STRI scientist spreads knowledge
of Panama's natural history

April 01, 2013

AN ISTHMIAN NARRATOR:<br/> STRI scientist spreads knowledge<br/> of Panama's natural history

At the University of Panama, Felix Rodriguez had studied and scrutinized shells on either side of the Isthmus of Panama and he knew the two faunas were very different

At the University of Panama, Félix Rodríguez had studied and scrutinized shells on either side of the Isthmus of Panama and he knew the two faunas were very different. So when he uncovered a cache of fossil shells from behind a motel along the Caribbean coast of Panama that looked like they had come from the Pacific, he was left perplexed as to how they got there.

Félix later learned the rise and closure of the Isthmus of Panama was responsible. What's more, he himself became involved in revealing the fascinating story of how, three million years ago, the Isthmus separated the Pacific from the Caribbean and the Caribbean became very different from the Pacific. Species thrived or died out depending on which side they were on.

Now Félix wants to share his journey of wonder and discovery with a wider audience in his native Panama. In addition to his duties as STRI's resident expert on mollusks, past and present, Félix obtained funding to compile a volume on the natural marine history of Panama directed at students and the public in general.

"Scientific knowledge needs to be spread widely," says Félix, a research assistant at STRI scientist Aaron O'Dea's lab. "Scientific articles, while very important, are often too technical. They don't reach the mainstream because of the kind of language they use."

The volume was made possible by a grant from SENACYT, Panama's science, technology and innovation ministry. It includes contributions from STRI scientists Omar López, Stanley Heckadon-Moreno and Aaron O'Dea. It takes readers by the hand and guides them on a fascinating journey through the geology, paleobiology and ecology of the isthmus' varied and treasured marine ecosystems. Félix says the purpose is to both educate and encourage conservation.

"This book fills a major gap. It will reach the people who want to know more but who often find information difficult to get hold of " says Aaron, who calls Félix the right-hand man in his lab. "Panama's natural history is a remarkable and wonderful story and putting that story into the hands of the Panamanians is Felix's passion. This book will be a fantastic legacy."

Photo left: Félix Rodríguez works on a research vessel in Bocas del Toro, Panama during a January 2013 expedition by STRI scientist Aaron O’Dea to take core samples from the Caribbean seabed. Photo right: Félix Rodríguez (right) is an assistant researcher at associate scientists’s Aaron O’Dea’s (left) laboratory.


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