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Biology Without Borders

Posted on Oct 5, 2016

Roger Tory Peterson traveled the world to explore, discover, and document its flora and fauna. He applied his artistic talents to describe and illustrate plants and animals in far-away regions to make their existence known to a broad audience, while his biological observations and knowledge supported conservation efforts and helped elicit positive environmental change. Probably the most obvious examples of this lesser-known side of Peterson’s legacy are his spectacular ‘Field Guides to Mexican Birds’ and ‘Birds of Britain and Europe,’ although behind the scenes his experience influenced conservation decisions as far away as the Galapagos Islands, the Cota Doñana, Tanzania, and Antarctica.

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute perpetuates this legacy every day. We work in cooperation with like-minded conservation groups and research partners to discover, study, and monitor species of conservation concern and the habitats that sustain them. We also provide opportunities for the next generation of naturalists and biologists to get involved with and become inspired by the living world.

Student researchers identify nocturnal insects in Panama - photo by Twan Lee

Students identify nocturnal insects in Central America – photo by Twan Leenders

In the spirit of Dr. Peterson, RTPI president Twan Leenders engages in international research and educational initiatives as part of the Institute’s goal to increase awareness and understanding of the natural connections between species, habitats and people. Such connections often transcend political and other boundaries; one only needs to consider how migratory birds are currently leaving our backyards to head to some –often unknown – winter destiny south of us, to realize how important these global natural connections are….

Without knowing how and where to protect these birds when they are away from their breeding grounds, conservation efforts cannot be effective. RTPI supports programs that study critical wintering habitats for migratory birds, investigate diseases that impact amphibian populations worldwide in the areas where we can learn the most, and provide opportunities for high school and college students to get involved in these, and other hands-on conservation research projects.


A student records bird and insect calls in Costa Rica – photo by Twan Leenders

Leenders recently returned from a trip to Central America with student researchers; this time to conduct studies on some of the last surviving Limosa Harlequin Toads, while also advancing research on several new species of amphibians and reptiles. These investigations are ongoing, and will increasingly provide opportunities for local students to get involved. One product of his various research projects in Central America is a new field guide to the amphibians of Costa Rica – Leenders’ third field guide featuring tropical biodiversity. This book, published by Cornell University Press, is due out in January 2017.

Like Roger Tory Peterson, he uses his photographic skills to increase awareness and appreciation for the organisms that he studies, both locally and abroad. We are excited to share some of his stunning images and fascinating stories here to highlight the work by RTPI staff, research associates, and student researchers.

'Atelopus limosus' in it's Panamanian Rainforest habitat.

Limosa Harlequin Toad in it’s rainforest habitat – photo by Twan Leenders

Please visit RTPI for a special exhibition featuring the photography of Twan Leenders. We will host a free public event to open Twan’s exhibit on Thursday, October 20th from 6-8 pm, and at 7pm he will lead a gallery talk during which guests will learn about his work in the tropics and have the opportunity to meet some live rainforest denizens – poison-dart frogs from his private collection. In our main galleries you will also be able to enjoy original artwork by Roger Tory Peterson and the exhibit Rainforest Adventures, consisting of works by artist Jan Lutz.