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Ancon, Panama

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, the only bureau of the Smithsonian Institution based outside of the United States, is dedicated to understanding biological diversity. What began in 1923 as a small field station on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal Zone has developed into one of the world's leading research institutions. STRI’s facilities provide a unique opportunity for long-term ecological studies in the tropics, and are used extensively by some 600 visiting scientists from academic and research institutions in the United States and around the world every year. The work of resident scientists has allowed STRI to better understand tropical habitats and has trained hundreds of tropical biologists. Wikipedia.

Lessios H.A.,Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Integrative and Comparative Biology

Research on speciation of marine organisms has lagged behind that of terrestrial ones, but the study of the evolution of molecules involved in the adhesion of gametes in free-spawning invertebrates is an exception. Here I review the function, species-specificity, and molecular variation of loci coding for bindin in sea urchins, lysin in abalone and their egg receptors, in an effort to assess the degree to which they contribute to the emergence of reproductive isolation during the speciation process. Bindin is a protein that mediates binding of the sperm to the vitelline envelope (VE) of the egg and the fusion of the gametes' membranes, whereas lysin is a protein involved only in binding to the VE. Both of these molecules are important in species recognition by the gametes, but they rarely constitute absolute blocks to interspecific hybridization. Intraspecific polymorphism is high in bindin, but low in lysin. Polymorphism in bindin is maintained by frequency-dependent selection due to sexual conflict arising from the danger of polyspermy under high densities of sperm. Monomorphism in lysin is the result of purifying selection arising from the need for species recognition. Interspecific divergence in lysin is due to strong positive selection, and the same is true for bindin of four out of seven genera of sea urchins studied to date. The differences between the sea urchin genera in the strength of selection can only partially be explained by the hypothesis of reinforcement. The egg receptor for lysin (VERL) is a glycoprotein with 22 repeats, 20 of which have evolved neutrally and homogenized by concerted evolution, whereas the first two repeats are under positive selection. Selection on lysin has been generated by the need to track changes in VERL, permitted by the redundant structure of this molecule. Both lysin and bindin are important in reproductive isolation, probably had a role in speciation, but it is hard to determine whether they meet the strictest criteria of "speciation loci," defined as genes whose differentiation has caused speciation. © Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology 2011. Source

Wright S.J.,Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

Five anthropogenic drivers-land use change, wood extraction, hunting, atmospheric change, climate change-will largely determine the future of tropical forests. The geographic scope and intensity of these five drivers are in flux. Contemporary land use change includes deforestation (∼64,000 km2 yr-1 for the entire tropical forest biome) and natural forests regenerating on abandoned land (∼21,500 km2 yr-1 with just 29% of the biome evaluated). Commercial logging is shifting rapidly from Southeast Asia to Africa and South America, but local fuelwood consumption continues to constitute 71% of all wood production. Pantropical rates of net deforestation are declining even as secondary and logged forests increasingly replace old-growth forests. Hunters reduce frugivore, granivore and browser abundances in most forests. This alters seed dispersal, seed and seedling survival, and hence the species composition and spatial template of plant regeneration. Tropical governments have responded to these local threats by protecting 7% of all land for the strict conservation of nature - a commitment that is only matched poleward of 40°S and 70°N. Protected status often fails to stop hunters and is impotent against atmospheric and climate change. There are increasing reports of stark changes in the structure and dynamics of protected tropical forests. Four broad classes of mechanisms might contribute to these changes. Predictions are developed to distinguish among these mechanisms. © 2010 New York Academy of Sciences. Source

Schnitzer S.A.,University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee | Schnitzer S.A.,Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute | Bongers F.,Wageningen University
Ecology Letters

