News / USA

Panama Research Institute Dedicated to Earth's Ecosystem

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City is home to a vast number of species, including mammals, reptiles and insects.
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City is home to a vast number of species, including mammals, reptiles and insects.
TEXT SIZE - +

Every year, about 1,000 scientists from around the world visit the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.  The Institute is one of the oldest and largest facilities of its kind in the world. Its research on flora, fauna and geology is responsible for many recent discoveries about how the Earth's tropical ecosystems work.

Barro Colorado Island

It's 6 o'clock in the morning, and light barely filters through the canopy of this tropical rainforest on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. But neither insects, the lack of light nor the intense humidity deter these scientists. They are looking for monkeys.

Anthropology Professor Stephanie Ramirez studies spider monkeys. “I am interested in knowing how food affects their reproductive potential, because spider monkeys mostly consume fruit, and we noticed that when fruit is not abundant or available they can’t conceive,”  she said.

There are 1,800 monkeys on the island; 39 of them are spider monkeys. Eight of have had radio collars placed around their necks.

Ramirez and her assistant Lauren Mills can locate the animals by picking up their signals with a radio receiver.

Field studies

The two researchers are only a small contingent.  About 1,000 scientists come here every year for field studies.

“The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute here in Panama is something of a mecca for all biologists in the world who are interested in the tropics and in tropical biology,” explains Tony Coates, a scientist emeritus with the Institute.

The Institute was established in Panama 100 years ago. Today, Barro Colorado is the most studied rain forest in the world. 

Abby Bruning came from South Dakota to study ants. “We manipulate their diets.  Either they will be on a high carbohydrate or a high protein diet and at the end we run analyses to see how well they fight off infection, death rates and things like that,” Bruning stated. She studies one of about 200 species of ants here.   

Pink flower trees on the forest’s canopy are Dipteryx Panamensis, better known as Almendro.  The working ants love the flowers and take them home, one petal at a time. It took Azteca ant colony more than a year to build their structure. They are the favorite meal of ant eaters.

Smithsonian scientists estimate there are about 100 species of mammals on this tiny island. More than half of them are bats.  There are 71 species of reptiles and about 30 million insect species.   

“The vast majority of all species of plants and animals live in the tropics.  The vast majority of all the technical knowhow, political will, education and financing are in the temperate world.  How to get those two worlds together is one of the greatest issues facing global conservation,” Coates explained.

Tropical biology library

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is headquartered in Panama City.  Its library, with 70,000 volumes on tropical biology, is regarded by scientists as one of the best in the world.

“It follows the same system as the Library of Congress,” Coates added.   

Nearby, Culebra, a major Smithsonian educational center, is open to the public.  One hundred thousand people, mostly Panamanian school children, visit this center each year. 

“That’s our biggest educational contribution to our host country of Panama,” Coates noted.

As the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama prepares for its centennial, it is also getting ready to launch new research facilities in the town of Gamboa.  

Private donors want STRI to examine subjects of growing concern today, such as the forest's ability to control erosion and to capture carbon from the air, and ways to restore and preserve one of the richest and most important excosystems on the planet.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid