The Panama Canal Watershed is perhaps one of the tropics' clearest examples of ecosystem services in action. The basin’s fresh water transports four percent of seafaring world trade, generates $2.5 billion in annual revenue and sustains one of the fastest growing economies in the world today. Named for the Agua Salud River, the 700-hectare Panama Canal Watershed Project seeks to explain how different landscapes common in the rural tropics — from intact forests to cattle ranches — impact ecosystem services in an era of exploding population growth, ecosystem degradation, and global climate change.


Agua Salud’s experimental plots include native tree plantations, silvopastoral and shade coffee systems, invasive grasslands, subsistence farms and forest regrowth ranging from a few years to many decades in age. Figuring out the hydrology of the basin — essentially accounting for every last drop of water that passes through it — is a primary goal of the project. Reforestation with native species, carbon sequestration, biodiversity restoration and disease ecology are also part of one of STRI’s fastest-growing research platforms. The research aims to inform policymaking decisions that have implications for billions of people throughout the tropics. The project’s large-scale reforestation and mixed-use experiments attract researchers interested in facets of landscape regeneration ranging from economics to the restoration of biodiversity.