Ecuador  GALÁPAGOS 25/01/2024

Galápagos penguin is exposed to and may accumulate microplastics at high rate within its food web

And excretion rate may determine whether or not these microplastics also bioaccumulate across trophic levels

Modelling shows how microplastics may bioaccumulate in the Galápagos Islands food web, with Galápagos penguins most affected, according to a study published January 24, 2024 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Karly McMullen from the University of British Columbia, Canada, under the supervision of Dr. Juan José Alava and Dr. Evgeny A. Pakhomov of the Institute for the Ocean and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Canada, and colleagues.

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Colombia  COLOMBIA 13/12/2023

It turns out, this fossil plant is really a fossil baby turtle

Researchers nicknamed the fossil “Turtwig” after a Pokemon that’s half-turtle, half-plant

From the 1950s to the 1970s, a Colombian priest named Padre Gustavo Huertas collected rocks and fossils near a town called Villa de Levya. Two of the specimens he found were small, round rocks patterned with lines that looked like leaves; he classified them as a type of fossil plant. But in a new study, published in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica, researchers re-examined these “plant” fossils and found that they weren’t plants at all: they were the fossilized remains of baby turtles.

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Mexico  YUCATÁN 14/11/2023

Yucatán’s underwater caves host diverse microbial communities

New study constructs most extensive map yet of the cave system’s microbiome

With help from an experienced underwater cave-diving team, Northwestern University researchers have constructed the most complete map to date of the microbial communities living in the submerged labyrinths beneath Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Although previous researchers have collected water and microbial samples from the cave entrances and easily accessible sinkholes, the Northwestern-led team reached the deep, dark passageways of unlit waters to better understand what can survive inside this unique underground realm.

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Panama  PANAMÁ 19/06/2023

Scientists catch the suspect in long-term marine murder mystery

Murder mysteries may take decades to resolve, especially if they take place under the sea. The massive deaths of sea urchins in the Caribbean in the 1980’s is one of them

In the early 1980’s marine biologists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama observed dead and dying sea urchins (Diadema antillarum) near the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal. They alerted other marine labs and dive shops across the region—by snail mail, because this was pre-internet—and it soon became evident that a massive sea urchin die-off was underway. The cause was never identified, but the impact was enormous, as around 90% of sea urchins in the Caribbean were killed.

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Spain  MADRID 15/06/2023

“Butterfly chaos effect” discovered in swarms and herds of animals

Findings of UC3M and UCM mathematicians

Researchers at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) have discovered a phase shift between chaotic states that can appear in herds of animals and, in particular, in swarms of insects. This advance may help to better understand their behaviour or be applied to the study of the movement of cells or tumours.

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Panama  PANAMÁ 27/07/2022

As the ocean heats up hungrier predators take control

Marine predation intensifies in warmer waters; could reshape ocean communities as climate changes

A hotter ocean is a hungrier ocean—at least as far as fish predators are concerned. In a new field study published online June 9 in Science, Smithsonian scientists discovered predator impacts in the Atlantic and Pacific peak at higher temperatures. The effects cascade down to transform other life in the ocean, potentially disrupting balances that have existed for millennia.

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Ecuador  GALÁPAGOS 24/05/2022

Just keep swimming … silky sharks are setting records

Tracking silky sharks has revealed them to be swift swimmers. But they’re also one of the most heavily fished sharks globally. Will expanded marine protection in the Tropical Eastern Pacific go far enough to protect these long-distance swimmers?

Shark satellite tagging carried out by scientists from the Guy Harvey Research Institute, the SOSF Shark Research Center, the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galápagos National Park Directorate is shining a light on the travels of vulnerable silky sharks across the Tropical Eastern Pacific. The expansion of marine protected areas here goes some way to protecting silkies during their migrations, but new tracking data reveal that more must be done to save them from extinction.

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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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