I did my undergrad in Colombia and I can not remember how many times in my ecology class the professors mentioned the Barro Colorado Island field station to refer to most of the pioneer tropical studies. This 1,500-hectare island is the birthplace of theories that changed the pathway of tropical ecology; from Janzen and Connell to the more recent Hubbell´s neutral theory, these studies have in common the magnificence of this Panamanian forest. In Colombia I had the opportunity to go to different forests and test many of the hypotheses that once started so close to this forest, but at the same time they were far way. While doing my undergrad and my master studies I never had the opportunity to visit Panama, and for many years I had to settle with what the papers described of BCI, a simple task since the Colombian forests shape my tropics. But in my mind I always wondered what was so special about this island that attracts so many remarkable scientists and produces such incredible results?
It was not until 2013 that I had the opportunity to visit the island for the first time. That year a friend who works as a postdoctoral fellow took me to visit part of his field site. After Camilo dug up some of the seeds he buried to evaluate the effect of microbes on seed dormancy, I took a walk along a short trail to explore the forest. Forests on BCI were very similar to the forests I was used to in my home country, and back then my visit was not what I expected, even though I was waiting for so long to walk BCI trails.
After having returned as part of the IGERT course, even though the forest was the same, the experience was completely different. This time I was not by myself walking the forest but with the ones who have been living and working there for so many years. Having the opportunity to spend two entire days with some of the top scientists working in BCI was priceless and full of learning. Lissy Colie, Tom Kusar, Brian Sedio, Scott Mangan and Andy Jones were just a few of the many scientists that lecture about tropical forests dynamics.
Meg Crofoot spent all morning showing us her studies with mammals. Thanks to the collars she has on the individuals we were able to follow capuchin monkeys, hollow monkeys and coatis. In the field she showed us how she and her students are collecting data on how mammals are moving around the island. The main goal is to understand why animals decide to feed from specific trees, and what characteristics of the fruit content in each tree control animal behavior.
Christine Rhiel, Janeene Touchton and Henry Pollok spent the other part of the day on the island with us teaching us the bird biodiversity of the island and pointing out important facts of each species.Thank to all of them.