Panama in January 2010


We are hard at work getting ready for the trip.  We have 8 students from UW Green bay and 2 students from St. Norbert College.  The instructors for this year include UWGB faculty Mike Draney, John Katers, and myself. Dr. Anindo Choudhury from St. Norbert College will be joining us for the end of the trip in Gamboa. Of course we have lots of help from others especially at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. I especially want to thank the phenomenal administrative staff at STRI including Nilka Tiejeras, Orelis Arosemenas, and director of education Nelida Gomez, to set the itinerary and file the permits we need for our 2010 visit.

We didn’t get quite as many posts as we wanted last year, so this year I’m making posting to the blog mandatory!  So expect to see at least one post from everyone during the trip. I will try to post interesting notes and information up until we leave so those that aren’t going also get to meet the people and see some of the places we are going as well. So check back soon.

For more information about the course and its history please visit our website:

Panama City and Bocas del Toro

The trip down to Panama went smoothly  and we spent the first day in Panama City, where we visited the Tupper Center, which is the main administrative and research facility of the Smithsonian. The photo below shows students at the cafeteria.

After spending the night in Panama City, everyone boarded a chartered flight to Isla Colon, an island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago on the Caribbean side of Panama. STRI has a wonderful marine station located just north of of the main town on the island. The station’s lab is covered by a large solar roof, and features excellent lab space. The lab is surrounded by a lagoon that is home to much wildlife, including caimans like this one.  At night their eyes glow red in spotlights and are easily distinguished from the thousands of green eyed spiders.

We will be conducting research there on bats with scientist Maurice Thomas. We are using ANABAT recorders that record and translate the high frequency sounds bats used to echo-locate into sounds we can here.   Dr. Thomas catches individual bats in mist nets and then records the sex, weight and other information about the bat.  The bats are then released and the students record the high frequency sounds the bats make as they fly away. Each species of bat has a unique sound signature, and we are using the recorders to build a library of these signatures, so that we can identify when and where different species of bats are foraging. This bulldog bat is being held by bat researcher Maurice Thomas.  It was trapped at Bocas on Tuesday night, data was collected and the bat was released.

Our other research project at Bocas is to compare the invertebrate fauna of developed and pristine underwater habitats.  Like many coastal areas Bocas is being rapidly developed.  As areas are cleared more sediment is being washed into the surrounding coaral and sea grass habitats.  Many marine invertebrates like the tubeworm shown below are sessile filter feeders that can be impacted by increasing siltation of their habitats.  We are conducting underwater surveys of invertebrates using STRI’s glasss bottommed boat to determine whether there are any differences in the types and numbers of common marine invertebrates found in different locations around the islands.

Photos by UWGB botanis Gary Fewless.

More photos coming soon!

Research in Panama!

Welcome to our Panama Travel Blog. A joint trip between the University of Wisconsin Green Bay and St. Norbert’s College started last year.  Each year 10-16 students and faculty travel to Panama to conduct a number of research projects in cooperation with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Station. The research focusses on long term biological monitoring techniques.  Each year data is collected on a suite of ecologically important species.  As this data accumulates over the years it may provide an important measure of change in Panamanian ecosystems. 

For example, in collaboration with Maurice Thomas at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, we are recording the sounds that bats make as they forage for food. These ultra-high frequency calls are used by the bats to echolocate their way through the forests and mangroves on Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro. We are creating a library the echolocation calls of all the species we find and are planning to install a permanent recorder that will record bats throughout the year. We will be able to learn a great deal about the behavior and movements of these bats using this simple technique.

Other data we are collecting are long-term acoustic recordings of forest birds at Gamboa in collaboration with UWGB graduate student Jennifer Goyetteand UWGB faculty Amy Wolf and Robert Howe; underwater glass-bottom boat surveys of marine invertebrates in impacted and pristine areas at Bocas del Toro with UWGB faculty Vicki Medland and Robert Howe; Surveys of spiders in mangroves in collaboration with arachnologists Michael Draney of UWGB and Petra Sierwald at the Field Museum; surveys of soil nematodes in collaboration with Anindo Choudhury faculty at St. Norbert College.