Panama  PANAMÁ 17/03/2022

A decade of deep-reef exploration in the Greater Caribbean

The use of submersibles exponentially increased recorded diversity of islands’ deep-reef fish faunas

The mysteries of underwater life have long been a source of inspiration for writers, filmmakers, and marine biologists. But scientists interested in understanding the biological diversity of the oceans are often limited by the relatively shallow depths accessible via scuba diving. Small research submersibles, while expensive, allow for the exploration of much deeper waters. A new paper co-authored by researchers at the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), the University of Washington and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras describes the important contribution of submersibles to increasing our knowledge about the diversity of deep-reef fishes in the Greater Caribbean.

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 04/03/2022

Smelly ocelot habitats may scare off seed-dispersing rodents

An experiment in Panama’s Parque Natural Metropolitano and Gamboa revealed that agoutis were less likely to disperse and pilfer seeds in sites where ferocious felines roam

When going through stressful situations, some people lose their appetite. Similarly, animals that are scared for their lives tend to eat less. In nature, this behavioral change could have downstream effects. Dumas Galvez, a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) wondered how fear of predation could influence the consumption patterns of important seed dispersers such as the Central American agouti, a rodent that loves munching on the seeds of Attalea butyracea, a tropical palm tree also known as corozo, palma real o palma de vino.

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 15/02/2022

Eyes in the Sky: drones help solve tropical tree mortality mysteries

Understanding when and where trees die in vast tropical forests is a challenging first step toward understanding carbon dynamics and climate change

Imagine trying to understand how climate change affects vast tropical forests by determining how many trees die each year. Clouds get in the way of satellite views and on-the-ground estimates are expensive and impractical in remote areas. But researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) are excited by a new analysis that explains variation in tree mortality based on drone images of 1500 hectares of the most-studied tropical forest, Barro Colorado Island, in Panama.

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 31/01/2022

'Squatina mapama', first report of an angel shark from the Central American Caribbean

Genetic analyses helped identify a new cryptic species of the genus Squatina from the Western Atlantic Ocean

Between 2010 and 2011, two research expeditions sponsored by the Spanish government exploring the biodiversity of benthic organisms —those living on the ocean floor— on Central America’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts, came across a new shark species. The Squatina mapama n. sp., collected off the Caribbean coast of Panama became the first record of an angel shark from the Central American Caribbean. A new paper co-authored by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute staff scientist, D. Ross Robertson, described and named it.

 

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 18/01/2022

A group of high school students describe how 'Azteca alfari' ants respond to damage to their host plant

Fortuitous discovery: accidental tree wound reveals novel symbiotic behavior

One afternoon, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Panama, a bored teenager with a slingshot and a clay ball accidentally shot entry and exit holes in a Cecropia tree trunk. These are “ant-plant” trees, which famously cooperate with fierce Azteca ants; the trees provide shelter and food to the ants, and in exchange the ants defend their leaves against herbivores. The next morning, to his surprise, the Azteca alfari ants living within the Cecropia trunk had patched up the wound.

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 22/12/2021

Engineering drought-resistant plants may be more difficult than it seems

The adaptation of certain plants to drought and high temperatures involves a fundamental reprogramming of their metabolism, not just a simple adjustment that can be made by regular plants

Drought and high temperatures often cause significant yield losses in valuable food crops. As climate change increases the frequency of weather extremes, interest has been growing in bioengineering crop plants with the same drought-tolerance mechanisms present in plant species from very hot areas. But is it really possible to achieve this? Understanding the evolution of plants’ abilities to survive these extremes is part of a new study by Klaus Winter, senior staff scientist at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and J. Andrew C. Smith at the University of Oxford. Their findings indicate that bioengineering drought-resistant plants may not be as easy as some scientists have proposed.

