Maria E. A. Santos (Duda)

STRI Short Term Fellow and Postdoc at University of the Ryukyus

I am a postdoctoral researcher broadly interested in understanding the influence of environmental conditions to the geographical distribution of species in the past, present, and future. During my Ph.D. research at the University of the Ryukyus, I have used molecular and stable isotope analyses to explore the evolution and ecology of zoanthids at a macroecological scale.

While in the O’Dea Lab, I will conduct surveys to document the distribution of zoanthids along both coasts of Panama. Additionally, I will identify their symbionts and estimate the trophic niche of zoanthid sibling species between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. With this research, we will be able to better understand how the Isthmus split influenced the evolution of symbiotic interactions and feeding modes.

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.

Ramiro J Solís


22089361_10203755535325107_7780598286786180057_nI am a student of Marine Biology at the International Maritime University of Panama. I have previously worked on the ​​taxonomy,  identification and ecology of coral reef fish. I am currently working on a project that seeks to create the first collection of micro-gastropods in Panama, and at the same time investigate the variability in time and space of these organisms on a geological scale at the Caribbean and Pacific side of Panama to understand environmental changes. My primary goal as a marine biologist is to help develop science in Panama to help preserve the natural world.

Alexis Sullivan

STRI Short Term Fellow and doctoral student at PSU

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Alexis’ Personal webpage

I am a Biology Ph.D. graduate student in George (PJ) Perry’s Anthropological Genomics Lab at Penn State University. My dissertation research is focused on integrating morphological and evolutionary genomics techniques to characterize how human behavior impacts non-human evolutionary biology.

I am working with Aaron at STRI to collect modern, archaeological, and paleontological shell materials from Bocas del Toro. Strombus pugilis is a species of conch that has decreased in body size at maturity over the past ~7000 years possibly due to size-selective human subsistence pressures. I’ll export these shell samples, along with some modern tissue samples, back to PSU and attempt to extract and sequence both modern and ancient DNA from these materials.

One long-term goal is to perform a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to identify genetic loci associated with body size variation in these marine snails. These loci could then be studied with evolutionary population genomic methods to test the hypothesis that small body size has evolved via a history of positive natural selection. If ancient DNA can be extracted and sequenced from the archaeo- and paleontological sites, it will be possible to directly track the evolutionary history of size-associated genetic variants over time, relative to genetic variants from other regions of the genome.

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