Tourism and Conservation in Panama

Panama’s wildlife is just stunning – 10’444 different types of plant species, 678 fern species, 1’500 varieties of trees, as well as 255 species of mammals and 972 indigenous bird species. There is a history behind this rich biodiversity, let’s start from the very beginning: Everything started 65 million years ago; the two continents, North and South America were joined by a land bridge, as we know it from today. Then, around 50 million years ago, the continents split apart, and for millions of years they kept separate from one another. This allowed mother nature to create unique and fascinating landscapes in both continents. The land of South America soon gave rise to a numerous species, such as bird families, neo-tropical rodents, iguanas, frogs and more. In North America, animals such as horses, deer, raccoons, squirrels and mice flourished, as the continent repeatedly collided with Eurasia.

Three million years ago happened the world change!   The natural history for both continents: The land bridge of Panama arose. Migration started and species from North America went south and from South America north, where they found their homes in the lush forest and wetlands along the isthmus. The great variety of plant species created the perfect conditions for nourishing wildlife including the Jaguar.

‘Yaguará’ is a Panamanian Foundation that works towards the conservation of  wild cats. They are studying the Jaguar’s behavior through placing cameras and GPS Collars, in order to develop conservation in the jaguar habitats. They also directly work with the local communities, which has proved to be very important and successful to immediately apply conservation of this beautiful mammals.

Ricardo Moreno who has been nominated by National Geographic as an emergent explorer, is a Panamanian biologist and one of the the leader of  Fundación Yaguara. He fights for the conservation of the Jaguar and the Puma in Panama, and says that “the situation is critical, and there is no time to wait. It is important to create a pacific cohabitation between mankind and the felines.”

The conflicts between Felines and humans arose because their natural prey was scarce, due to human activities such as hunting and habitat occupation, threrefore the cats attacked livestock’s. Unfortunately, people used to “solve” the situation by just sacrificing the felines, and this caused a serious fall in jaguar’s populations in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and Panama. Several studies showed that if the cats had enough natural prey, they wouldn’t attack livestock.

“Yaguará” started a program which gives a monetary compensation to the owners of domestic animals, if their animals were preyed.  They also support the local communities by educating in learning to live with the jaguars and avoid killing them.   The communities could take benefit from conserving the natural habitats and supporting the trend in the tourism industry:  Adventure and Conservation.

Academic and Educational adventures are a way to discover Panama and learn about the efforts of several scientists, guides and tour companies that promote the restoration of our natural habitats.   In conjunction with different organizations such as STRI, Fundacion Avifauna, APTSO, YAGUARA among others EcoCircuitos is promoting Tourism, Conservation and Education.

Explore with the experts in the field and discover a country full of contrasts.  You can contribute to the conservation and efforts of this organization and others by traveling responsable.

For more information contact us info@ecocircuitos.com

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Chemical from sea hares active against Leishmaniasis

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From STRI.org

Found worldwide in tropical and subtropical seas and oceans, Dolabrifera dolabrifera is a species of sea hare, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Aplysiidae. Researchers working at the Smithsonian in Panama discovered that the digestive gland of D. dolabrifera contains a compound active against Leishmania donovani, the parasite primarily responsible for visceral leishmaniasis, a devastating tropical disease spread by sandflies. If left untreated, this form of leishmaniasis can have a fatality rate as high as 100 percent within two years.

The sea hares were collected from Pacific ocean tide pools on Panama’s Coiba Island by STRI botanist, Alicia Ibañez, and Alicia Hermosillo from the Universidad de Guadalajara. Many soft-bodied organisms such as sponges, tunicates, octocorals and sea hares, living in tropical marine ecosystems use chemical compounds to defend themselves against predators.

“This is one of more than 45 compounds with potential pharmaceutical activity that we’ve reported from Coiba National Park and World Heritage Site so far,” said Todd Capson, who played an instrumental role in the protection of the park, is one of the founders of the Panama International Cooperative Biodiversity Group, and a participant in the Neotropical Environment Graduate Option (NEO), a collaborative effort between STRI and McGill University. “NEO and the ICBG promote multidisciplinary efforts like this one that brought together ecologists, experts in tropical disease drug discovery, natural product chemists, and students from McGill University as a team.”

Their publication is the first reported isolation of a compound from Dolabrifera dolabrifera with potential as a treatment for any disease. The chemical, an epidioxysterol, has been isolated from other marine organisms. The authors suggest that chemists should base new approaches to synthesizing a compound for the treatment of Leishmaniasis on the activity of this group of chemical compounds.

Kathryn Clark, first author of the paper announcing the discovery, was supported by a Canadian graduate scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a Levinson Fellowship from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute-McGill Neotropical Environmental Option.

Clark, K.E., Capper, A., Della Togna, G., Paul, V.J., Romero, L.I., Johns, T., Cubilla-Rios, L, and Capson, T.L. 2013. Ecology-and bioassay-guided drug discovery for treatments of tropical parasitic disease: 5a,8a– epidioxycholest-6-en-3ß–ol isolated from the mollusk Dolabrifera dolabrifera shows significant activity against Leishmania donovani. Natural Products Communications 8 (11), 1537 – 1540

How long have Native American peoples lived on the Isthmus of Panama?

