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Tropical Field Biology – Panama: Days 4 to 6


The combination of a busy trip schedule and variable internet access is stretching out the frequency of blogging and posting photographs. Hence I am providing only an abbreviated three-day summary at this point.

Day 4 (June 11) was still occupied with initial exploration activities; however we temporarily left Gamboa to head up to the mountains. In particular, we had an excursion to the Cerro Azul mountain region northeast of Panama City, and ascending the ca. 950 m Cerro Jefe peak which is known (among other things, I am sure) for its fresh air, scenic views (see featured image), mid elevation “dwarf” forests, and high diversity of plants and animals (including insects). This was a welcome contrast with Gamboa, both climatically and in terms of flora and fauna. However the travel time to Cerro Jefe was approaching 3 hours due to heavy traffic throughout Panama City. The return was not much faster, and especially the final leg of the trip after visiting the Albrook Mall was stop and go from downtown to beyond the spectacular Miraflores Locks. We returned late for dinner and the evening was spent mostly to rest and catch up.

Day 5 (June 12) marked the first transition day, with activities directed towards developing new research projects. General theme: “if you were to ask the forest one question, which would it be?” Many options are on the table – stingless bees, basilisks, bats, tree frogs, leaf-cutter ants (which are roaming around the Schoolhouse), phytotelmata (small water bodies produced by epipythic bromeliads and other plants), and so on. The morning was spent with forging and bouncing off ideas about possible projects. Where possible this was followed with follow-up trips back into the field to try the ideas out and assess their feasibility. The afternoon lecture appropriately focused on “Research Methods in the Tropics”. The evening gave us an opportunity to connect with May Dixon and her student team pertaining to Rachel Page’s Lab at STRI to learn about the biology and research projects on Panamanian bats. Three different bat species flew into the misting nets, and made for a fascinating and informative experience in the rainforest at night. The relatively rare species Mimon crenulatum – the Striped Hairy Nose Bat – took the cake.

Day 6 (June 13). Only treated in the short form here. See also my post on observing Systenotelus stockwelli weevils in action. Much of day’s activity focused on developing our projects – from the blackboard sketch to the preliminary data production in the field. The afternoon lecture feature our first invited speaker, the eminent STRI Research Scientist Dr. Allen Herre who presented a wide ranging, interactive talk on the interactions of figs and fig wasps – a subject that he has explored from a multitude of angles for three decades. Following the lecture we re-focused on projects. Heavy evening/night rains and the fact that is Friday night provide some justification to take it easy for a while.

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