Kyawt Aye

STRI Fellow

I am a PhD student in palaeoceanography and palaeoecology at the University of Hong Kong. I work with microscopic fossils called ostracods to understand how tropical shallow-marine biodiversity in the Caribbean evolved within the last 10 million years. Having an understanding of how tropical marine ecosystems behaved in the past can help acknowledge the possible tipping point of future tropical diversity crises against a changing climate. During my fellowship at the O’Dea lab, I will make progress in processing the Panama Palaeontology Project samples and undertake fieldwork in different areas of Panama. Using these samples, I hope to explore the patterns of origination, extinction, diversity, and faunal change of ostracods within the environmental record of the Isthmus of Panama.

Juan Sebastian Camacho Puerto

STRI Short Term Fellow

I’m a graduated Earth scientist from the Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. My main interests are water quality and groundwater research. Right now, my focus centres on the history of the past environments through palynological techniques in combination with other proxies in marine and continental sediments of the Neotropics. In my dissertation, entitled “The use of n-alkane and Glycerol Dialkyl Glycerol Tetraethers (GDGTs) proxies to reconstruct the palaeolimnological and environmental history of the Panamá Canal”, I used different biomarker techniques and associated environmental indices to better understand historical river catchment processes.

During my fellowship in the O’Dea Lab I will be collecting surface samples from
different areas of the Gatun lake that represents a gradient of human impact. Finally, using X-Fluorescence Spectrometry Analysis (XRF) to perform geochemical ratios. I want to know how the lake geochemistry has spatially varied and responded to the natural or human processes associated with river damming during the last century.

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Jon Cybulski

STRI Fellow and Ph.D. candidate University of Hong KongJon_diving_2.jpg

Presently, I am a Ecology and Biodiversity Ph.D. candidate in Dr. David Bakers Coral Biogeochemistry lab at the University of Hong Kong, Swire Institute of Marine Science. My dissertation research focuses on one simple overarching theme: What were coral assemblages like during Hong Kong’s past? To answer this, my work combines classical paleo and historical ecology techniques to collect marine sub-fossils, characterize their diversity changes, and then I use various biogeochemistry methods to extract isotopic information and see what stressors have been impacting them through time.

While in Panama in the O’Dea lab, I will be studying coral sub-fossils collected in push-cores from the Pacific side of Panama. Through species identification and taphonomic analysis, I hope to determine if a mid-Holocene high stand (a period in the past few thousand years with slightly higher mean sea levels) occurred in Panama. If a highstand did occur, I want to know what it can tell us about future sea level projections over the next 100 years due to anthropogenic climate change. In this way, we may be able to get a better understanding of what impacts sudden sea level changes have on coral communities, and what we can do to protect and give them a chance for survival.

Besides rocks and old dead things, I love weightlifting, playing sports, going on any type of outdoor excursion, brewing beer, or reading epic fantasy novels.

Abhy Verdurmen

Intern (SENACYT, STRI, University of Panama)

DSCF4024I’m a Biology undergraduate student at University of Panama profoundly interested in Marine Biology and paleontology, especially the evolution, adaptation and ecology of coral reefs. I’m working on a project that consists of reconstructing the Caribbean reef fish communities of the past, and my master tools for this research are fish otoliths. Otoliths have distinct shapes that enable us to identify fish families, sometimes even to the level of species and fossil otoliths may help us reconstruct the reef fish community of the Caribbean 7000 years ago (i.e. before human impacts). This information will provide a baseline that will enable us to compare “pristine” with modern reef fish communities.

Abigail Kelly

STRI Pre-doc fellowDSCN1150 (1)

Abby is working on a project that explores how marine life, specifically molluscs, respond to the differing energy regimes of the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the Isthmus of Panama. The Pacific experiences coastal upwelling and high nutrient availability, corresponding to high productivity, while the Caribbean experiences no upwelling and low productivity. How do marine communities, which share many of the same species, differ between the Caribbean and Pacific sides?


Erin Dillon

PhD Student UC Santa Barbara and STRI Fellow

Reconstructing shark communities using dermal denticles preserved in reef sediments

What were shark communities like before humans? Ecological surveys and historical records demonstrate significant declines in Caribbean shark populations, yet pre-exploitation baselines are nonexistent. Dermal denticles – tiny, tooth-like scales lining the skin of elasmobranchs – can offer insight into shark communities on reefs. We have found denticles to be beautifully preserved in fossil and modern reef sediments, allowing morphometric analysis and classification. Denticle traits are also closely associated with shark ecology and can paint a picture of shark community composition. Evaluating the relative abundances of different denticle morphotypes in sediment samples across time and space can both supplement existing survey data – using time-averaged modern sediments – and assist in the reconstruction of pre-human shark baselines – using the recent fossil record. This previously unexplored data source may reveal what shark communities looked like prior to the advent of fishing, facilitating exciting and important assessments of the magnitude and ecological consequences of global shark declines and producing more meaningful conservation targets.

Save our seas         ~          Erin’s Website