Tropical Marine Ecology in Panamá

This past month, I had the amazing opportunity to spend 10 days in one of the most biodiverse countries on earth, Panamá! I went to Panamá for an intensive field course, through Duke, titled "Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology."  Throughout the week, we conducted research for 6 different research projects, focused on a variety of different topics and ecosystems, such as corals reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, and terrestrial forest. The projects were:

  1. Effect of Airborne and Waterborne Cues on the Orientation of Hermit Crabs (Coenobita clypeatus and Clibanarius antillensis) and Its Association with Shell Fit
    • We examined the effects of different odors (i.e. predator odor, prey odor and the odor of dead crabs) on the shell fit of the crabs that the odor attracted (i.e. the crabs shell was too big, too small, or a 'perfect' fit)
  2. Dominant Coral Cover on Reefs in Bocas del Toro, Panamá
  3. Sponge Coverage on Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) Prop Roots
    • Previous research has shown that mangroves and sponges have a mutualistic relationship, where sponges help mangroves grow by providing them with inorganic nitrogen. We compared the sponge cover of inner roots (those closer the base of the tree) and outer roots (those closer to the edge of the forest) on red magroves. 
  4. Digitally Registering Herbivory on Red Mangroves (Rhizophora mangle)
    • We examined herbivory rates on mangrove leaves based on their location (i.e. leaves that were closer to the ground vs. leaves higher up in the mangrove canopy)
  5. Characterization of Benthic Communities in Thalassia testudinum Beds
    • Thalassia testudinum is a type of seagrass, commonly known as turtlegrass.
  6. Fiddler Crab (Uca) Reproductive Effort and Response to Chemical and Visual Cues
    • We conducted an observational study to see if the size of a Fiddler crab's claw correlated with it's reproductive effort (i.e. the number of times it waves it's claw in 5 minutes)

In addition to conducting research in Panamá, I also got the chance to explore the beautiful country, from the famous Panamá canal to the Biomuseo, where I learned about the history of Panamá and how it relates to the enormous amount of biodiversity found there. 

Here are 5 interesting facts about Panamá, that you may or may not know:

  1. Panamá has more species of birds, animals, and amphibians than the USA and Canada combined.
  2. 15 million years ago, Panamá emerged and connected North and South America. An event that is considered most important geological event of the last 60 million years.
    • Panama's emergence also rerouted ocean currents all over the world, due to the fact that it cut off the flow of currents between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
  3. All humans may be Panamanians! Some scientist believe that when the Isthmus of Panamá emerged from the sea, it may have changed the climate of Africa (mentioned above, changes in ocean currents have huge effects on earth's climate) --> which encouraged the evolution of humans.
    • Read more about this phenomenon here!
  4. In addition to the fact that Panamá connects two majors oceans, it was chosen as an ideal place to build the Canal because of the lack of natural disasters. There has never been any hurricanes and/or tsunami in the country's history.
    • The U.S. originally wanted to build the canal in Nicaragua, but decided against it because of the dangerous volcanoes in Nicaragua.
  5. On average, it takes a ship 8 to 10 hours to pass through the canal. Roughly 13,000 and 14,000 ships use the canal every year, which accounts for ~$1.8 billion in toll fees, annually.

Below is a video summary of my trip to Panamá, I hope you enjoy it!

Anjali BoydComment