New Model of Climate Change Effects on Coffee Availability and Bee Pollinators

Overcoming Doomsday Scenarios Depends on Biological Intelligence


Areas in Latin America suitable for growing coffee face predicted declines of 73-88 percent by 2050. However, diversity in bee species may save the day, even if many species in cool highland regions are lost as the climate warms. The research, co-authored by David Roubik, senior scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, will be published in early online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences edition between Sept. 11-15.Scientists David Roubik

“For my money, we do a far superior job of predicting the future when we consider both plants and animals (or in this case the bees) and their biology,” Roubik said. “Traditional models don’t build in the ability of organisms to change. They’re based on the world as we know it now, not on the way it could be as people and other organisms adapt.”

A research team modeled impacts for Latin America, the largest coffee-growing region under several global-warming scenarios—considering both the plants and the bees. The team consisted of bee experts from the Smithsonian in Panama; the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Vietnam; the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center in Costa Rica; Conservation International and the University of Vermont in the U.S.; CIRAD in France; and CIFOR in Peru.

Despite predicted declines in total bee species, in all scenarios at least five bee species were left in future coffee-suitable areas; in about half of the areas, 10 bee species were left.Mountain in Panama

For land no longer suitable for coffee production, the team recommended management strategies to help farmers switch to other crops or production systems. In areas where bee diversity is expected to decrease, but coffee can still be grown, adaptation strategies may include increasing bee habitat and maintaining native bees. Many coffee types prefer to grow in the shade of tall trees. Choosing tree species that favor bees are a win-win strategy, according to the authors.

Roubik’s favorite example of a potentially huge environmental change that did not play out as predicted is the case of Africanized honey bees, which were accidentally released in Brazil in 1957. Roubik’s studies in Panama of coffee pollination taking native rainforest bees into consideration began in the 1970s as the aggressive non-native Africanized honey bees swarmed north through Latin America. Doomsayers predicted the worst: that the killer bees would disrupt the delicate balance between tropical forest species and their native pollinators. Roubik discovered the opposite to be true. In lowland tropical forests in Mexico, plants pollinated by very busy Africanized bees ended up producing more flowers, thus making more pollen and nectar available to native bees.

“Africanized honey bees in the Western Hemisphere both regulate their nest temperature and their own body temperature using water,” Roubik said. “When the climate is hotter—unless it’s too dry—they’re better adapted to endure climate change and pollinate coffee—an African plant.”

By paying attention to biological processes and managing coffee for maximum pollination depending upon the effects of climate on both the plants and the bees, as well as strategically adjusting shade, rotating crops and conserving natural forests, it may be possible for coffee producers to adapt to climate change.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical biodiversity 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: Promo video:

Contact us for academic travel and join amazing experts in different fiels on the isthmus that change the world:  Panama!  for details

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Imbach, P., Fung, E., Hannah, L. et al. 2017 Coffee, bees, and climate: Coupling of pollination services and agriculture under climate change. PNAS.


An Interview with Smithsonian Entomologist: Yves Basset

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama is dedicated to understanding and studying the unique biodiversity of the tropics. STRI’s history  began with the construction of the Panama Canal and the  interest in surveying the flora and fauna of the area for the purpose of controlling insect diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. After the Canal began operating, entomologists and biologists involved in these studies establish a permanent biological reserve on Barro Colorado Island which is located in the Gatun Lake.  Today, STRI is one of the leading research institutions in the world. Every year over 900 scientist from academic and research institutions  from all over the world visit the STRI facilities to conduct scientific research and studies.

Today we had the opportunity to interview one of the prominent entomologist in the world who has his base in Panama City.  Doctor Yves Basset talk to EcoCircuitos Panama team about his work with the tropical ecosystems and the importance of tourism and conservation to protect the tropical environment.  Learn more about his work on this very interesting EcoVideo.

EcoCircuitos promotes conservation and education through the tourism industry.   For more information about our academic adventures, contact us at

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

The Submarine Explorer by Louie Celerier

The submarine “Explorer” is a submersible built by Julius H. Kroehl and Ariel Patterson in Brooklyn, New York for the Pacific Pearl Company in Panama. The keel was laid down in 1863, was completed in 1865 and placed in service in 1866. In 1869, the submarine was abandoned in the Pearl Islands Archipelago, where it had been working, and its hull still rests there.


The “Explorer” is 39.4 feet long, 12 feet high and has a beam of 11 feet. The bottom of the craft bottom is perfectly flat and has two hatches 4-1/2 feet wide by 6 feet long for harvesting operations. It had a displacement of 80 tons and carried a complement of 3 to 6 men. The submarine was hand powered, had a single propeller and could achieve a maximum speed of 4 knots.

The design of the craft included a large volume external high pressure air chamber (200 PSI) as well as water ballast tanks. The water ballast was used to submerge while the pressure air pressurized the crew’s compartment to the pressure of the water at working depths of up to 103 feet allowing them to open the hatches on the floor and giving them access to the oyster on the

ocean floor. This air pressure was also used to empty the ballast tanks when the vessel was ready to surface.

