19 de Ago de 2022

Nacional

A scientist’s fairy tale come true

PANAMA. Ever opened a tropical rainforest guidebook, and wondered where all the information came from? Well, a lot of it might have bee...

PANAMA. Ever opened a tropical rainforest guidebook, and wondered where all the information came from? Well, a lot of it might have been discovered closer to home than you think.

In a recent Washington Post article, journalist Andrea Sachs speaks of her visit to Barro Colorado, calling it the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s “living lab”. She quotes the institute’s science interpreter, who describes the research island as the “longest-studied piece of tropical real estate in the world." Among the guide book's worthy discoveries at the island are where toucans make their home and data on the language of bees.

The Smithsonian "lab" occupies a 3,707-acre island and is an active petri dish of mammals (93 species), birds (366), plants (1,368), amphibians and reptiles (90) and visiting scientists (up to 300 a year).

The humid tropical forest has been barely touched by Homo sapiens; the man-made constructions include a small dock, a weather tower and a smattering of simple buildings. In this barely adulterated environment, international scholars can pursue their life's devotions: the foamy nests of tungara frogs, the night vision of bees, the dreams of sloths.

The Smithsonian's link to Barro Colorado dates to 1910, when President William Howard Taft asked the institute to assist in an environmental impact study concerning the construction of the Panama Canal. The island, which was designated a biological reserve in 1923, grew into a world-class field station for tropical research.

A limited number of tourists (10 on weekdays, 20 on weekends) may visit, to hike, lunch and observe the resident brains and beasts.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute runs its Day Visit Program five times a week (no Mondays or Thursdays). The $70 fee includes round-trip boat ride from Gamboa Pier; interpretive tour and hike lasting up to three hours; and lunch. Reservations required. Info: 212-8951 or http://www.stri.org.