Barro Colorado Island, a treasure in the middle of Gatun Lake

The first three days of our course we visited the Nature Monument of Barro Colorado Island (BCI), one of the most important Field Research Station in the Neotropic and administrated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). Barro Colorado was established in 1923 as a Biological Reserve by James Zetek, and entomologist who came for the first time to Panama to study the yellow fever and the malaria diseases during the construction of the Canal. During the next years of the establishment, the station becomes very famous between scientists from the US interested in the flora and fauna of the tropics. Nowadays, the Island receive annually an average of 350 students from Universities all over the world and more than 5,000 visitors for a day-trip whose learn about the different projects related to the ecology and behavior of the flora and fauna of the Island.

Foto BCI_antes y después The new visitor center, is a replica of the first laboratory of the island, this place was the scenery of many scientific discussion and collaboration between scientists. One of the big ideas that were discussed, in 1980 by Stephen Hubbell and Robin Foster, was the establishment of a 50 hectare plot to study the dynamic of the forest. The plot is located in the plateau of the island, 145m over the sea level. Every tree and vine in this plot has been identified, mapped and tagged and every 5 years there is a census that quantifies and answer question like: How many trees died? How is the distribution of the different species? How fast the gaps are recovered? Most recently, with the climate change, and international collaboration with more than 10 countries, 46 plot have been stablished in different parts of the tropic following the same methodology developed in Barro Colorado.
We also had the opportunity to walk through different trails which names honor the pioneer’s scientist of the Island, like: the entomologist William M. Willer, the herpetologist Thomas Barbour and the first keepers and research assistants Fausto and Donato. During these walks we were accompanied by a new generation of researchers that have been working on the Island for several years. Lissy Colie and Tom Kursar, using the Iga genus as an example, explained us the ecology and evolution of the plants chemical defense and how different species of plants can coexist in a small area as Barro Colorado. Meg Croofot and Chritine Rhiel talked about the behavioral ecology in White-face capuchin monkey and the Greater Ani respectively.
STRI and Barro Colorado had served to the scientific community for almost one hundred years, offering them all the facilities and the tools to develop the most Incredibles ideas and experiments. Hopefully, this collaboration continues for another hundred years for the good of knowledge and humanity.

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