Agua Salud Galore!


Today, our study abroad group visited Agua Salud, which is a research initiative partnered with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) that focuses on ecosystem services or benefits gained from a natural resource in the Panama Canal watershed. There are four types of ecosystem services: supporting services, which provide for the rest of ecosystem, provisioning services, products obtained from ecosystems like natural medicines, regulating services, benefits from a regulating ecosystem such as water and air quality, and cultural services, intangible benefits people get from an ecosystem like recreational activities. Agua Salud studies a variety of these services and primarily looks at regulating and supporting services in a tropical forest as most of the area’s water supports the Panama Canal.

The Agua Salud project, which was established in 1980 and later reinitiated for research purposes in 2008, has been involved in numerous research projects throughout the years. Previous studies include: soil analyses and meteorological trends. Findings found that tropical forest soils support the sponge hypothesis as it acts like a “sponge” because they are porous and able to store large quantities of water throughout various seasons within an ecosystem.  The significance of these studies showed that forests contribute to clean watersheds and improved water quality.

This photo shows the lookout from the Agua Salud meterological research area.

This photo shows the lookout from the Agua Salud meterological research area.

Current work consists of three main study areas: hydrology, secondary forest, and timber production. Hydrology, the study of water, is used at Agua Salud to research the forest’s watershed. A watershed is a system that carries water from high elevation to low elevation, draining the water to a specific source. At Agua Salud, there are nine watersheds that drain into one stream. Scientists are able to measure how the watershed changes through time and how a watershed can change land usage.

Secondary forest research at Agua Salud is related to hydrological studies because the amount of water and other components availability can determine the growth of a forest. One of these components Agua Salud studies is carbon. Researchers look at how carbon can affect forest growth by creating 25 year chronosequences of secondary succession land plots. A chronosequence is a method used to avoid the time needed for plants to grow by arranging plots of soils based on age. By using chronosequences, Agua Salud is able to document patterns in the area’s tropical forests.

Timber production research looks at how production can be maximized. Coffee, pineapple, timber, teak, and even lemon trees are grown on plots throughout Agua Salud. While a majority of plants are successful at growing, the teak plots are not successful. Teak is a non-native species and the soils in Agua Salud contain a high concentration of Iron, which is not preferable for teak growth. Along with timber production research, some plots are also cut down to conduct a competition experiment between the varieties of tree species in Agua Salud.

Lemon Tree

Agua Salud is home to many lemon trees (pictured above) as part of timber production studies.

The research conducted at the Agua Salud project has brought global attention to the variety of services a tropical forest can provide. Current studies of hydrology, secondary forest growth, and timber production are important aspects in understanding ecosystem services.

Majority of this information can be found at:

Hummingbirds of Panama

During our second full day in Panama, the group traveled to Discovery Center and Pipeline Road, locations known for immense biological diversity. Among this biological diversity, many hummingbird species native to Panama can also be found. Today, our group saw multiple hummingbird species including the Long-billed Hermit, White Necked Jacobin, and White Vented Plumeleteer filling up at hanging nectar feeders along the trail.

White-necked Jacobin

The White-necked Jacobin can be seen feeding and these birds average 11.4 cm in lenght.


White-necked Jacobin

The White-necked Jacobin can be seen approaching the feeder. These hummingbirds can be identified by their blue heads, iridescent feathers, and white bellies.

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The Long-billed Hermit can be seen flying towards the nectar feeder. This species can be identified by its abnormally long beak, which is used to consume nectar.

The Long-billed Hermit, White Necked Jacobin, and White Vented Plumeleteer are only a few of the 320 different species of hummingbirds found throughout the Americas (“Hummingbird,” n.d.). The Neotropics are considered a “hotspot” for hummingbirds as approximately 60 species are found in Panama alone. Hummingbirds are known for their fast wing beats and have the ability to beat their wings up to 80 beats per second. This is done to help the hummingbird hover and move from flower to flower, collecting nectar with ease (“Why do,” n.d.). Additionally, these birds do not have a lot of strength in their lower bodies, so their wings act as a support structure (“Why do,” n.d.). The wing structure also allows the hummingbird to travel at a speed more than 15 m/s (“Hummingbird,” n.d.). While hummingbirds can travel at a fast speed, their wind speed takes a substantial amount of energy and in order to conserve energy, most hummingbirds spend their day sitting along branches to rest. At night, some species can even lower their internal body temperature and metabolic rate in an effort to conserve energy.

In addition to having a fast wind speed, hummingbirds have a fast breathing rate, elevated heartbeat, and relatively high internal body temperature, which requires them to eat frequently and in large quantities (“Basic Facts,” 2012). The diet of many hummingbirds includes: nectar from flowers, insects for some species, pollen, and even tree sap (“Basic Facts,” 2012). As hummingbirds must eat often, they can become very territorial over food sources and have been known to chase other hummingbird species or larger predatory birds such as hawks away from their food source.

This video shows two species of humming birds fighting over a nectar food source as hummingbirds can be territorial:

Territorial Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are amazing species and need our help! Many of these birds are either endangered or threatened due to habitat loss and destruction since they are typically adapted to a unique habitat, meaning they can only live within this habitat. Additional threats of climate change are also affecting the species and causing hummingbirds to migrate to different locations they are not normally found in or adapted to live in (“Hummingbird,” n.d.).



Basic Facts About Hummingbirds. (2012). Retrieved May 18, 2016, from

Hummingbird. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2016, from

Why do hummingbirds flap their wings so quickly? (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2016, from hums fighting