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.

Estelle Bapst

STRI Intern

I am studying a Masters in Biodiversity and Conservation of Marine Ecosystems at the Sorbonne University in Paris. My project at STRI is to use ancient DNA to explore millennial scale changes in biodiversity of coral reefs. I am also keen on diving, surfing and dancing. Travel is another interest, and I am often curious about discovering new countries and traditions.



Jihane Benbahtane

STRI Intern


I’m currently enrolled as a graduate student at McGill University in a program that focuses on neotropical ecosystems. My master’s project is centred around herbivory interactions and the effect of overfishing on Caribbean coral reefs. I study how fishing can change the community structure of parrotfish and their life history traits, as well as how these changes in fish community affect reef health in Barbados.

In the O’Dea lab, I will be looking at the historical relative abundance of sea urchins from sediment samples collected in the Pacific coast of Panama. I will be collaborating with Jon Cybulski, a STRI fellow in the lab, to investigate relationships between the community structure of these herbivores and accretion rates of coral reefs.

Huai-Hsuan May Huang

STRI Fellow


I am a micropaleontologist with a specialty in marine ostracods. I did my PhD in the University of Hong Kong. I love being on a research vessel, searching for answers in the vast ocean, and working with many scientists from diverse backgrounds. I am broadly interested in how species originated, distributed or went extinct in response to paleoenvironmental changes. Ostracods is a large class of bivalved crustaceans with a wide variety of ecological preferences, and is useful in paleoecological studies. In the STRI, I will be reconstructing the ostracod faunal changes during the emergence of the Panama Isthmus to shed light on the vulnerability of benthic meiofauna to environmental shifts.

Note: May will soon defend her Phd in the lab of Moriaki Yasuhara

Michele Pierotti


TOP_in place of ass-and-feet image.jpgMy research integrates behavioural ecology, sensory physiology, evolutionary ecology and genomics to examine the role of environmental change in shaping communication systems and ultimately the evolutionary trajectory of populations. I am fascinated by rapid ecological adaptation and its genetic and epigenetic underpinnings, particularly in aquatic environments. If there is water, and there are animals, I am interested!

My work at STRI focuses on divergence in ecological traits between sister species of coral reef fishes separated by the rise of the Isthmus of Panama. At the moment, I am examining how the visual system of sister fish species differentially adapted to the drastically different underwater light conditions between the two coasts (Pacific and Caribbean) of Panama.BOTTOM below all text work description

Google Scholar

Jorge Morales

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I am an environmental biologist from Panama, interested in understanding how coastal marine ecosystems respond to human-induced perturbations, and how to apply this knowledge to conservation and management strategies.

Katie Griswold

STRI Fellow


I am working on a project with Dr. Chien-Hsiang Lin that uses otolith assemblages to investigate the life histories of holocene reef fish. I am searching for patterns in the sizes of these assemblages over time, space and habitat. Through the study of otolith assemblages, we hope to contribute information to what coral reef fish communities were like in a time before human influence. This information can be compared to present reefs and can shape our ideas about ecosystem conservation.

I graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in marine science and biology, then spent a year as an Americorps after-school educator before I joined STRI as a research assistant. My personal interests lie at the intersection of research and community-driven conservation. I hope to explore marine ecological questions while supporting connections to the natural world through citizen science outreach.

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.

Blanca Figuerola

SENACYT & STRI Post-doctoral Fellow

My research sits between the established disciplines of biodiversity, ecology, chemical ecology and mineralogy in the context of the global change using bryozoans as model organisms.


My current research aims are (a) to present new data on bryozoan species richness and the spatial patterns from poorly known regions, (b) to evaluate the ecological and applied effects of their natural compounds and (c) to deepen current understanding of skeletal geochemistry so that we can assess better how they will respond to global change.

Why study bryozoans?

Bryozoans are ubiquitous and important members of many benthic communities with high productivity, biodiversity and many ecosystem services and their global species richness is still largely underestimated. Biodiversity and biogeographical baseline studies are starting points for monitoring and rapidly assessing changes associated with threats such as climate change and the establishment of invasive marine species.

They inhabit depths between the intertidal to abyssal plains, and at all latitudes in the oceans. The broad bathymetrical and geographic ranges of some species make them useful organisms for evaluating depth and/or geographical-related changes.

They are known to produce natural products (NPs), such as alkaloids and terpenoids, although research in NPs and their role in an ecological context have focused mostly on other phyla.

They are often dominant skeletal-carbonate producers in temperate and polar waters that secrete skeletal calcite containing significant amounts of Mg-calcite. Their skeletons are more soluble than skeletons with low Mg content, and consequently, more susceptible to ocean acidification, as the solubility of calcite increases with its Mg-calcite content.

Nicte-Ha Muñoz

STRI Intern


Nicte-Ha did her master’s  degree in marine biology at Reefs System Unit, UNAM, Mexico. There, she investigated the growth rates of fossil and modern corals as proxies to understand environmental change.

