Graduation Projects: Innovation through creativity and science

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: November 30th, 2021

Jenni and José Antonio.

November and December are exceptional months at our university. Fourth-year students can be seen throughout the Guácimo Campus putting the final additions on the research they have done for months, preparing to defend their results, and savoring the last days left in their time at EARTH. In the midst of all this, emotions are running high, and pride prevails among Faculty and community members who have watched the students grow for four years.

Jenni García Quiceno (Colombia), José Antonio Balcárcel Milián (Guatemala), and César Velásquez Sánchez (Guatemala) completed two Graduation Projects (GP) characterized by ingenuity, creativity, and meticulous work with incredible results.

 Chrysopidae in a banana agroecosystem

Seeking sustainable alternatives to reduce the use of agrochemicals in banana plantations, Jenni and José Antonio did an in-depth investigation on the morphology, diversity, and biology of the Chrysopidae (Green lacewings). This family of insects of the order Neuroptera is crucial for biological control in integrated pest management.

In their larval stage, these insects are predators of many pests with soft bodies, such as mealybugs. Lacewings are exceedingly important in ensuring the successful development of an agroecosystem and can be used alongside other pest control measures, as long as they are native species.

“Generally, when a biological control is introduced to a banana crop to deal with a pest, the commercial products are not usually species of lacewings native to the place. That means they do not adapt in the best way to the environment, and their population reduces. Our goal was to identify the species present in the banana agroecosystem in the Atlantic zone of Costa Rica,” says José Antonio.

To do the research, the first thing they did was perform sampling to identify the number and type of species in four areas of the Guácimo Campus. They then developed a dichotomous key to study the insects’ morphology. After that, they corroborated the identification through DNA sequencing. Then, they took the two most abundant species to reproduce them in the laboratory and measure whether this step was viable.

The group of students who helped them.

Thanks to the help of many other students and their advisors, Jenni and José Antonio obtained 304 samples, of which they were able to identify 178 in eight different species. They presented some of the information generated in their GP at the National Congress of Biological Control in Mexico. Both discussed the results of their research and showed the native species that can be used for better pest management in the region.

About to graduate, José Antonio is preparing to begin his working life in Guatemala, where he will continue working on biological control issues with fungi and other microorganisms. Jenni is debating between two job offers in Colombia and dreams of specializing in entomology.

Arboretum

Portrait of César working in his project.

César Velásquez is known for his creativity. He has a keen eye for audiovisual production, a good ear for music, and an innate ability for storytelling. So, when choosing a theme for his Graduation Project, he knew he wanted to do something that would allow him to play with the design and creation of a new space.

On the Guácimo Campus, EARTH has two gardens: Botanical and Ethnobotanical. Both spaces are of paramount importance for experiential learning by the student body. With Mauricio Segura, one of his GP advisors, César set about creating a third botanical garden focused on trees: an arboretum. Most of the tree species are from our university’s Agroforestry Nursery, and other species were obtained from Osa Conservation, an organization that strives to protect biodiversity in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.

Working together with other students.

“I want this project to go beyond theory and become something tangible. My first two objectives align with the design, but my third objective focuses on executing the first phase. This involves space assessment, cleaning, soil preparation, cover planting, and bringing the forest species to be planted. I like landscaping, and my GP design reflects that,” says César.

The project is about planting trees and has the goal of conserving endangered species in the Costa Rican Atlantic region where  Guácimo Campus is located. The garden is designed so that people can learn about the trees through interpretive or self-guided trails. There will be stations with QR codes where visitors can access relevant information about the species. The trees will be georeferenced, with data on their growth, origin, geographical position, and phytosanitary status.

César dreams of returning to the campus in the future to see the progress of the Arboretum he is creating along with his colleagues and advisors with great effort and dedication. He wants to see how the trees are growing and observe how people learn more about the species there.

We congratulate Jenni, José Antonio, César, and all the fourth-year students for conducting Graduation Projects that fill the entire EARTH community with pride.