Monteverde Friends School - teacher Mary Mendenhall

Since the Quakers arrived in 1951, the surrounding forest has provided a laboratory for curious individuals to indulge their fascination with nature and its mysteries. Some of the early pioneers, such as John Campbell and Walter and Mary James, started documenting natural systems in the area by keeping weather records and collecting plant specimens. Beginning in the late 1960s, formal research began to produce theses, dissertations and a wealth of scientific papers. The Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), which administers undergraduate and graduate-level courses in tropical ecology, began bringing students in 1973. Until 1989, the OTS courses in Costa Rica included several weeks of group field projects and independent research in Monteverde. Some of the OTS students returned at a later time to carry out research or settle here. 

Monteverde is now home to many highly-qualified and renowned biologists and ecologists who continue to investigate the extreme biodiversity of the mountain, adding knowledge and specimens to flora and fauna collections of the area. To honor those early biologists and naturalists, we would like to share a few of their stories. Their enthusiasm and energetic dedication to studying, documenting, teaching, and collecting on the green mountain has informed the world of the natural richness here, as well as attracted other scientists and students to come and continue the lifelong investigation of Monteverde’s distinctive flora and fauna. 

John and Doris Campbell

John Campbell (1919-1999) was a member of the group of original Quakers who settled Monteverde in 1951. He was well known for his great curiosity and love of nature. When the Campbells began clearing their farm, they decided to keep over half of it in virgin forest. John was always looking through the window with interest at what was occurring out of doors, observing animal and bird behavior as well as weather patterns. He was Monteverde’s unofficial weather man for twenty-seven years. His weather data, taken in the same location for so many years, have been invaluable in many biologists’ studies. He had an affinity with biologists and could spend many hours discussing their research findings with them. His collection of thirty-five years of Scientific American magazines was donated to the Monteverde Institute Library (named after John and his wife Doris) along with books, articles, and scientific papers of research biologists did in Monteverde, given to him in appreciation for the free use of his land for their studies. John was also an excellent and prolific photographer. In the 1980s, John became a founder of the Monteverde Conservation League and the Monteverde Institute.


Jerry, Mary and Walter James

Walter (1894-1984) and Mary (1902-1984) James were Quakers and naturalists who came to live in Monteverde in 1958. Mary was a graduate of Earlham College in Indiana with a Bachelor of Science in biology. She taught biology classes in her home where many of the class projects were inventive, making use of the materials at hand. One example was the construction of a camera stand to take a photograph of a “nigua” (flea larva, Pulex irritans) viewed under a microscope. The enlarged specimen was especially impressive, as many Monteverdians were host to this pest. As a teacher at the Monteverde Friends School, she influenced many of the children in the community to have a keen interest in the natural world. Walter James was also fascinated with natural history and horticulture. His interests led to collecting fern samples for Luis Diego Gómez of the Costa Rica National Museum and later for the University of Pennsylvania. Through his work, three new species were identified. In the 1960s, their son, Jerry James, was responsible for bringing the now famous golden toad to the attention of biologists.

 Jay M. Savage completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Stanford University and was on the faculty of the University of Southern California and then the University of Miami. In 1963, Jay was instrumental in founding the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) which brought many young aspiring biologists to Monteverde. In 1966, Jay published the first paper describing the golden toad (Bufo periglenes). His enthusiasm for the area put Monteverde on the map for other biologists.

Bob Law visited Monteverde for one month in 1963 and, three years later, returned to live here permanently. Although not involved directly in scientific research, he is recognized for his contribution to the area as a keen birdwatcher. Over the years, he kept detailed records of bird sightings and behavior that noted how bird activity changed over the years. He also wrote numerous information booklets for tourists including lists of mammals, snakes, birds and a trail guide. In the late 1970s, Bob supervised construction of the casona at the Monteverde Reserve and helped with other administrative duties. In 1986, he became a founder of the Monteverde Conservation League.


Harriett and George Powell

George and Harriett Powell, along with Bill and Ruth Buskirk, arrived in April of 1970 from the University of California at Davis. Graduate students, they came to begin long term research projects for their doctorates. A few biologists had visited before, but only for short periods. Bill and George were studying the mixed species flocks of song birds and their research was carried out in “Campbell’s Woods”. Harriett worked with euglossine bees (orchid bees) and also taught biology at the Monteverde Friends School, sharing her knowledge and love of nature’s intricacies with her students. Following the completion of George’s research, the Powells remained for two more years in Monteverde and devoted their time, energy, and money to the establishment of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in the early 1970s.