As an intern scientist of the O’Dea lab, Nicte-Ha expects to  gain a wider perspective on how the study of past marine environments can help to develop better strategies for conservation of current coral reef ecosystems that are under the current effects of human impacts.

Nicte has now moved on to the Altieri lab

Chien-Hsiang Lin

STRI Post-doctoral Fellow


I am a taxonomist and primarily use fish otoliths to explore systematic and ecological questions. Much of my work uses sea bottom otolith assemblages as a study system, but I also work on fossil materials to address their paleoecological, biogeographical and evolutionary aspects.



Melisa Chan

Intern (STRI and College of the Atlantic)

11057221_1200174916675890_4708391133992757548_nI am an undergraduate student at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, pursuing a degree in Human Ecology with a concentration in marine biology. I am interested in the ecological relationship between sea turtles and the communities in which they belong. Subsequently, I hope to make further contributions to the restoration and conservation of both in my homeland, Malaysia.

At STRI I am assisting Mauro Lepore in quantifying the differences in community composition between fossil reefs and sub-recent reefs in Bocas del Toro. This internship will provide me with a new perspective to approach marine conservation: how the study of marine historical ecology can be utilized to better inform coral reef restoration and conservation efforts.

Felix Rodriguez

Soy biólogo y paleontologo marino y los moluscos son mi gran pasión. Utilizo la taxonomía como una herramienta para identificar cientos de estos animales, tanto del registro fósil como modernos. Me interesan las interacciones ecológicas, depredador-presa en función del hábitat y los efectos antopocénicos sobre el medio ambiente, desde el punto de vista de conservación.El enfoque que utiliza el proyecto es súper interesante, ya podemos ir al pasado usando la paleontología; saber cómo eran los ambientes, que especies dominaban y que ha cambiado.


Graciela Quijano

STRI Intern

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Soy Bióloga egresada de la Universidad de Panamá con orientación a la biología animal. Estoy realizando una pasantía que va enfocada específicamente a la clasificación de los moluscos utilizando muestras de la costa del Pacífico así como del Caribe. En este proyecto manipulare organismos del registro fósil como modernos, separando las especies según caracteres morfológicos que me ayudaran a inferir entre familias y géneros. Teniendo en cuenta que los moluscos son un grupo muy diverso y complejo y el cual ha sufrido un proceso evolutivo muy interesante a lo largo de todo este tiempo.

Henbelk Hernandez

STRI Intern

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My interests lie in geology and paleoecology, specifically the structure, constitution, behaviour, and evolution of physical processes and how they interact with biology. I am working with Erin Dillon to process fossil and modern reef sediments from the Dominican Republic for her shark dermal denticle project. Through this opportunity, I hope to gain experience in the lab and learn more about microfossils and their application in interpreting environmental change over time, which will assist my future academic studies in paleoecology.


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?


Yamilla Samara

STRI Intern

PhotoI am a student at Keiser University in Nicaragua who will be transferring to FIU this year to pursue a degree in Marine Biology. I am working alongside Erin Dillon helping process fossil and modern sediment samples to find shark denticles and formulate a hypothesis of how shark communities were before humans. This will allow me to explore new areas of marine biology and gain experience doing research. It will also help me understand how fossils can be used to interpret the present.

Paola Rachello Dolmen

STRI and Texas A&M Postdoctoral fellow

My research interest are: (1) Relating community structure over broad spatial, environmental and temporal scales; (2) Historical interactions between natural variability, biota and humans; (3) Reconstruct past environmental conditions using stable isotope ratios of modern and fossil mollusc specimens; (4) Design, construct, test and maintain useable databases and web-systems and (5) Marine macro- and micro- gastropod biodiversity and taxonomy.

The diverse temporal time-scales (modern to geological), spatial habitat differences in temperate, tropical and subtropical areas and the complexity of the organisms I have studied in the past (macro and micro gastropods, corals, sponges, crustaceans), provides an excellent bPaola_1ackground to conduct innovative research and integrate macroecology and palaeoecology. Thus, my current research focuses on integrating new and existing geochemical data with paleobiological data from the Panama Paleontology Project (PPP) to resolve the drivers of ecological change and evolutionary turnover in the Caribbean. In collaboration with Dr. Ethan Grossman (Texas A&M) I have built a relational database ‘Tropical Ocean Database’ that will be available  to unite paleoecology, evolutionay, environmental and geochemical datasets to allow broad-scale comparison and analysis of marine ecosystems and their communities through time.

Previous Lab Alumni


Darlenis Cedeño

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Yadixa del Valle

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Maria Pinzon Concepcion

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Magdalena Łukowiak

Marcella Herrera

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Dioselina Vigil

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Alexa Fredston-Herman

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Santosh Jagadeeshan

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Katie Cramer

Catherine Courtier

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Abigail Cannon | Grazing and seagrass ecology (Scripps and STRI fellow)