The MOCAT observatory is based in the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste  (ACG) in northwestern Costa Rica, which has been identified as a "hotspot" for biological conservation. The project is logistically based within a network of biological stations established throughout the ACG, where NSF-funded teams are conducting research, including an inventory of caterpillars.

The microbial observatory focuses on the detection, characterization, and inventory of caterpillar gut-associated microbiota using classical cultivation techniques as well as molecular biological tools, including the cloning and analysis of “metagenomes” (generated using whole-community DNA extracted from samples).  Microbial diversity associated with caterpillar guts is being compared between caterpillar species, between caterpillars feeding on different host plants, and between caterpillars feeding in the dry- versus the wet forests of Guanacaste.The long-term goal of this study is to determine if microbial diversity parallels animal and plant species diversity in this tropical forest system.
This observatory fosters U.S.-Costa Rican collaborations with researchers at the University of Costa Rica in San Jose.  All cultures and DNA obtained from this project are stored in both US and Costa Rican collections and can be used for future screening of genes and/or novel products (with the appropriate commercial permits from Costa Rica's CONAGEBIO). This project has established a framework for additional microbial diversity inventories in this species-rich area and has had local and global impacts for both cross-disciplinary scientific training and public outreach and education.

A free-flying male Rothschildia lebeau moth has found a caged female and is copulating with her, as part of maintaining the breeding colony of stock caterpillars.