Peter Feinsinger



Peter Feinsinger drove his pickup from Cornell University to Monteverde, arriving in September 1971 as a naïve young graduate student and the first outsider, other than drivers of logging trucks (yes, there were many of those then), to get up the mountain in two weeks. His final exit from Monteverde was in May, 1989, as a considerably older but still naive professor at the University of Florida. In between, he performed his doctoral research on guild (community) structure of Monteverde hummingbirds amongst other things (1971-1973), making a brief return in 1975 before engaging in a two-year project in Trinidad and Tobago. Peter reappeared in June, 1979 to begin a long series of studies originally on forest dynamics and plant-animal (read, hummingbird) interactions, then on “floral neighborhoods” and pollination success of cloud forest plants, and finally on other aspects of competition among the bird-pollinated plants in the cloud forest.



Eladio Cruz

Eladio Cruz Leitón grew up in San Luis, the farming community below Monteverde. As a teenager, he went to work on Wolf Guindon’s dairy farm, where he met George and Harriett Powell. Eladio started working for the Powell’s in 1972, helping them cut trails and boundaries as they joined parcels of land together to establish the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. Eladio learned about the importance of conservation from George and Harriett, but already had a deep appreciation for nature in his heart. He worked for the Monteverde Reserve from its inception, and has also assisted many biologists in their field research since the 1970s. In the mid-80s, he was the first landowner in the Peñas Blancas valley to sell his property to the Monteverde Conservation League, hoping to encourage other homesteaders to sell their properties as well. He began working with groups of visiting university students in 1986, receiving them in his humble cabin in Peñas, providing excellent meals and fascinating stories from his life growing up in the Monteverde area. He has two species named after him: a canopy ant – Procryptocerus eladio; and an orchid – Brachionidium cruzae.

William A. Haber arrived in Monteverde from the University of Minnesota in July 1973. He came to conduct research for his doctoral thesis on the mimicry of clearwing butterflies and their relationship with wild plants of the Solanaceae (tomato) family which he completed in 1978. He remained living in Monteverde and went on to study pollination by bees and hawkmoths and the seasonal migration of butterflies. In 1985, he became a Research Associate for the Missouri Botanical Garden, identifying and collecting hundreds of specimens for their Flora of Monteverde project. He is one of the most important contributors to scientific knowledge and collections in the area. In 1986, Bill became one of the founders of the Monteverde Conservation League.

Richard LaVal first came to Monteverde from the University of Kansas in 1973 to begin a one year National Science Foundation/Organization for Tropical Studies post-doctorate research grant, in which he studied the seasonal reproductive patterns of vertebrate insect predators in a tropical cloud forest. In 1980, he and his wife, Meg Wallace, became permanent residents of Monteverde. Besides raising a huge organic garden, rabbits, chickens, and goats, he became one of the area’s first eco-tourist guides and helped train the first generation of cloud forest guides in Monteverde. He was the founding president of the Monteverde Conservation League, as well as a founder of the Monteverde Institute and the Cloud Forest School. He has carried out many research projects on bats and is co-author of the bilingual book, Murciélagos de Costa Rica/Bats of Costa Rica.

Robert M. Timm first visited Monteverde in 1974 when he was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota and has conducted research and brought tropical biology courses to the region regularly since. His research is on systematics and ecology of Neotropical mammals and host-parasite interactions and has focused on conservation issues in recent years. Monteverde has been an extremely interesting region for the study of mammals. Bob and collaborator Steve Ashe discovered that the large staphylinid beetles that are found on high elevation rodents were mutualistic with their rodent hosts, feeding on fleas, mites, and ticks rather than being parasitic as was previously believed. He discovered two new species of mammals at Monteverde. Bob was one of the founding members of the Monteverde Conservation League. He is a faculty member at the University of Kansas.

Suzanne Koptur came to Monteverde to work on phenology and pollination of cloud forest shrubs and trees with Gordon Frankie, Herbert Baker (University of California Berkeley), and Bill Haber, in late 1978. Her doctoral work on plant/animal interactions of Inga trees (completed in 1982) was two-parted: Inga defenses against caterpillars of butterflies and moths promoted by their extrafloral nectaries (that support ants and other beneficial insects); and floral biology, breeding systems, and pollination of the trees (mostly by hawkmoths and hummingbirds). A faculty member at Florida International University for more than 25 years, she brought FIU courses to Monteverde many times.