Lisa Corewyn & Kari Brossard Stoos

From IC to Costa Rica, two faculty members forged an unexpected and unwavering partnership to save an endangered species. 

Lisa Corewyn and Kari Brossard Stoos at work in their biosafety laboratory

Assistant professor Lisa Corewyn (L) and associate professor Kari Brossard Stoos at work in their biosafety laboratory in the Center for Health Sciences. (Photo by Angel James '23.) 

For faculty members Lisa Corewyn and Kari Brossard Stoos, a need for the same equipment sparked a state-of-the-art laboratory and a shared journey to the Costa Rican tropical forest to research wild monkeys. 

When Lisa, a biological anthropologist, first approached IC public safety specialist Mark Ross for lab space, he suggested she connect with Kari, a microbiologist with expertise in public health and fighting infectious diseases.  

Lisa didn’t know Kari but felt excited about the possibility of collaborating. “Out of the blue, I emailed Kari,” remembers Lisa, who wanted to advance her international research study on a population of mantled howler monkeys in Costa Rica.  

“It turns out that we used some of the same techniques for our studies,” says Kari, who sought lab space for her research on antibiotic resistance—and how microbes are able to transmit from one population to the next—in human environments. 

Kari and Lisa teamed up, and IC’s first interschool biological safety level 2 laboratory opened in the spring semester of 2018. Initially, the two conducted research separately, orchestrating times to work with their students in the lab. But soon, Kari wondered: “Wouldn't it be better if we worked together and came up with an experience for students that would emphasize both disciplines?” Lisa heartily agreed.   

“It's hard not to be changed at least somewhat when you have the extremely rare privilege of sitting under a tree, in a different country, watching wild monkeys.”  

Lisa Corewyn

On a Mission for Monkeys 

Lisa and Kari’s partnership expanded due to another—increasingly urgent—conservation issue. Census reports showed a precipitous decline in the subspecies of mantled howler monkeys at Hacienda La Pacifica, a 3,000-acre privately owned ranch in the Guanacaste province of northwestern Costa Rica. The species was generally protected from hunting and habitat loss, so the question was, What was driving this decline?   

“We just started talking about health. Were these primates healthy?” Lisa remembers the growing concerns of her and her research team. “That’s when Kari's expertise really started to come in.”   

Kari brought new questions—Do you know their microbiomes? Do you know their healthy blood parameters?—when she traveled to Costa Rica for the first time in summer 2019. “I’m usually in the lab. I study gene expression and protein expression, and I look at how bacteria interact with their microenvironments. And this collaboration challenged me to look at the bigger picture,” says Kari.   

As collaborators at La Pacifica, Lisa and Kari worked closely with local partners, including veterinarians, researchers, and animal rescue centers, as well as other colleagues from all over the world.  

On a typical day, the team usually wakes up around 4 a.m. to locate the monkeys. They listen for their characteristic howling—as howler monkeys boast the loudest call in the terrestrial animal kingdom.

“Everything is dark, but the forest is beautiful and musical and magically buzzing with activity.  The howler calls fill me with joy every time I hear them,” says Kari.    

“It's hard not to be changed at least somewhat when you have the extremely rare privilege of sitting under a tree, in a different country, watching wild monkeys,” agrees Lisa. “They just feed my soul.”  

If Lisa, Kari, and their students (in the field and in the lab) can better understand what’s going on with this otherwise relatively well-protected population of howler monkeys, they can take more direct actions. For instance, they could work with the government to protect corridors and plant appropriate tree species, among many other significant measures—as well as extrapolate their findings for other species of primates. 

“If we have somehow implemented something that helps to conserve this population, that is part of the broader aspects of sustainability—of preserving our world—that is highly important to me,” says Lisa.  


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