The Harvesting Operation

As the submarine approached the bottom, the hatches were opened for the purpose of gathering the oysters. The water was kept out of the vessel by the pressured air contained in the chambers. As the sub rested on the bottom, the oysters were collected by the crew and stowed away. They moved around the ocean floor by means of the 3-foot diameter propeller cranked by hand.

Diving Fever

The problem of decompression was still not clearly understood in 1869 and again and again, the reports after a dive or two would report, “all the men were again down with fever.” A contemporary (August 1869) newspaper account of dives in the Pearl Islands documents 11 days of diving to 103 feet, spending 4 hours per dive, and ascending with a quick release of the pressure to ambient (sea level) pressure. Modern reconstruction of “Explorer’s” system suggests an ascension rate of 1 foot per second which would have brought the men to the surface in less than two minutes. The result was decompression sickness. Using present day U.S. Navy diving standards, a two-hour dive (half of the documented time spent by the men in “Explorer”) at a depth of 103 feet would require a surfacing schedule of one hour, 32 minutes and 40 seconds with staged stops at 30 feet, 20 feet and 10 feet. As it was, in 1869 the men were all sick from their fast ascents with the submarine operations grinding to a halt.

History Of “Explorer”

After construction, the submarine “Explorer” was partially disassembled and shipped to the Panama Pacific side of the Isthmus in December 1866. There, in the Gulf of Panama, laid the Pearl Island Archipelago with its rich pearl bearing oyster beds. Since the early days of the Spaniards, men had been diving for the treasure without the aid of any breathing apparatus. But, since the advent of a somewhat practical submarine design during the American Civil War, The Pacific Pearl Company thought the submarine was the answer to the mass harvesting of pearls.

Once in Panama City, the submarine was assembled and one of its builders, Julius Kroehl, carried out experimental dives in the Bay of Panama (not to be confused with the Gulf of Panama). These dives cost him his life as he contracted the “diving fever” and died in September 1967. The submarine languished on the beach until 1869, when a new engineer and crew took it to the Pearl Islands to harvest oyster shells and pearls. The 1869 dives to depths and profiles that would inevitably lead to decompression sickness, resulted in the entire crew succumbing to the “fever”. Because of this, the craft was laid up in a cove on the shores of the island of San Telmo in the Pearl Islands and remains there to this day.

The submarine’s rusting hull was well-known to the locals, but they had presumed it to be a remnant of World War II. In 2001 the remains of the submarine piqued the interest of archaeologist James P. Delgado of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. Since then, many studies of the wreck have been carried out and a 2007 report summarized preservation options of the vessel for the Panamanian government and recommended the recovery, preservation and public display of the raft in Panama. Metal analysis confirms the craft is in critical stage and faces irreversible deterioration and loss.


Photos and Material

1. “Sub Marine Explorer”, Wikipedia and google
2. “Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine”, by James P. Delgado, 2012.
3. The Wait Institute.
4. The Hunley Store.
5. Institute of National Archaeology.

Tourism, Education and Conservation in Panama: STRI

Panama has to be considered as one of the leading destinations for students interested in tropical biology and rainforest preservation. As a land bridge between the two continents, Panama is a meeting place of over 970 species of birds from North and South America. Its tremendous biodiversity and the accessibility of its tropical forests make Panama a paradise for nature and ecological studies. Panama itself is a flower garden with more than 1500 species of trees and more than 10,000 species of plants. With two oceans washing its shores, Panama is rich in marine life.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution (STRI) in Panama, is a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution based outside of the United States, is dedicated to understanding biological diversity.

What began in 1923 as small field station on Barro Colorado Island, in the Panama Canal Zone, has developed into one of the leading research institutions of the world. STRI’s facilities provide a unique opportunity for long-term ecological studies in the tropics, and are used extensively by some 900 visiting scientists from academic and research institutions in the United States and around the world every year. The work of our resident scientists has allowed us to better understand tropical habitats and has trained hundreds of tropical biologists.

STRI is the perfect partner for Academic and Educational Tours in the Tropics:

Panama’s remarkable biodiversity and the accessibility of its tropical forests make it a paradise for nature and ecological studies. Our trip will expose participants to the natural wonders of lowland tropical forest, cloud forest and coral reef ecosystems. Culturally, students will have the opportunity to interact with and learn about our local communities and to experience city life in the developing world.

Por primera vez se logra criar en cautiverio a una rana venenosa de dardo recientemente descrita

rana-dorada2Comunicado de Prensa:

Científicos del Instituto de Biología de la Conservación del Smithsonian (SCBI por sus siglas en inglés) y el Instituto Smithsonian de Investigaciones Tropicales (STRI), que trabajan en el Proyecto de Rescate y Conservación de Anfibios de Panamá (PARC) lograron criar la primera Andinobates geminisae nacida en cautiverio. Ésta es una diminuta especie de rana venenosa de dardo que sólo crece 14 milímetros, por primera vez colectada en una pequeña zona en Panamá Central y descrita el año pasado. Colaboradores científicos colectaron y nos entregaron dos adultos con el propósito de evaluar el potencial para el mantenimiento de esta especie en cautiverio como una población de aseguranza.