 

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 10/12/2021

Secondary forests restore fresh water sources in degraded landscapes

Analyses of microbial communities in streams across different land use types suggests that passive reforestation rapidly restores water quality in lowland tropical watersheds

New research, published in Scientific Reports by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) postdoctoral fellow Karina Chavarria and colleagues, shows that bacterial communities in streams adjacent to young secondary forests recover to resemble those of mature forest streams in as little as a decade after cattle has been removed from the land, and that these communities are robust throughout the year.

 

 
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Chile  CHILE 02/12/2021

What genetic drivers control the longevity of a species?

That was the central question of a new study published this month in the Science journal. And one of the authors was our UC Chile professor Juliana Vianna

A group of scientists of various universities studied the lifespan of fish. Why? Because some species have wide variations in lifespan even though they are the same family: rockfish.

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 12/11/2021

Orchid bees show remarkable resistance to major climate events

The longest continuous study of euglossines in the tropics found relatively stable populations of these wild bees over four decades

In the tropical forest of Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama, metallic blue, green, gold and red bees follow the fragrances of flowering orchids. Male euglossine, or orchid bees, are wild New World bees attracted to the strong scents produced by flowers, fungi and fruit in nature. These pollinators’ populations, and their response to major climatological events, are the focus of long-term studies by David Roubik and Yves Basset, both staff scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).

 

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 08/10/2021

Vine takeover

The accelerated proliferation of these woody vines, due to natural disturbance, is altering forest structure, regeneration and functioning

Lianas are the bridges of the tropical forest. These long, woody vines contribute to the high diversity of tropical plants and, by linking forest trees together, they also help animals move about the canopy. However, their abundance is increasing dramatically, which may be linked to natural forest disturbance. To test this hypothesis, a team led by Stefan Schnitzer, a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), followed the fate of more than 117,000 rooted liana stems over a 10-year period in a 50-ha area of old-growth forest in Panama’s Barro Colorado Island (BCI).

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 18/05/2021

Informed tourists make whale watching safer for whales

How does whale watching affect whale behavior? Who watches whales in Panama’s Las Perlas Archipelago? Researchers from STRI and ASU hope to recommend innovative data-based conservation strategies

According to the International Whaling Commission, whale-watching tourism generates more than $2.5 billion a year. After the COVID-19 pandemic, this relatively safe outdoor activity is expected to rebound. Two new studies funded by a collaborative initiative between the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama and Arizona State University (ASU) show how science can contribute to whale watching practices that ensure the conservation and safety of whales and dolphins.

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 19/04/2021

How will the biggest tropical trees respond to climate change?

Scientists think that climate change may have greater impact the largest trees in tropical forests. but because these monumental trees are few and far between, almost nothing is known about what causes them to die.

Giant trees in tropical forests, witnesses to centuries of civilization, may be trapped in a dangerous feedback loop according to a new report in Nature Plants from researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama and the University of Birmingham, U.K. The biggest trees store half of the carbon in mature tropical forests, but they could be at risk of death as a result of climate change—releasing massive amounts of carbon back into the atmosphere.

 

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 07/04/2021

How the Chicxulub Impactor gave rise to modern rainforests

About 66 million years ago, a huge asteroid crashed into what is now the Yucatan, plunging the Earth into darkness. The impact transformed tropical rainforests, giving rise to the reign of flowers.

Tropical rainforests today are biodiversity hotspots and play an important role in the world’s climate systems. A new study published today in Science sheds light on the origins of modern rainforests and may help scientists understand how rainforests will respond to a rapidly changing climate in the future.

 

 
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Venezuela  VENEZUELA 05/03/2021

Is odor the secret to bats' sex appeal?

Odors come from very different parts of bats' bodies, from their heads and mouths to their wings or genitalia

When falling in love, humans often pay attention to looks. Many non-human animals also choose a sexual partner based on appearance. Male birds may sport flashy feathers to attract females, lionesses prefer lions with thicker manes and colorful male guppies with large spots attract the most females. But bats are active in the dark. How do they attract mates? Mariana Muñoz-Romo, a senior Latin American postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and National Geographic explorer, pioneers research to understand the role of odors in bat mating behavior.

