November 3, 2010

Students Study Secondary Forest Succession in Panama Canal Watershed

by Dylan Craven

Enmeshed in a mosaic of land uses, young secondary forests provide vital ecosystem services to the cities of Panama City, San Miguelito, and Colón, as well as to the Panama Canal. Under the auspices of the Agua Salud Project, a collaborative research project of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute sponsored by the HSBC Climate Partnership, a group of students from Yale and Harvard spent the summer investigating plant functional traits, functional diversity, and community assembly processes in the young secondary forests of the Panama Canal Watershed.

An extensive series of 0.10 ha transects (10 ha in total) has been established across this human-dominated landscape, where all trees, lianas, and palms have been inventoried yearly since 2008 (~450 tree species, ~150 liana species). Using demographic information from these transects, Dylan Craven (Yale F&ES), Grant Tolley (Yale F&ES), and Julian Moll-Rocek (Harvard) identified and sampled 56 of the most abundant tree species, which represent approximately 75% of basal area of transects between 0 and 20 years old. By looking at varying aspects of species-specific plant function – leaf morphology, physiology, and nutrient content – in combination with abundance and mortality data, these students hope to gain insights about how habitat filtering, niche differentiation, and functional diversity vary with secondary succession.

For more information, please contact Dylan Craven at