“Hay un verdadero arte en aprender acerca de la historia natural de un animal y encontrar el conjunto adecuado de señales ambientales para estimular la cría en cautiverio exitosa”, comentó Brian Gratwicke, biólogo de la conservación de anfibios en SCBI y director del Proyecto de Rescate y Conservación de Anfibios de Panamá, PARC. “No todos los anfibios son fáciles de criar en cautiverio, así que cuando logramos criar una especie por primera vez, es un verdadero hito para nuestro proyecto y un motivo de celebración.”

Los científicos simularon las condiciones para la reproducción de las ranas adultas en un pequeño tanque. Las ranas pusieron un huevo en una hoja de bromelia, que luego se transfirió a un plato Petri húmedo. Después de 14 días, el renacuajo eclosionó. Los científicos creen que las ranas adultas de A. geminisae pueden proporcionar cuidados paternos a sus huevos y renacuajos, cosa que no es rara en las ranas de dardo, pero no han sido capaces de determinar si ese es el caso. En la naturaleza, uno de los padres transporta al renacuajo en su espalda hacia un pequeño charco de agua, por lo general dentro de un árbol o entre las hojas de una bromelia.

Después de que el renacuajo eclosionó, los científicos lo trasladaron del plato Petri a una pequeña taza de agua, imitando los pequeños charcos naturales. Con una dieta de comida para peces, después de 75 días el renacuajo se transformó exitosamente en una rana joven y ahora es del tamaño de un adulto maduro.

Los científicos del Proyecto de Rescate y Conservación de Anfibios de Panamá no están seguros si la A. geminisae es susceptible al hongo quitridio que está matando a anfibios. Sin embargo, ya que esta especie sólo se encuentra en un área pequeña de Panamá y depende de bosques tropicales primarios, que están bajo la presión por la conversión agrícola, la han identificado como una especie de conservación prioritaria.

“Más aún, esta especie parece tener una distribución muy agrupada dentro de la pequeña área donde se le encontró,” comentó Roberto Ibáñez, cientifico del Smithsonian en Panamá y director nacional del PARC. “Aparentemente, sus poblaciones están asociadas a ciertos filos a lo largo de los valles formados por quebradas, lo cual puede complicar su conservación al requerirse que varios de estos sitios estén dentro de áreas protegidas.”

El Proyecto de Rescate y Conservación de Anfibios de Panamá cría especies de ranas en peligro de extinción en Gamboa, Panamá y El Valle de Antón, Panamá. Este proyecto es una asociación entre el Zoológico de Houston, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, el Zoológico de Nueva Inglaterra, SCBI y STRI. Este estudio contó con el apoyo de Minera Panamá y Biodiversity Consultant Group.

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El Instituto Smithsonian de Investigaciones Tropicales en Panamá, es una unidad de la Institución Smithsonian. El Instituto promueve la comprensión de la naturaleza tropical y su importancia para el bienestar de la humanidad; capacita estudiantes para llevar a cabo investigaciones en los trópicos; y fomenta la conservación mediante la concienciación pública sobre la belleza e importancia de los ecosistemas tropicales. Sitio web:

Contacto de prensa: Beth King, o
Sonia Tejada,

Slow-moving shallows put the heat on Bocas Coral


Snorkel-perfect coral reefs in the calm, mangrove-fringed waters of the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago are expected to be among the hardest hit by warmer temperatures that lead to coral bleaching and mortality, a new study finds. These shallows in Panama’s Caribbean are characterized by low water flow, allowing water to reach precariously high sea surface temperature (SST) when compared to areas with greater water movement.

Angang Li and Matthew Reidenbach of the University of Virginia tapped into a wealth of long-term monitoring data collected by STRI scientists around the Bocas Del Toro Research Station, including coral bleaching records. Their models were published this May in the journal Coral Reefs.

“By 2084, almost all coral reefs are susceptible to bleaching-induced mortality, except for a region of relatively lower thermal stress along the outer boundary of the archipelago,” they write. “By 2084, only corals exposed to open ocean currents are predicted to survive.”



There are some caveats. The key to heat-induced coral bleaching is not a single blast of hot water, rather long-term exposure to above-threshold temperatures. This is measured in degree heating weeks (DHW). By the end of the study period DHW >8 °C-weeks were modeled for the bay. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts widespread bleaching and significant mortality under these conditions. By comparison, DHW values during a 2010 Bocas bleaching event ranged between 2.3 °C-weeks and 9.5 °C-weeks.

Some coral species may adapt to higher temperatures. The study’s models predict that areas flushed by cooler water will have a higher chance at surviving well into the future.

Li and Reidenbach studied modern water-flow patterns, simulated heating scenarios for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s, and quantified local thermal stress on coral reefs. While previous studies have looked at SST impact on corals at a large scale, the researchers focused on a much smaller spatial scale, which is less common. The fine scale of their work better lends itself to the creation of mitigation strategies for marine protected areas in Bocas.

“Our findings are also likely applicable to many coral reef regions worldwide, and in particular reefs that are found in shallow and partially enclosed coastal regions with long water retention times,” they conclude.