Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bienvenidos al Collin Lab

By Gina Contolini

The Collin Lab is full of snails.

Marine snails.

And very few of them look like snails. At least, very few of them look like that charismatic, coil-shelled terrestrial snail I think of when I hear the word, "snail."

how to draw a cartoon snail
A classic snail. 
Picture from Dragoart.com
Crepidula capensis from South Africa
A Crepidula snail like those in the Collin lab. 
Picture from the STRI Collin Lab webpage.

I was okay with this, because I didn't have my heart set on playing with coil-shelled snails. I had my heart set on doing some great marine ecology, and hanging out with knowledgeable people with really interesting experiences to share.

Lucky for me, I found all this at STRI's Naos laboratory. Not only that, but barely a week after meeting the people in Rachel's lab, I fit right in and felt like I had been there for months.

This was, of course, after arriving at Tocumen Airport, where I met Rachel and was taken by taxi to my apartment in Ancon. Luckily I had been to the apartment before, because it is not the most welcoming establishment. There is a reason the STRI community calls it La Jaula"The Cage."

La Jaula is a very safe place on the inside. It's probably safe outside, too, 
but you can never be too sure, so why not adorn it in steel bars?

The next morning I walked to the Tupper campus to get my ID.

The STRI Tupper campus in Ancon. 

I took a cab to the Naos lab where we work. For those interested, by taxi you ask to go to "Isla Naos," the causeway, or Amador, and this should cost no more than three dollars.

(There is also a MetroBus that goes out to the Causeway. To take the MetroBus, you first have to buy an orange MetroBus card at the Gran Terminal Nacional de Transporte, located by Albrook Mall, or in the Plaza de Cinco de Mayo, where I would not advise being at night. The card costs something like $2 and then you add money on it after that. (Five dollars is a good starting amount.) Each time you use the card to get on a MetroBus it's 25 cents. The bus to Naos island will say "Amador" on the LED sign atop the front of the bus. I wish you could recharge the balance for these online, but I haven't been able to figure that out yet if it is possible. As far as I know, you can only add more money to it at the Gran Terminal or 5 de Mayo. At least you can check your balance online!)

Upon arrival, I met Isis (lab coordinator) and Allan (intern), who immediately made me feel right at home—er, right at work. It is especially great to be able to work with someone (Allan) who has so many similar interests and is in a relatively similar stage of life—we both have a bachelor's degree, are interested in grad school, like to travel, enjoy music, and play sports.

It was especially, especially great to find out that we live next door in La Jaula.

And it was especially, especially, especially great to find out that nearly everyone else living in La Jaula is interested in similar things, too! I recommend living there if you are going to work at STRI and have the option. It's not the most convenient for going into town, but it's in a safe area, you can walk to Tupper and a great fresh food market, and you get instant friends.

So far, in the three weeks I've been here, I have seen a Japanese film, been to two concerts as part of the Panama Jazz Festival (one was Herbie Hancock), been to an international beer festival, been to a black sand beach called Gorgona, played around a dozen games of volleyball, watched boats go through the Panama Canal Miraflores locks, gotten churros downtown at a popular churro cafe called Churrería Manolo, and of course been to the (huge) intertidal zone several times collecting snails and their eggs. The list will go on as there are more concerts and festivals in town, especially with Carnival coming up. Carnival is a celebration before el miércoles de la ceniza, or Ash Wednesday. There will be a lot of festivals, parades, and partying going on during those four days.

To conclude, here are some pictures of the fabulous Cerro Ancon (Ancon Hill), located very close to La Jaula. It's an excellent place to see some local flora and fauna and some views of the city, the canal, and the Bay of Panama, all while getting in some serious exercise!

Some flora we saw on the way up. 
View of Panama City from the top of Ancon Hill

The charismatic Panamanian flag proudly 
flying at the top of the hill.

Eastern view, toward the canal.                                 A nice place to sit at the top.

My Collin Lab Internship

By Rowshyra Castaneda

Ricciardi Lab
Redpath Museum, McGill University, Montreal

I'm Rowshyra, I have a B.Sc. in biology and recently completed my M.Sc. at McGill University.  I had the opportunity to study in Panama through the Panama Field Study Semester (PFSS), a field-based course run by McGill University and STRI.  The program is made up of 26 McGill students and four Panamanian students who travel across the country absorbing and appreciating everything it has to offer.  Besides the course/field work, which includes environmental history, neotropical biology and sustainable tropical agriculture (that all students must take together), we each had to complete an internship with a Panamanian institution (NGO, governmental, or research).  I was fortunate to work in the Collin Lab through STRI.

