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.

489 words
2 Images
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.


600 words
1 Images
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.


687 words
2 Images
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.

576 words
2 Images
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).


458 words
1 Images
1 Audio clips
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).

437 words
1 Images
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.

829 words
2 Images
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.


824 words
2 Images
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.


919 words
3 Images
1 Audio clips
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.


701 words
2 Images
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.


643 words
2 Images
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.

827 words
3 Images
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.

531 words
1 Images
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.

503 words
2 Images
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).

761 words
2 Images
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.

727 words
1 Images
Panama  PANAMÁ 09/11/2020

DNA in fringe-lipped bat poop reveals unexpected eating habits

The poop of 'Trachops cirrhosus' revealed surprising results about its foraging abilities and prey preferences

Poop is full of secrets. For scientists, digging into feces provides insights into animal diets and is particularly useful for understanding nocturnal or rare species. When animals eat, prey DNA travels all the way through animal digestive tracts and comes out again. Poop contains very precise information about the prey species consumed. At the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), a team explored the eating habits of the fringe-lipped bat (Trachops cirrhosus) by examining its poop.

771 words
2 Images
Panama  PANAMÁ 30/10/2020

How the ability to clone itself may empower a mystery globetrotter

It always pays to think outside of the box. Rachel Collin decided to look further afield to find the adult form that matched a larvae from a plankton sample in Panama and was surprised by the result

For decades biologists have captured tiny sea star larvae in their nets that did not match with the adults of any known species. A Smithsonian team just discovered what these larvae grow up to be and how a special superpower may help them move around the world. Their results are published online in the Biological Bulletin.

647 words
2 Images
Panama  PANAMÁ 24/09/2020

How do Giraffes and Elephants alter the african savanna landscape?

Through their foraging behavior across the diverse topography of the African savanna, megaherbivores may be unknowingly influencing the growth and survival of vegetation on valleys and plateaus

As they roam around the African savanna in search for food, giraffes and elephants alter the diversity and richness of its vegetation. By studying the foraging patterns of these megaherbivores across different terrains in a savanna in Kenya, scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and collaborating institutions discovered that these large mammals prefer to eat their meals on flat ground, potentially impacting the growth and survival of plant species on even savanna landscapes, such as valleys and plateaus.

463 words
2 Images
Panama  PANAMÁ 01/09/2020

Mother bats use baby talk to communicate with their pups

Just as humans with their babies, adult female bats change their vocalizations when interacting with “babbling” pups, which could be interpreted as positive feedback to their offspring during vocal practice

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. In eu dui non est venenatis lobortis. Donec iaculis iaculis turpis. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Aliquam vitae arcu. Maecenas justo tortor, eleifend sed, fermentum vitae, condimentum vitae, diam. Vivamus mattis, ligula vitae commodo vulputate, lorem tellus semper nulla, vitae cursus nunc eros ut massa. Curabitur velit pede, lobortis a, ultrices sit amet, suscipit non, erat.Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. In eu dui non est venenatis lobortis. Donec iaculis iaculis turpis. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Aliquam vitae arcu. Maecenas justo tortor, eleifend sed, fermentum vitae, condimentum vitae, diam. Vivamus mattis, ligula vitae commodo vulputate, lorem tellus semper nulla, vitae cursus nunc eros ut massa. Curabitur velit pede, lobortis a, ultrices sit amet, suscipit non, erat.

414 words
1 Images