The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute was founded with the purpose of increasing and sharing knowledge about the past, present and future of tropical ecosystems and their relevance to human welfare. This work began in Panama in 1910, when the Smithsonian led one of the world’s first major environmental impact studies, which surveyed and catalogued the flora and fauna of the lowland tropical forests that would be flooded with the creation of the Panama Canal. A century later, the Smithsonian in Panama is a standard-setting global platform for groundbreaking research on tropical forests and marine ecosystems and their astounding biodiversity.

Today, STRI employs 40 staff scientists and hosts some 1,400 scientific visitors every year, from undergrads and interns to postdoctoral investigators and tenured research associates. Together, they collaborate on 350 running research projects and publish more than 400 peer reviewed articles in scientific journals every year. The research is not only shared widely around the global scientific community, but also reaches policymakers in Panama and beyond, receives media coverage around the globe, and is the foundation of an outreach and training program that reaches hundreds of teachers and tens of thousands of schoolchildren every year.


Staff scientists


Visitors every year


Research projects


Peer-reviewed articles on scientific journals every year

Our platform: The isthmus of Panama

STRI has research facilities and field stations across the Republic of Panama. Most of STRI’s facilities are located along the Panama Canal and provide easy access to the highly contrasting ecosystems separated by the narrow Isthmus of Panama.

Leadership team

Joshua Tewksbury

Ira Rubinoff Director

Tewksbury is an ecologist, evolutionary and conservation biologist. He holds a PhD in Organismal Biology and Ecology from the University of Montana (2000) and served as Professor of Natural History at the University of Washington (2003-2012). Tewksbury launched the Luc Hoffman Institute in Switzerland and founded Anthropocene Magazine. Most recently, he directed the Colorado Global Hub of Future Earth.

Oris Sanjur

Deputy Director

Sanjur graduated from the University of Panama in 1991 and completed her Ph.D. in molecular biology at Rutgers University in 1998. She served as the president of the Panamanian Association for the Advancement of Science from 2006 to 2009. Her duties include maintaining a high standard of operational support for STRI researchers.

Martijn Slot

Chair of Scientific Council

Slot combines experiments, field observations and measurements in the lab to understand how environmental conditions influence plant growth, survival, and reproduction, and how rising temperatures might change the carbon dynamics of tropical trees and soils. He completed his PhD at the University of Florida and was a postdoctoral fellow at STRI for 6 years before joining STRI as a staff scientist in 2020.

Jorge Morales

Director of Finance and Administration

Mr. Morales has 30 years’ experience in finance, telecommunications, health, exports, banking, and technology. He holds a B.A. in economics from the University of Florida, Gainesville; studied management at Northeastern University, and English and Finance at Harvard University. He serves as principal advisor to the Director’s Office for finance and administration, overseeing all financial, procurement, administrative and information technology services.

Owen McMillan

Dean of Academic Programs

McMillan earned his Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii and did postdoctoral research at University College London. His active research program in ecological and evolutionary functional genomics focuses on: i) butterfly wing color pattern variation, ii) plasticity and adaptation in population resilience, and iii) adaptation and speciation in coral reef fishes. McMillan also stewards STRI’s vibrant and diverse academic community.

Rodrigo Ramírez Blázquez

Associate Director for Legal and External Affairs

Ramírez Blázquez has a legal and political science degree from Panama’s Universidad Católica Santa María La Antigua, a masters degree in law from Tulane University and an MBA from the Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencias y Tecnología. He joined STRI as legal counsel in 2004 and currently oversees legal and external affairs.

Linette Dutari

Associate Director for Communications

Dutari holds a bachelor’s in science and chemical engineering from Louisiana State University and a Master’s in International Business Management from the University of London. Before joining STRI, she was a global communications advisor at ExxonMobil in Washington, D.C., and was marketing, corporate affairs and retail manager at Puma Energy in Panama. Dutari heads STRI’s communications and public programs teams.

Xenia Saavedra

Associate Director for Science Administration

Saavedra has bachelor’s degrees in biology and computer sciences from St. Edward’s University and an MBA with an emphasis in project management. She held contracts at STRI beginning in 1987 for projects including the Oil Spill Project and the Panama Paleontology Project in 1993. Since 1999, she has served in the office of the Associate Director for Science Administration (ADSA).

Rocio Atencio

Human Resources Director

Atencio has over 15 years of experience in areas such as Human Resources, Talent, Payroll, and Finance at large multinationals such as HSBC, Dell, KIO Networks and UN Missions such as UNFPA. Her professional experience includes executive level management, strategic planning, recruitment, training/employee development, employee relations and payroll. She works closely with leadership to ensure a transformation of STRI to a people-centered organization. 

Ernesto Cole

Diversity Manager

Ernesto has 13 years of experience in Human Resources and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI), and accessibility at large organizations such as Amazon and Comcast. Ernesto is working closely with the Head and Deputy Director of The Diversity Office at the Smithsonian Institute, focused on the mission, vision, principles, and plan for DEI at STRI that aligns with Smithsonian Institute.

Luis Guardia

Director of Facilities Office

Guardia holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Universidad Santa Maria la Antigua, and is a Licensed Professional Civil Engineer in the Republic of Panama. Prior to joining STRI, he worked for 15 years in the private sector of the construction industry in Panama for residential and commercial projects. He has worked at STRI since 2012 and currently heads STRI’s Facilities Office.


Office of the Director

Oversight for facilities, staff scientists and scientific support staff

Joshua Tewksbury

Oris Sanjur
Deputy Director

Academic Programs

Fellowships, internships and field courses for undergraduate students

Owen McMillan
Dean of Academic Programs and staff scientist


Fundraising strategy and donor stewardship


Media, public relations and outreach programs

Linette D. Dutari
Associate Director, Communications

External and Legal Affairs

Relations with the Panamanian government and legal issues

Rodrigo Ramírez-Blásquez
Associate Director, Legal and External Affairs


Emergencies and security issues

Advisory board

The Advisory Board of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute was established by the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents to provide advice, support and expertise to STRI. The board supports STRI’s mission by advising the director on major issues, making recommendations for public relations and external affairs, assisting with fundraising and acting as advocates and ambassadors for STRI by developing relationships with the institute’s various constituencies.

Members of STRI’s Advisory Board, the Fundación Smithsonian and scientists meet at the Punta Culebra Nature Center.

Fundación Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Foundation of Panama (Fundación Smithsonian en Panamá) is a volunteer group consisting of prominent Panamanian and foreign businesspersons and public figures. The foundation acts as an advisor on external affairs, public relations and general operations in Panama. The foundation also actively promotes STRI science and outreach in Panama and cultivates new resources and support to advance the mission.

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