I got to work on a neat project with my internship partner, Maura.  We looked at the effects of water temperature on the reproduction in an intertidal snail (Crepidula marginalis). This project required us to go into the field and collect snails from the intertidal zone, which was not an easy task. Thankfully, we had a great lab tech, Maricela, with us, who had an amazing talent for finding them.  Each rock I turned over I collected only one or two snails, whereas Maricela would be picking off about a dozen.

Rowshyra collecting marine snails at Playa Venado in Veracruz Panama!

Hunting for Crepidula in the intertidal zone

Despite our failure at being efficient snail hunters, we did have fun looking at the different organisms hiding under rocks and between crevices.  The sponges and flatworms added flashes of brilliant and diverse colours, while the barnacles and snails added texture and structure; this makes the ecosystem so unique and beautiful. 

Cool critters under a rock

Adult Crepidula marginalis, C. lessonii and other inverts

Other then the research and report we completed, we also made a video describing our research to add to the lab's Youtube page.  Maura was a natural and flawlessly described our project, while I, being super shy had to retake every scene.  Although we found our video to be quite a success in the end (over 1000 views!), we have some tough Youtube critics (5 likes, 7 dislikes), looks like I won't be making it big on the big screen!

My experience in the Collin lab and in Panama was amazing.  Every part of our project from collecting snails on the beach to living in Panama City was unforgettable. 

Now, check out the YouTube video we made and maybe send us a few more "likes"! 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Where are they now!? - Paul Schmidt Yáñez

Hi again,

Now you've heard a bit about my time in Panamá, but what's become of me since then?
After the time I spent in Panamá I became quite interested in aquatic ecosystems, especially limnology and started working in Michael Monaghan's lab at the Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries Berlin (IGB).

One of the reasons why I wanted to work together with him was, that it allowed me spend time with some of my favorite little critters, the mayflies:

A fabulous little Epeorus sp. in the Pyrenees
Besides the frequent work at the IGB and the time at the university I tried to escape my everyday life as often as possible by travelling as much as possible, whether as a student assistant, a tutor for university courses, speciment collection for my thesis or simply vacations.

The time as a tutor at the university was really great. I got to be out in the sun, convey what I've learned to other students and live my dream of macro photography in between.
One of these excursions was together with Prof. Jana Petermann to the north east of Italy with the topic of alpine and freshwater ecology at the Tagliamento, one of Europes best preserved rivers.

Tagliamento River, north-eastern Italy
Students excursion to Italy on Alpine and Freshwater Ecology
(freshly moult Calopteryx virgo female on my arm)
But all good things go to an end at some point and so I finished my bachelor with my thesis on the "Morphological and genetic characterization of European Rhithrogena (Ephemeroptera: Heptageniidae)". I'm very grateful to Sereina Rutschmann for providing me with the opportunity to work in her project on the characterization of all Ephemeroptera of Europe.

Some months ago I started my Master in Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution in Göttingen, Germany and  so far I'm very happy here since it holds what it promises in the title and there are a lot of people around working with insects and tropics, two of my major points of interest which I want to pursue during my studies, whichever way it will take me.

I'm eager to know how it will turn out and where I will be at the end of it.

So long!

This is how the above Calopteryx virgo female will look a few hours later.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Seals, crepidulas, and a fish sandwich

Seals, crepidulas, and a fish sandwich

So, there are too many stories to tell about during my experience in an Island in the North Sea of Germany, Sylt.  I stayed there for 10 days, to attend lectures and also field work (part of my master program). 

Classes and lab work was carried out at Wadden Sea Station, the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI).  A comfortable and pleasant station, located at the interface between the North Sea and Wadden Sea.

The first days, we sampled algae in the shore, exposed to rain and wind.  Fucus, Ulva, Polysiphonia and a couple more were collected.   We also saw sea mice, chitons, bivalves, crabs and snails.

We also were abroad a vessel from the AWI, to collect some animals for the Aquatic Fauna class, we did it by dragging.  We found different organisms, such as: tunicates, shrimps, hermit crabs, fishes, different types of snails…..but the most representative was the famous Crepidula fornicata.  I have to say that at least more than 50% of the dragged samples were Crepidula.

Crepidula fornicata form stacks.  Larger females on the bottom and males on top.

C. fornicata is an invasive species, or let’s say a potential invasive species which was introduced from the North Atlantic to Europe, with the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica.

Also, on the way to collect those specimens we were lucky to find seals. It was the first time for me to see those animals in their natural environment, how amazing!

In between we had the opportunity to take a long walk in one of the beaches of the island, beautiful but cold. Only courageous people bathed there (a friend of mine).

In Sylt, you can also find a small market to get different things, such as souvenirs, candies, clothes, and of course a delicious fish sandwich.  I ate two; I couldn’t miss the opportunity to try one of those.

Anabell Cornejo.  Panameña

Further information:

about C. fornicata

about AWI