Volcán Barva

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Current Site Manager: Johanna Hurtado


The Volcán Barva TEAM site is located within both the La Selva Biological Station and the adjacent Braulio Carrillo National Park. The Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS) manages this TEAM site, which was established in 2003.

Founded in 1954 by Dr. Leslie Holdridge, La Selva Biological Station is located in the lowlands of northern Costa Rica on the Caribbean side. The area's average yearly rainfall is 4 meters, or more than 13 feet. Since the Organization of Tropical Studies purchased La Selva in 1968, it has become a significant site for research on tropical rain forests.

The Braulio Carrillo National Park was established in 1978 as part of an agreement with conservation groups, who sought to limit development and deforestation after construction of the Guápiles Highway, which links Costa Rica’s capital San Jose to the country’s Caribbean shipping ports.

Site Description: 

Each year, more than 250 scientists from some 25 countries and hundreds of international students visit La Selva to study tropical ecology. The research performed by these scientists, as well as that carried out by resident researchers at La Selva, results in hundreds of research projects conducted throughout the year.

Some long-term projects ongoing at the site include:

  • Streams: Researchers are monitoring the effects of volcanic processes on lowland tropical stream ecosystem.
  • Project ALAS (Arthropods of La Selva): Investigators are conducting a large-scale inventory of arthropod diversity in a lowland tropical rainforest.
  • Trees: Researchers are assessing the relationship between annually measured tree performance and microsite conditions for nine canopy and emergent tree species in old-growth lowland tropical rain forest.
  • TEAM's long-term biodiversity monitoring.

Numerous educational opportunities are available at La Selva. More than 30 years ago, the Organization of Tropical Studies founded its Program of Graduate Education, through which graduate-level tropical biology and ecology courses are available in Spanish or English at La Selva and throughout Costa Rica. Undergraduate programs, environmental science and policy programs, and bio-courses are also available at La Selva.

The laboratories at La Selva provide many resources and facilities for researchers, including such as laboratory benches, Internet connections, analytical equipment, compound and dissecting microscopes, an ambient laboratory, and shade houses. A complete database of map coverage and images of La Selva and the surrounding area are available in the geographic information systems laboratory.

Natural history enthusiasts will be pleased with the activities and resources offered to them as well. Various day visits can be arranged and overnight accommodations are available.


La Selva consists of 1,600 hectares (3,900 acres), 73 percent of which is primary tropical rain forest. Braulio Carrillo National Park comprises 47,583 hectares (117,580 acres) of tropical rainforest, of which more than 90 percent is old growth forest. The remainder of the park contains a variety of habitats, including abandoned pastures and secondary forest.

La Selva and the Braulio Carrillo National Park are known worldwide for their high biodiversity and for their high beta-diversity. That is the result of a long and steep elevational transect, the only such remaining intact transect in Central America. The altitudinal gradient extends from 26 meters to 2,900 meters above sea level in just 20 km.

The steep altitudinal gradient is used by many birds and mammal species to migrate into and within the protected forest corridor between La Selva and the park. These include:

  • quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)
  • bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata)
  • many insects, including moths (Lepidoptera).

Species diversity is spectacular in La Selva, including more than 1,850 species of plants, 350 species of trees, 448 species of birds, and approximately 500 species of ants.

The Braulio Carrillo National Park contains a representative sample of Costa Rica’s biodiversity and is one of the major bird, amphibian, and reptile endemism regions of the country.

The vegetation is characteristic of tropical evergreen forest with a complex floral array due to the variation in topography, drainage, temperature, cloud cover and precipitation. The majority is primary forest, with 6,000 species of plants, representing 50 percent of the total plant species in the country.

Some 550 bird species (about two thirds of the country’s bird species) are present in the park, including several in danger of extinction, such as:

  • quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno costaricensis)
  • tinamou (Tinamus major; Crypturellus boucardi)
  • green macaw (Ara ambiguous).

Bird and plant species and composition change rapidly along elevational gradients, illustrating the value of protecting continuous gradients of forest.

Mammal diversity is high (169 species), representing 79 percent of all mammals in the country. These include big terrestrial mammals, such as:

  • jaguar (Panthera onca)
  • mountain lion (Puma concolor)
  • peccary (Pecari tajacu)
  • tamandua (Tamandua mexicana)
  • red brocket (Mazama americana)

Twenty species of mammals are threatened and in danger of extinction, including:

  • tapir (Tapirus bairdii)
  • felines (Felidae)

The white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), while formerly a regular resident, is now probably regionally extinct. It is thought that giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) are also extinct in the park.

Some 95 species of amphibian and 123 species of reptiles are estimated to occur in the park. Twelve endemic species of reptiles and 19 endemic species of amphibian are found in the park, as well as some amphibian species in danger of extinction, such as the harlequin frog (Atelopus varius).

View the mammals and birds species list for this TEAM site.

La Selva Biological Station is located in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, 60 km northeast of San José, Costa Rica’s capital and largest city. Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí is accessible by car (approximately a 1.5 hour drive) by paved road from San José, which is served by Juan Santamaría International Airport. There is also bus service to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí from San José.

The Braulio Carrillo National Park is well known as a zone of abrupt topography, hard weather conditions and limited road access throughout much of the park. The only way to move within the park between La Selva and higher elevations is a trail called Sendero Transecto. The Sendero Transecto offers access to 20 km of walking trail that spans the entire elevational gradient. Along this trail there are 4 refuges: the Cantarana refuge at 400 meters above sea level, another refuge at 1,070 meters above sea level, a tent camp tent at 1,750 meters above sea level and a refuge at 2,000 meters above sea level.


Costa Rica
Latitude: 10.3028
Longitude: -84.0338