Thursday, November 28, 2013


Great pic of Collin Whitsett (STRI intern)

Well, this is my first blog post and I want to write about last weekend. The three CollinLab interns went to Bocas del Toro, the main reason was to visit Bocas Station, where our Principal Investigator, Rachel Collin, is the Director. Of course, it was our first trip together (without counting field trips at the lab) and we were really excited.

We took the overnight bus to get there, and it takes 10 hours to arrive at Almirante. For me, the trip was really good because I was sleeping the whole time, but I don’t think that it was the same for all the other people.  
After the bus, we had to take a taxi to go to the dock and get a boat to the main island, Colon…Yeah, just getting to Bocas is an adventure.
The first thing we did was visit the Bocas Station, where a nice woman who works there, Vicky, was waiting for us. She showed us all the station, and it was really interesting.  The diving facilities were impressive, and there are many innovative environmental technologies exclusive to this station, particularly ones for climate change research.

The three interns at Bocas Station
Bocas station dock

After our tour, we went down to the beach for a while. The beach (Paki Point) is really quite amazing, and we could finally rest at the lounge there.

On Saturday, despite the rainy weather, we visited Coral Cay, and we went to an area for snorkeling. The boat tied up to a buoy and we snorkeled off the boat. The water wasn’t very clear but I saw a lot of small fish that were very colorful and some species of corals. After this, the boat driver took us to Red Frog Beach. We got off at a dock from which we had to walk about 10 minutes to the beach. It was a great beach -- probably the most beautiful beach I had ever been too -- but I didn´t see any frogs! I spent most of the time in the water, which was very warm and wavy.

Panoramic of Red Frog Beach

We came back to the city on Sunday at noon. The overnight bus was full, so we had to take a bus to David (where my life flashed before my eyes – it is a very crazy ride!) and another one from there to Panama City. Despite the somewhat frightening and hectic, transport I really recommend this trip to everybody!


Friday, November 22, 2013

Moving from snails to worms

After a year and so in the Collin Lab at Panama, I joined every possible project in the lab. And I tried all the possible things you can do in the vicinity of Naos and Cerro Ancon. Introduced extensively by Gina, Ancon was the home for many of the STRI interns and fellows: La Jaula. 

(La Jaula, Apt. H)

Independently of the space, it gather together some of the most remarkable interns and friends of the Collin Lab during my time there: Olaf, Victoria, Gina, Abby, Abrial and Robin. Together we were often found having potlucks and playing guitar.

Meanwhile in the lab, me as Costa Rican, wasn't refer by my first name (Allan), but usually by the name of "El mae" (=dude, in CR). Back there in Naos, I took care of the hundreds of snails and their food.


(Naos, animal and marine algae room)

Mostly based on the Pacific beaches of Veracruz and Venado, I was part of maybe all the sampling trips. Including the Venado marathons through the dry and rainy seasons. As a result of that, my water shoes give me a very distinct tan line. But thankfully, during my time there, I met incredible people and I gained an amazing experience which help me pursue my next step...GRAD SCHOOL. 

Because of Rachel I met my new supervisor, Néva Meyer. So, past July I came to Worcester, Massachusetts and became a PhD student at Clark University. I joined the Meyer Lab, where we work on one of my favorites groups of animals... ANNELIDS. Néva works with neural development on the charismatic marine worm Capitella teleta

(C. teleta and its sibling species live in the intertidal and shallow water mud of the East Coast. Me, Néva and Craig (Néva's husband and also a developmental biologist) went down to Sippewissett salt marsh to collect some mud (=food) for our colony in the lab)

(yeah, of course some Crepidula...)

Using modern molecular techniques, such as in situ hybridization, antibody staining, microinjections plus fluorescent and confocal microscopy, we are trying to understand how the central nervous system develops and how it can be compared among other animals. 

(Ventral view of a stage 9 larvae of C. teleta. Green shows acetylated tubulin (ciliary bands), red shows serotonergic neurons (annelids and molluscs, yeah, slipper snails too!, have a ventral nerve cord)

Meanwhile, I am narrowing down ideas for projects,  trying to get used to the cold of New England and learning a bunch of excited EvoDevo topics as well as more and more molecular techniques. That's for now. Pura vida.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Where are they now? Gina Contolini

Studying moon snails with Allan and Rachel early in 2013 was an amazing experience, and I was sad to leave. 

Me (Gina) at our moon snail field site at Venado Beach in February 2013.

Now, I am doing my own research at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) where I just started as a PhD graduate student in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. 

I work at the Long Marine Lab, the marine division of the department. My advisors are Dr. Mark Carr, a subtidal ecologist, and Dr. Eric Palkovacs, a freshwater evolutionary ecologist. 

A picture of the Long Marine Lab from the Monterey Bay. Picture from the UCSC EEB website.

I don't have a thesis project yet, but I am interested in eco-evolutionary dynamics in marine ecosystems, and especially how humans cause evolution in these systems. I want to know to what degree trait change in marine species causes change in the environment, and how these changes can lead to further evolution. 

Currently, I am considering studying systems in inter- and subtidal ecosystems and fisheries. I hope someday my research informs marine management. I am particularly interested in the sheephead-urchin trophic dynamic in kelp forests in the Channel Islands. 

I am originally from Portland, OR, so my move to central California was not a huge change, but it is certainly much warmer and drier. I love the area, the school, the department, and all the other students I've met so far. There are a million outdoor things to do in Santa Cruz, and there is always something fun to do to keep me busy. Below are some pictures of my experiences here!

Me testing the stinging cells of a sea anenome by licking it. They worked. 

A hollowed out tree in Big Sur.

View of the Big Sur coastline.

Tidepools behind the Long Marine Lab.

For more information about what I'm up to, visit my website!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Panama's Diversity

Greetings from the Collin Lab! I am posting for the first time during my four month internship to share my recent ecological experiences. Both in and out of the lab, I have been astounded by the diversity of Panama. Flipping over a single rock in the intertidal zone reveals not only multiple species, but multiple classes and phyla. Brittle stars scurry across sponges and barnacles, hoping to hide again in the sediment, as snails pull themselves tightly against the rock. These organisms survive daily and annually fluctuating environmental conditions so drastic that my complaints for air conditioning after an hour in the field seem laughable. Our field site at Veracruz is just minutes from the Naos laboratory, but every trip there brings me new appreciation for the term “tropical biodiversity.”

This kind of diversity is paralleled in Panama’s landscape. In the past week, I had the opportunity to scuba dive a Caribbean coral reef, hike through a rainforest, scramble over rocks at STRI’s own Punta Culebra, and even explore the cultural landscape of Casco Viejo, all within about an hour’s drive.  

I was introduced to animals I didn’t even know existed, like capybaras and coati. Capybaras, or “water pigs”, spend their days in the water and come out at night to graze. It was on a night hike of the rainforest that I caught a glimpse of a family of capybaras, and I couldn’t help but think of Rodents Of Unusual Size (a disturbing creature from the book/movie The Princess Bride).

I am really enjoying the experiences that this diversity brings to my daily life. One morning I woke to the sound of distant howler monkeys, and the next to 5 am fireworks celebrating Panama’s independence from Colombia (las Fiestas Patrias). Likewise, I have a special fondness for tropical birds, and was ecstatic to catch a glimpse of a toucan on a run up Ancon hill behind the STRI dorms. Panama’s diversity is present in so many ways, and I’m looking forward to the adventures to come!