As the new director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, I would like to introduce myself and share a few of STRI’s most important accomplishments in 2014. Before joining STRI this summer, I was associate director for climate and land-use change at the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington, D.C.. Prior to that I led tropical geomorphology research projects in Puerto Rico and Venezuela. I would like to thank staff scientist Bill Wcislo for skillfully guiding STRI before my appointment.SHARING OUR DISCOVERIES
2014 was a year of scientific excellence for STRI. On topics ranging from animal behavior and paleontology to disease ecology and climate change, STRI scientists published 464 scientific articles. Of those, 21 appeared in the prestigious journals Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.WE CONTRIBUTE TO MARINE CONSERVATION
Many of our 350 active research projects helped sustain tropical biodiversity. We are especially proud of staff scientist Héctor Guzmán, whose work on humpback whales led to a traffic separation scheme in the Gulf of Panama. The measure showed reduced potentially lethal ship strikes of cetaceans by 95 percent. With the support of Panama’s government, the measure was adopted by the International Maritime Organization on December 1.
STRI science also contributed significantly to the first fishery management plan for Coiba National Park, a World Heritage Site off Panama’s Pacific coast.WE WELCOME SCIENTISTS AND STUDENTS
STRI continued to be a mecca for scientists and students. In 2014, STRI received almost 1,300 research visitors who represented 380 institutions and 50 nations. STRI ran field courses for more than 200 university students, primarily from the United States and Latin America.CAUSE TO CELEBRATE
I congratulate a number of STRI scientists for recent achievements: Four postdoctoral fellows were appointed to prestigious academic positions. Meg Crofoot joined the University of California at Davis; Christie Riehl, Princeton University; Justin Touchon, Vassar College; and Paula Alexandra Trillo, Gettysburg College.
Stephen Hubbell, the co-founder of STRI’s Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) was presented with the Scientific Achievement Award by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations. Stuart Davies, the director of CTFS-ForestGEO, won the Smithsonian Secretary’s Research Prize for a book on forest ecology.
I am also immensely proud that STRI has three staff scientists, all women, in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences — Nancy Knowlton, Dolores Piperno and Mary Jane West-Eberhard (who also won the coveted Hamilton Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution).
Construction of a new laboratory complex is advancing in Gamboa. In STRI’s neighboring greenhouse labs, six large glass domes were installed where staff scientist Klaus Winter will grow tropical plants under a variety of conditions, including elevated carbon dioxide and temperature. Winter’s research will help us understand how climate change may impact tropical forests. Funding for this project came from the Big Bet fund, honoring STRI director emeritus Ira Rubinoff and supported by donors who value ambitious new ideas in scientific experiments.
STRI opened a new dining hall at the Bocas Del Toro Research Station (BRS), providing the setting for conversations that lead to intellectual exchange and innovation.
WE REACHED AT-RISK SCHOOL KIDS
STRI greatly expanded education and outreach programs thanks to our public programs team. To cap a banner year of outreach fundraising, STRI received a $400,000 three-year grant from the U.S. State Department for an after-school program. Led by STRI mentors, ¡Chispa! has already reached 200 at-risk school children.WE LAUNCHED A POPULAR NEW EXHIBIT
The exhibit at Culebra Point Nature Center, celebrates the Panamanian Golden Frog, Atelopus zeteki, which only survives in captivity. The work of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, featured in the exhibit, aims to keep the Golden Frog and other amphibians free from a deadly fungus until scientists find a way to restore wild populations.TITANOBOA SLITHERED ACROSS CONTINENTS
STRI staff scientist Carlos Jaramillo organized a local exhibition of a to-scale model of the largest snake discovered, the 60-million-year-old Titanoboa, which was as long as a city bus. One Titanoboa model is touring the US, and another is touring Colombia, where the fossils of the snake were discovered.FRANK GEHRY’S BIOMUSEO FEATURES STRI
STRI made major contributions to the new BioMuseo at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. The content of the museum is the fruit of STRI research. The museum tells the story of the rise of the Isthmus of Panama as it joined two continents and separated two oceans. These events changed the world and made Panama one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth.NEW BOOKS
STRI unveiled a visitors guide to the tropics and STRI in both Spanish and English, Smithsonian Channel programming on cable TV in Panama, STRI promotions in cinemas and a series of books on the Island of Cébaco (communication associate Jorge Ventocilla), Kuna birds (coauthored by STRI’s George Angehr), bee pollination (staff scientist David Roubik), and A History of Life in 100 Fossils (Paul Taylor, London’s Natural History Museum, and Aaron O’Dea, STRI).NEW SPECIES
STRI scientists and colleagues named several species new to science this year. Héctor Guzmán described a new coral, Psammogorgia hookeri, from Peru. César Jaramillo and colleagues from Panama named a new poison dart frog, Andinobates geminisae. Ross Robertson of STRI and Carole Baldwin of the National Museum of Natural History discovered several new species of fishes in the deep coral reefs of Curaçao. In addition, Lophiaris silverarum a new orchid, and Windsorispa, a new genus of beetles, were named for STRI scientists.THANK YOU
These are only a few of STRI’s activities this year. As I get to know STRI scientists and staff, I understand more clearly than ever why it is a world-class center for tropical research. We are grateful to our generous hosts, our supporters in the U.S. Congress, the people and government of Panama and our Smithsonian colleagues in Washington, D.C. who support our mission. We are particularly grateful for the generosity of our donors and for the distinguished friends who serve on our Advisory Board and the Fundación Smithsonian.My colleagues at STRI join me in wishing you a prosperous and healthy 2015.