Fellows Symposium

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Where bright
young minds meet

February 19, 2019

Panama City, Panama

The diverse community of students working in the Panamanian tropics learn from each other during STRI’s two-day fellowship symposium.

Eva Arroyo

Percent of tree mortality attributable to lianas on Barro Colorado Island and Pasoh

We investigate what percentage of tree mortality is due to lianas and how this varies with sun exposure and by species. Understanding this aspect of large tree mortality is particularly important due to the uncertainties in large tree mortality in the tropics and lack of lianas in tropical forest models.

KC Clark

Changes in the carbon cycle measured in river particulate organic carbon when pasture lands are reforested

Along with global warming comes modifications to the carbon cycle. River carbon cycling is a natural process which transports eroded soil from the landscape. My research focus is to assess how the carbon cycle changes when pasture lands are reforested.

Friederike Clever

Dietary versatility of coral reef fishes in response to habitat degradation

The extent to which coral reef fishes manage to expand or switch diet as a behavioural response to environmental changes remains poorly known. Using a DNA-based approach we revealed dietary responses to variation in coral cover, indicating a behavioural switch from browsing towards active predation.

Carolina Concha

Comparative knock-out of WntA across 14 mimetic and divergent Heliconius butterflies

Capitalizing on our recent discovery that the molecule WntA plays a prominent role in butterfly wing patterning, we explore how signalling pathways evolve to generate convergent and divergent wing patterns within the neotropical butterfly genus, Heliconius.

Carlos De Gracia

The taxonomy of fossil billfishes (Istiophoridae)

Taxonomy of fossil billfishes (Istiophoridae) is problematic due to the difficulty of finding complete specimens and features needed to discriminate between taxa. We present a new method for species identification and findings that increased the fossil record of istiophorids, demonstrating a higher diversity than previously expected.

May Dixon

The influence of bats on the nocturnal soundscape

Currently, we do not know how much bat predators influence different groups of nocturnal noise-makers or how eavesdropping gleaners may acoustically partition the night soundscape. In this study, we identified a number of animal sounds that may be under selection from bats and confirmed passive eavesdropping in a number of bat species.

Gloria Gessinger

Hunting moths within the forest:
Lonchorhina aurita (Chiroptera: Phyllostomidae) catches aerial prey.

We observed the hunting behaviour of L. aurita in a flight cage offering free-flying and tethered moths. Both free-flying moths as well as tethered moths were sucessfully captured and feeding buzzes were emitted during prey capture. This indicates that L. aurita uses an areal hunting strategy, which represents a distinct evolutionary contrast to almost all other animalivorous phyllostomid bats.

Jennifer Gil Acevedo

The Invisible Story of Microalgae

This research is both educational and scientific. The scientific aspect of the research is to identify the taxonomy of microalgae through the Panama Canal. Finally, I aim to communicate the importance of microalgae to everyone through the use of our five senses.

Callum Kingwell

Chemical fertility signaling in a flexibly eusocial insect

The evolutionary origins of social insect ‘Queen Pheromones’ (QPs) remain enigmatic. We studied the pheromones of flexibly social Megalopta genalis bees in Central Panamá, and suggest that QPs originate via social selection on reliable chemical cues of fertility whose physiological links to reproduction show deep phylogenetic conservation.

Chris Madsen

A Comparison of Crown and Root-system Extent of 5 Tropical Tree Species in the Context of a Planted Forest Diversity Experiment

Research to understand root-system interactions has been limited, and comparisons of above- and below-ground interactions remain unclear. The present work analyzes the effects of species identity, plot species richness and the relative mean height of immediate neighbours on crown area, root-system traits and a combination of crown and root-system traits.

Andrew Nottingham

SWELTR (the heat is on)

Here I describe SWELTR (Soil Warming Experiment in Lowland Tropical Rainforest), a soil warming experiment undertaken on Barro Colorado Island and designed to improve our understanding of biogeochemical feedbacks resulting from climate warming.

Christina Smith

Determining the resistance of lianas and trees to drought using xylem pit membrane anatomy and visualization of embolisms

The goal of this project was to determine how lianas and trees respond to water availability and predict vulnerability to drought by measuring their pit membranes thickness. Results suggest that thicker pit membranes potentially permit species in the dry forest to withstand greater water deficit.

Nicole Smith

External Auditory Exostoses in Pre-Columbian Panama and their Association with Diving Activities in the Gulf of Panama

Clinical research implicates low sea surface temperatures as a strong predictor of external auditory exostosis development in people participating in aquatic activities. My study of pre-Columbian human remains in Panama suggests it predominantly affected male individuals involved in intensive diving activities in the cold, upwelled waters of the Gulf of Panama.

Ummat Somjee

The hidden cost of sexually selected weapons

To understand the costs associated with the metabolic maintenance of sexually selected weapons in animals, we examine an insect that autotomizes its enlarged hind legs to isolate the metabolic rate associated with its maintenance. We found that this sexually selected weapon accounted for a large proportion of energy expenditure at rest.

Holly Sweat

Investigating the role of microbes in benthic community structure

Microbes, such as bacteria and diatoms, are ubiquitous components of benthic marine systems. This presentation will highlight projects that explore the role of microbes in fouling community development and discuss ongoing surveys of the fouling microbiome at several Panama sites.

Valencia, Korina

Seeds rain in Tropical Dry Forest in different successional states
of the Botanical Garden of Cali, Valle del Cauca- Colombia.

Tropical dry forests (TDF) represent some of the most degraded and threatened ecosystems in the world, and therefore are a conservation priority. The purpose of this research was to generate information that could contribute to the conservation and restoration of dry forests.

Jay Falk

Multiple color morphs are common in males across animal taxa and are models for understanding variation in sexually selected signals, yet female-limited polychromatism is rare. Our ongoing behavioral experiments attempt to understand the selective forces shaping female coloration among white-necked jacobins, and female fitness in general.

Sharon Martinson

The song and dance of the night: life & death signaling in neotropical katydids

How does conflicting selection pressure (from mates versus predators) contribute to variation in katydid signaling behavior, and ultimately, biodiversity? Our preliminary results with the katydid community of Barro Colorado Island suggest that the animals have a wide diversity of morphological and ecological traits, and that there are a few different strategies that have evolved within the katydids for dealing with strong selection.

Mariana Muñoz

Exploring the biological significance of male crusts of the fringe-lipped bat, Trachops cirrhosus (Chiroptera: Phyllostomidae)

The odorous crust recently described on the forearms of adult male fringe-lipped bats, Trachops cirrhosus, is an elaborated trait created by sexually mature males via a complex series of stereotypical behaviors. My research investigates this fascinating male strategy to attract females and reproduce.

Monica Carvalho

We describe the floristic composition of Late Cretaceous forests in northern South America using the pollen and leaf fossil record. We also evaluate the impact of the End-Cretaceous mass extinction on these early tropical forests, suggesting that it could have enabled the evolution of Neotropical rainforests as we know them today.

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