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2023 Smithsonian Secretary Award, Family of tent-making bats sets up camp in the Tupper Plaza and more.

April 2, 2024

2023 Smithsonian Secretary Award

Each year, the Smithsonian Secretary recognizes excellence in recent research by employees across the Institution. Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch II granted one of 2022’s Secretary Research Prizes to Dr. Rachel Page for outstanding work on the volume she co-edited with her close colleague, Ximena Bernal: How Enemies Shape Communication Systems: Sensory Strategies of Prey to Avoid Eavesdropping Predators and Parasites.

Dr. Erin Spear was also honored this year at the March 18 ceremony, invited to give the ninth annual Bruce William “Will” Morrison memorial lecture. Dr. Speak was granted a 2022 Secretary Award for her article “Host-generalist fungal pathogens of seedlings may maintain forest diversity via host-specific impacts and differential susceptibility among tree species.” Congratulations, Dr. Page and Dr. Spear!

Multinational SELFCURE project investigates self-medication in bats

For two weeks this March, researchers from Ukraine, Germany, and Oklahoma joined STRI’s Bat Lab for the kickoff field season of SELFCURE: Evolutionary and cognitive processes underlying self‐medication of immune‐challenged bats. Daniel Becker of the University of Oklahoma leads the immunological analyses, Rachel Page of STRI oversees the behavioral and cognition experiments, and Ralph Simon of Nuremberg Zoo leads the AI-based individual identification technology using bat wing scans.

This project, which is funded by the Human Frontier Science Program Organization, received additional funding through the “Scientists for Scientists” initiative together with funds from the European Commission, to support Ukrainian scientists affected by the war in their country. Two Ukrainian scientists, Kseniia Kravchenko and Maryna Yerofieieva, came for this field season on Barro Colorado Island and Gamboa. Three more Ukrainian scientists will join for the next Panama field season in November.

Family of tent-making bats sets up camp in the Tupper plaza

This month, you might have seen a family of tent-making bats (Uroderma bilobatum) roosting outside the Tupper auditorium. To create an attractive nesting site for his harem, this male chewed the fronds of a toquilla palm so they’d hang down like a lampshade, building the namesake “tent.” Each female has one pup that she carries and nurses for about a month, before the pup fledges and begins to eat fruit like its parents.

To learn more about the parenting and fledging behavior of this bat species, you can watch this video from STRI Fellow Jenna Kohles. The Smithsonian Bat Lab welcomes you to check out these tent-making bats and babies over the next few weeks before they fledge. To learn more about bats in general, you can visit the Gamboa Bat Nights on the first Sunday of each month. If you have any questions, please email

Students explore Panamá’s environmental and social challenges through fellowship

For five weeks in January and February, a dozen students learned from Panama’s tropical diversity as part of the STRI-McGill University Neotropical Environment Option (NEO) program. The course, which has a legacy of Latin American student involvement over the last two decades, teaches students about the complex environmental and social challenges facing the tropics. This year, just six of the students were enrolled in McGill’s NEO program; the other six participated in the course as Social-Ecological Field Science Fellows. Recent graduates from universities in Panama, Nicaragua, Colombia, Costa Rica and Bolivia these Fellows had expenses for participation in the course funded by the Islas Secas Foundation and STRI.x`

The Smithsonian’s Sidedoor podcast visits Panama

From tracking monkeys to tasting some of the world’s most expensive coffee, Sidedoor host Lizzie Peabody and producer James Morrison explored the various research happening here at STRI. Over the next three episodes, Sidedoor will release podcasts on capuchin monkeys, the GEO-TREES project, and the Bird Friendly Coffee Initiative. You can listen to their newest episode, “Monkeyin’ Around on the Devil’s Island” here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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