Scio me nihil scire

The Socratic paradox “scio me nihil scire” (I know that I know nothing) is a perfect translation of what I am feeling these last six days. Some could interpret that feeling as disappointed or distressing, but I decided to deal with it in a different perspective, and all the unanswered questions became, in fact, inspiring.

I am amazed how each talk and walking into the forest fills my head with questions and ideas. One thing that specially got stuck in my head and that I intend to take for the rest of my academic life is how you shouldn’t be afraid to think “big”. During a walking into the Barro Colorado Island (BCI) plot, Andy Jones explained us what was the original objective of the plot and how huge and innovative the idea was. The plot is a 5 ha area established in 1980 in a Panamanian island and It has been used to map all plants of at least 10mm of diameter. The main idea for the establishment of the plot was to follow the community dynamics along the years. Therefore, it is possible to analyze forest responses regarding phenomena as climate change and the El Ninõ.

Another important moment happened during the butterfly walk yesterday, group which I am especially interested. During the explanation, Owen McMillan and Carlos Arias cited some of the evolutionary questions that could be addressed using a Nymphalidae Tropical genus – Heliconius. These unpalatable butterflies are well known for their müllerian mimicry, in which different taxa presents similar color patterns, reinforcing the toxicity advertisement to predators. They are important as a model to study evolutionary questions regarding adaptation, natural selection and speciation, due to the variety of color patterns, habitats, the large number of subspecies and hybrid forms. So, as I am a “butterfly person” and have always been interested in evolutionary aspects of diversification, I am trying to embrace Andy Jones’ suggestion and think “big”. I want to answer questions like: “how and when the reproductive isolation emerges in the evolutionary history of sibling taxa?”, “what is the role of hybrids in speciation processes?” and “how genomes diverge?”

In these last days I have learned a lot about the importance of scientific questions, as they are drives for our research decisions. The idea of not be afraid to take risks has truly helped me to rethink the way I observe the world, increasing my desire to look for answers.



Butterfly’s morning at Fort Sherman


Arias, C. F., Rosales, C., Salazar, C., Castan, J., Bermingham, E., Linares, M., McMillan, W. O. 2012. Sharp genetic discontinuity across a unimodal Heliconius hybrid zone. Molecular Ecology, 21: 5778–5794.

Condit, R., Aguilar, S., Hernandez, A., Perez, R., Lao, S., Angehr, G., Hubbellf, S. P., Foster, R. B. 2004. Tropical forest dynamics across a rainfall gradient and the impact of an El Niño dry season. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 20:51-72.

Leigh, E. G. 1975. Structure and Climate in Tropical Rain Forest. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 6: 67-86.

Sheppard, P. M., Turner, J. R. G., Brown, K. S., Benson, W. W., Singer, M. C. 1985. Genetics and the evolution of Müellerian mimicry in Heliconius butterflies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 308:433–610.


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