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.

Jessica Lueders-Dumont

MarineGEO and STRI Postdoctoral Fellow

jess and otolithsMy research question as a Smithsonian MarineGEO fellow at STRI is, What did the coastal marine food webs of Caribbean Panama, Chesapeake Bay, and the rocky shorelines of British Columbia “look like” in the past? My approach is to ask the fish, through measuring the chemical fingerprints within historical, sub fossil, and fossil otoliths (fish ear stones) from sediments and archives. Using otoliths as time capsules of oceans past, this research will reveal new insights on pre disturbance ecological baseline across diverse systems, prior to fishing, land use changes, and rapid climate change.

I am particularly interested in the relationship between food web structure, apex predator trophic level, and nutrient regimes on long time scales. I use nitrogen isotopes, usually in the carbonate-bound organic matrix of fish otoliths (ear stones), to track biogeochemical and food web processes.

In addition to the O’Dea Lab at STRI, I am working in collaboration with the Rick Lab at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the Hessing-Lewis Lab and McKechnie Lab at the Hakai Institute, and the Sigman Lab at Princeton University.

Rick Lab at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the Hessing-Lewis Lab and McKechnie Lab at the Hakai Institute, and the Sigman Lab at Princeton University.


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

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.

Jorge Salgado

Post-doc (Now Assistant Professor at Universidad de Los Andes)


My research focuses in the understanding of multiple factors influencing freshwater biodiversity over time. I am interesting in the synergies between the introduction of exotic species, water pollution, hydrological alterations and climate change affecting lake assemblages in the Anthropocene. My work integrates paleolimnological techniques, historical data and contemporary monitoring data in human-impacted tropical lakes to:

  1. Assess how tropical lake communities respond over time (decadal to centennial) to environmental change (e.g. eutrophication, climate change and lake water level alterations).
  2. Determine if dominance of exotic aquatic plants and fish are a direct consequence of competitive exclusion with native species; or whether dominance is an indirect cause from direct negative effects of habitat disturbances on native communities.
  3. Explore if there have been positive impacts from the introduction of exotic species (e.g. carbon sequestration.

Mauro Lepore

Quantifying Ecological Changes in Reef-Building Corals over Historical Timescales

Coral reefs are declining worldwide but we do not know what a natural reef should look like because their degradation appears to have begun long beforeLeporeML_portrait_2 scientists began to survey reefs. Focusing on Bocas del Toro, Panama, this project aims to quantify the differences in the ecological structure of reef-building corals from a 7000 year old fossil reef versus a modern reefs. The fossil reef and modern reefs respectively developed before and during the period when human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Understanding how reef-building corals have changed over historical timescales can help marine managers to assess the decline of Caribbean reefs relative to their condition before the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.