From STRI.org

All Native American peoples in Central and South America descend from Northeast Asians who travelled down the Pacific Coast 20,000-15,000 years ago, settling in Chile by 14,500 years ago.Image

If migrants travelled along the coast, their camps in Panama were submerged as sea levels rose when the last ice age was ending, leaving no trace.

Nor did humans make any impact on forests near La Yeguada (Veraguas) until 13,200 years ago when clearing and burning began. At this time Clovis hunters camped at the Vampiros rock shelter (Coclé) and made Clovis stone spear points and hide scrapers at nearby Sarigua (Herrera). They probably hunted mastodons and giant ground sloths.

By 6000 years ago maize, manioc and squash had arrived from their respective domestication centers in Mexico and South America. Farming expanded and settlements became larger and more permanent.

Panama’s seven Native American peoples descend from earlier populations living on or near the Isthmus for thousands of years. Eighty percent of modern Panamanians have a Native American woman as their original female ancestor.

For more information see the complete article by staff scientist Richard Cooke: How long have Native Americans lived in Panama?

A Whole New Meaning for Thinking on Your Feet

Photo: Pamela Belding

Smithsonian researchers report that the brains of tiny spiders are so large that they fill their body cavities and overflow into their legs. As part of ongoing research to understand how miniaturization affects brain size and behavior, researchers measured the central nervous systems of nine species of spiders, from rainforest giants to spiders smaller than the head of a pin. As the spiders get smaller, their brains get proportionally bigger, filling up more and more of their body cavities.
“The smaller the animal, the more it has to invest in its brain, which means even very tiny spiders are able to weave a web and perform other fairly complex behaviors,” said William Wcislo, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. “We discovered that the central nervous systems of the smallest spiders fill up almost 80 percent of their total body cavity, including about 25 percent of their legs.”
Some of the tiniest, immature spiderlings even have deformed, bulging bodies. The bulge contains excess brain. Adults of the same species do not bulge. Brain cells can only be so small because most cells have a nucleus that contains all of the spider’s genes, and that takes up space. The diameter of the nerve fibers or axons also cannot be made smaller because if they are too thin, the flow of ions that carry nerve signals is disrupted, and the signals are not transferred properly. One option is to devote more space to the nervous system.
“We suspected that the spiderlings might be mostly brain because there is a general rule for all animals, called Haller’s rule, that says that as body size goes down, the proportion of the body taken up by the brain increases,” said Wcislo. “Human brains only represent about 2-3 percent of our body mass. Some of the tiniest ant brains that we’ve measured represent about 15 percent of their biomass, and some of these spiders are much smaller.”
Brain cells use a lot of energy, so these small spiders also probably convert much of the food they consume into brain power.
The enormous biodiversity of spiders in Panama and Costa Rica made it possible for researchers to measure brain extension in spiders with a huge range of body sizes. Nephila clavipes, a rainforest giant weighs 400,000 times more than the smallest spiders in the study, nymphs of spiders in the genus Mysmena.
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems.

Website: www.stri.org.
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Quesada, Rosanette, Triana, Emilia, Vargas, Gloria, Douglass, John K., Seid, Marc A., Niven, Jeremy E., Eberhard, William G., Wcislo, William T. 2011. “The allometry of CNS size and consequences of miniaturization in orb-weaving and cleptoparasitic spiders.” Arthropod Structure and Development

How the Isthmus of Panama changed the world

From STRI – Smithsonian Tropical Reserach Institute web.

The earth is not a solid or static mass. It is composed of segments — tectonic plates— that cover a shifting mantle. These plates have different movements. They crash into each other and separate, they slide and sink and emerge, forming mountain ranges such as the Andes and Rocky Mountains, oceans, major earthquakes and volcanoes, and bridges like the one that joins North and South America.

Before a large audience that far surpassed the capacity of the Tupper Center Auditorium of the Smithsonian in Panama, STRI geologist Anthony G. Coates explained how, twenty million years ago, the Isthmus of Panama began to emerge through the clashing and sliding of tectonic plates. Before this, Central America as we know it today was part of a volcanic peninsula, far from its current location.

With the emergence of the Isthmus of Panama, the planet experienced changes resulting in the current world order. For three million years, Panama has separated the oceans and joined two continents. It promoted the exchange of species between the Americas, enabling Amazonian fauna to colonize areas as far north as Mexico and creating the abundant tropical biodiversity we have today. It is responsible for the extensive development of coral reefs, initiated a new global ocean circulation pattern, contributed to the glaciation of the northern hemisphere, and changed the climate of the tropics. Because of the Isthmus, the winds that cross the Gulf Stream are warmed and Europe is spared from freezing over in the winter. It is even possible that the ancestors of the human race came down out of the trees because of climate change in Africa which was also a product of the emergence of the Isthmus.

Using videos, geological maps of the earth’s plates, sections of fossil sequences and rock-dating techniques, Coates amazed the public and students present with his description of how Panama’s geological past was reconstructed, as part of the celebrations commemorating a Century of Smithsonian Science in Panama, on Wednesday, April 27. The next Centennial talk, by Hermógenes Fernández-Marín, will be be held on May 25.