Office of Undergraduate Research

Summer Research Opportunities in Tropical Ecology in Panama

We currently have several exciting research projects in Panama and we are always looking for motivated undergraduates to participate in these projects. These research opportunities are located at Barro Colorado Island, which is a research station run by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (http://www.stri.org/english/research/facilities/terrestrial/barro_colorado/index.php). EXPLAINING THE ABUNDANCE AND DISTRIBUTION OF PLANT SPECIES. Why are some species common in some forests and rare in other forests? What factors explain the distribution of these organisms? We are currently investigating these fundamental questions in Panama. ECOSYSTEM-LEVEL EFFECTS OF DIFFERENT PLANT COMMUNITIES. Tropical forest carbon and nutrient fluxes can have global impacts on our environment. We are currently working on a large experimental project to determine these effects. DOES DENSITY DEPENDENCE EXPLAIN SPECIES COEXISTENCE IN TROPICAL FORESTS? Density-dependent mortality is one of the key putative mechanisms to explain how diversity is stably maintained in tropical forests. For plants, density dependent mortality may arise when the detrimental effects of species-specific enemies (e.g., pathogens, seed predators, and herbivores) increase with the population density of their host, thereby decreasing the survival of offspring located near conspecific adults. We are currently investigating the role of soil pathogens as the main drivers of density dependence in tropical forests.

Tasks and responsibilities:

We currently have a large lab in Panama, with two post-docs, two graduate students, and two full-time research assistants. Student tasks and responsibilities vary with the project, but they commonly include helping us in one or all of the following ways: measuring tree and liana diameters and planting seedlings in the forest, measuring and caring for plants in greenhouse and shadehouse experiments, and helping out with lab-based work. Previous students have gained experience in all of these areas.