100 years of Barro Colorado Island

Written by STRI

"For the past 100 years, lessons from Barro Colorado played a critical role in the preservation of tropical nature. Barro Colorado Island was formed when the Chagres River valley was flooded to create Gatun Lake, the main channel of the Panama Canal. By monitoring bird populations on the island, scientists realized that when a forest becomes an island (or a forest fragment), it begins to lose bird species, especially during climate extremes. Their work led conservationists to create important connections between protected areas so that wildlife can move from one forest to another in times of need.

Tropical forest research on Barro Colorado Island led to a series of forest study sites in 28 countries around the world (ForestGEO) and to techniques used today to understand how forests protect biodiversity and store carbon, pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere that would otherwise contribute to global warming and climate change.

Work on Barro Colorado also led STRI to establish the Agua Salud experiment in the Panama Canal watershed—the largest tropical reforestation experiment of its kind—providing land use managers with information about how native tree species can be planted to improve water management and avoid flooding, store carbon, and conserve biodiversity to create a sustainable future.

As technology advanced, animal behavior research advanced: from following animal tracks on the ground, to developing camera traps to photograph animals to using satellites to monitor animal movement. Today, researchers use advanced technology to understand more about the evolution of tool use by monkeys and how army ants self-assemble into three dimensional structures."

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