 

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 02/03/2021

First DNA extracted from modern, ancient and fossil tropical shells

The next time you eat seafood, think about the long-term effects. Will consistently eating the biggest fish or the biggest conch, mean that only the smaller individuals will have a chance to reproduce?

In Wonderland, Alice drank a potion to shrink herself. In nature, some animal species shrink to escape the attention of human hunters, a process that takes from decades to millennia. To begin to understand the genetics of shrinking, scientists working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama successfully extracted DNA from marine shells. Their new technique will not only shed light on how animals from lizards to lemurs shrink, it will reveal many other stories hidden in shells.

 

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 26/02/2021

Are eastern pacific corals climate change survivors?

A tech entrepreneur who dreamed of becoming a marine biologist teams up with STRI researchers and young Latin American biologists to find out if some coral reefs are more resilient than others

 

Coral reefs cover 1% of the Earth’s surface – but are home to 25% of the world’s marine species. Reefs are under threat from climate change, but a team of researchers from STRI has embarked on a four-year quest to solve a tantalizing mystery: why do some corals in the Tropical Eastern Pacific seem to be more resistant to the damaging effects of climate change than corals elsewhere? By unlocking the secrets of these “super-corals,” they hope to help rescue and restore coral reefs worldwide.

 
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Portugal  PORTUGAL 19/02/2021

How larger brains can predict social behaviours

Team of researchers, co-led by IGC principal investigator Rui Oliveira, discovered that the size of the brain is important for complex social decision making

Eager to understand how the environment can impact animal cognitive performance, a team of researchers discovered that, in cleaner fish from the Great Barrier Reef, the size of the brain is important for complex social decision making. The study published in Nature Communications suggests that large forebrains (the forward-most portion of the brain) enable individuals to adapt better to local environmental conditions, important data to add to the study of coral reef ecosystems.

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 08/01/2021

Male bats with high testosterone levels have large forearm crusts

Male Fringe-Lipped bats smear a sticky, odorous substance on their forearms. When this was discovered, researchers guessed that it might play a role in mating

Males may put a lot of effort into attracting females. Male peacocks flaunt eye-catching trains, but male bats, because they are active at night, may rely on females’ sense of smell to draw them in. Three years ago, Victoria Flores, a predoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama, discovered that male fringed-lipped bats often have a sweet-smelling, crusty substance on their forearms. Because only males had crusts and primarily exhibited these crusts during the putative reproductive season, Flores speculated that crusts might play a role in mating. Now Mariana Muñoz-Romo, postdoctoral fellow at STRI and National Geographic Explorer, and her colleagues have evidence to prove it.

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 28/12/2020

Sea urchins are stuck belly up in low-oxygen hot water

As oceans warm and become more acidic and oxygen-poor, Smithsonian researchers asked how marine life on a Caribbean coral reef copes with changing conditions

“During my study, water temperatures on reefs in Bocas del Toro, Panama, reached an alarming high of almost 33 degrees C (or 91 degrees F), temperatures that would make most of us sweat or look for air conditioning—options not available to reef inhabitants,” said Noelle Lucey, post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).

 
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Panama  PANAMÁ 16/12/2020

Smithsonian scientist clears up Panamanian urban legend

How did canal grass arrive in Panama? STRI staff scientist Kristin Saltonstall compared the DNA of sugar cane relatives from around the world to find out

Urban legends about the origins of canal grass in Panama abound, but the Smithsonian has new evidence that puts the question to rest. Canal grass is an invasive weed, native to Asia. Because its tiny seeds blow in the wind, it readily invades clearings and spreads to form impenetrable stands by budding from tillers and rhizomes. Once established, canal grass is challenging to eliminate. Fire burns the tops and stimulates the roots. Glassy hairs edging its leaf blades cut skin and dull machetes.

 
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