replanted in soil and moved outside under a netted tent (shown in picture). The Monteverde Conservation League believes that reforesting can be an effective method for rehabilitating an ecosystem, so Marcelino grows native species for this purpose. The group has planted over 1.6 million trees around the Children's Eternal Rainforest. The trees are planted on farms, as wind breaks, and in watersheds, to retain and cycle water. Through this program, the Monteverde Conservation League helps to reforest with native species and create a buffer zone around protected areas to better ensure the quality of the natural resources.
Economically Important Species
We came across a number of interesting, and often economically important, species of plants. One of the first we encountered was the Iriartea deltoidea palm tree, a member of the Arecaeceae family. This palm commonly grows in Central and South American forests, from Nicaragua to Bolivia. It first attracts attention because of its massive stilt root system (in photo) which can be a meter or more in diameter. These palms stretch for the canopy, reaching up to 30 meters tall with leaves approaching 4 meters. While all types of palms can be used to harvest palmito (heart of palm), this species is particularly well known in Costa Rica for producing a delicious palmito. It used to be the most popular species used for the food, but as demand rose faster growing and easier to harvest species replaced Iriartea deltoidea, resulting in less tasty palmitos. The species is also useful for building because of its hard wood and its fronds can be used to make roofs. Additionally, the palm produces a fruit which some humans consume. Overall, this is an extremely hearty plant which demonstrates the multi-utility found in many tropical forest plants. Another economically important tree we saw was the kerosene tree (Copaifera langsdorffii) which produces hydrocarbons in its wood and leaves that can be burned as biofuel. The oil can be collected by tapping the tree and has a history of medicinal uses besides its propensity for combustion.
We also encountered one of the tropics most significant defoliators, a colony of leaf cutter ants. These ants are found only in the tropics and form some of the largest and most complex societies in the animal kingdom. The ants cut leaves and bring them to their nests where the leaves are used as a substrate to cultivate a mutualistic fungi. In other words, these ants are essentially agriculturalists as they do not eat the cut leaves but instead eat small parts (hyphae) of the fungus which they grow on the leaves. They are the only organism, besides humans, known to practice such a sophisticated form of agriculture. The process of finding, cutting, and carrying the leaves and then preparing them and growing the fungus takes a number of morphologically different castes. The colonies grow quickly, containing millions of individuals in only a few years. With huge numbers, sprawling nests, and expansive fungus gardens the ants must collect so many leaves that they defoliate more forest than any of the large herbivorous mammals. These amazing insects are widely considered pests in the tropics because they can quickly defoliate crops or aesthetic plants. However, one need not use pesticide to deter them, instead their own waste from the large piles removed from their nests can be placed on or around plants to keep the ants away.
On our way back to Finca Stellar we crossed a beautiful stream in the forest. Besides its aesthetics, this stream demonstrates another reason that Bosque Eterno de los Ninos is so important. The Children's Eternal Rainforest is part of a number of watersheds and therefore responsible for significant water resources. Because the area is forested and managed with the goal of conservation, the water moving through this reserve can move through the natural water cycle. This means it is cleaned while also feeding the diversity of life found in the forest. This means healthier water for the humans living around Bosque Eterno de los Ninos. The protected water resources are also used by the surrounding communities for agriculture. The reserve means that the water is both cleaner and protected in the sense that development will not alter its path or reduce its flow. This may be most important for the hydroelectric plants which use water resources from the Children's Eternal Rainforest. According to the Monteverde Conservation League, 50 percent of Costa Rica's electricity originates in Bosque Eterno de los Ninos. This includes the water that goes through the Peñas Blancas Hydroelectric plant which we visited on our way to the La Fortuna area and Bosque Eterno de los Ninos.
Author: Tait Mandler