Tropical forests are experiencing large-scale structural changes, the most apparent of which may be the increase in liana (woody vine) abundance and biomass. Lianas permeate most lowland tropical forests, where they can have a huge effect on tree diversity, recruitment, growth and survival, which, in turn, can alter tree community composition, carbon storage and carbon, nutrient and water fluxes. Consequently, increasing liana abundance and biomass have potentially profound ramifications for tropical forest composition and functioning. Currently, eight studies support the pattern of increasing liana abundance and biomass in American tropical and subtropical forests, whereas two studies, both from Africa, do not. The putative mechanisms to explain increasing lianas include increasing evapotranspirative demand, increasing forest disturbance and turnover, changes in land use and fragmentation and elevated atmospheric CO 2. Each of these mechanisms probably contributes to the observed patterns of increasing liana abundance and biomass, and the mechanisms are likely to be interrelated and synergistic. To determine whether liana increases are occurring throughout the tropics and to determine the mechanisms responsible for the observed patterns, a widespread network of large-scale, long-term monitoring plots combined with observational and manipulative studies that more directly investigate the putative mechanisms are essential. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS. Source

Riehl C.,Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society

Cooperatively breeding animals live in social groups in which some individuals help to raise the offspring of others, often at the expense of their own reproduction. Kin selection--when individuals increase their inclusive fitness by aiding genetic relatives--is a powerful explanation for the evolution of cooperative breeding, particularly because most groups consist of family members. However, recent molecular studies have revealed that many cooperative groups also contain unrelated immigrants, and the processes responsible for the formation and maintenance of non-kin coalitions are receiving increasing attention. Here, I provide the first systematic review of group structure for all 213 species of cooperatively breeding birds for which data are available. Although the majority of species (55%) nest in nuclear family groups, cooperative breeding by unrelated individuals is more common than previously recognized: 30% nest in mixed groups of relatives and non-relatives, and 15% nest primarily with non-relatives. Obligate cooperative breeders are far more likely to breed with non-kin than are facultative cooperators, indicating that when constraints on independent breeding are sufficiently severe, the direct benefits of group membership can substitute for potential kin-selected benefits. I review three patterns of dispersal that give rise to social groups with low genetic relatedness, and I discuss the selective pressures that favour the formation of such groups. Although kin selection has undoubtedly been crucial to the origin of most avian social systems, direct benefits have subsequently come to play a predominant role in some societies, allowing cooperation to persist despite low genetic relatedness. Source

Turner B.L.,Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Applied and Environmental Microbiology

Extracellular enzymes synthesized by soil microbes play a central role in the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients in the environment. The pH optima of eight hydrolytic enzymes involved in the cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur, were assessed in a series of tropical forest soils of contrasting pH values from the Republic of Panama. Assays were conducted using 4-methylumbelliferone-linked fluorogenic substrates in modified universal buffer. Optimum pH values differed markedly among enzymes and soils. Enzymes were grouped into three classes based on their pH optima: (i) enzymes with acidic pH optima that were consistent among soils (cellobiohydrolase, β-xylanase, and arylsulfatase), (ii) enzymes with acidic pH optima that varied systematically with soil pH, with the most acidic pH optima in the most acidic soils (α-glucosidase, β-glucosidase, and N-acetyl-β- glucosaminidase), and (iii) enzymes with an optimum pH in either the acid range or the alkaline range depending on soil pH (phosphomonoesterase and phosphodiesterase). The optimum pH values of phosphomonoesterase were consistent among soils, being 4 to 5 for acid phosphomonoesterase and 10 to 11 for alkaline phosphomonoesterase. In contrast, the optimum pH for phosphodiesterase activity varied systematically with soil pH, with the most acidic pH optima (3.0) in the most acidic soils and the most alkaline pH optima (pH 10) in near-neutral soils. Arylsulfatase activity had a very acidic optimum pH in all soils (pH ≤3.0) irrespective of soil pH. The differences in pH optima may be linked to the origins of the enzymes and/or the degree of stabilization on solid surfaces. The results have important implications for the interpretation of hydrolytic enzyme assays using fluorogenic substrates. © 2010, American Society for Microbiology. Source

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