Barro Colorado Nature Monument - Soberania National Park
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Site Coordinator: Dr. Patrick A. Jansen
The Panamanian TEAM site is located in Central Panama, at the narrowest part of the isthmus that connects the continents of North and South America. The site includes the Barro Colorado Nature Monument (BCNM) and the adjacent Soberanía National Park (PNS). Both parks are part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, in which Central Panama is a major bottleneck because the area experiences strong economic development, being adjacent to Panama City and its suburbs (2 million people).
The BCNM is located in the Gatun Lake section of the Panama Canal. It is a fully protected national biological reserve since 1923. It includes the 15.6-km² Barro Colorado Island (BCI), several small islands, and five mainland peninsulas – Gigante, Peña Blanca, Bohio, Buena Vista and Frijoles – totaling 54 km². The islands and peninsulas were separated from each other in 1914, when engineers constructed a dam in the Chagres River to create the Gatun Lake as part of the Panama Canal. The BCNM has been managed by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) since 1946. BCI has been managed by STRI since 1924.
The Soberanía National Park (SNP) is located on the Eastern side of the Panama Canal. SNP was established in 1979 and covers 220 km², largely late-secondary forest. The Chagres River, the main water source to the Panama Canal, runs through the park. SNP includes Pipeline Road (Camino del Oleoducto), one of the most important birding areas in Central America. SNP is managed by the National Environmental Authority of Panama (ANAM).
BCI offers state-of-the-art facilities, including modern, air-conditioned laboratory space, a cafeteria, and accommodations for resident researchers. The Research Station features all of the necessary infrastructure: offices, labs, growing houses, an insectary, dark room, computer room, dining hall, conference room, visitor’s center, as well as Internet access, telephones, and boat rental services.
The Gamboa facilities are now in various buildings across the town of Gamboa, and include accommodation for visitors, laboratories, class rooms, vehicles, greenhouses, amongst others. STRI plans to establish a large research facility in Gamboa.
BCNM and PNS are covered by a mix of mature and late-secondary tropical semi-deciduous lowland moist forest. Average annual rainfall is 2,900 mm (BCI). There is a distinct dry season during December-April.
Both the BCNM and SNP are strictly protected. In the BCNM, poaching is actively prevented by a team of game wardens operating 24/7. In contrast, high levels of poaching have been reported for SNP.
The STRI Biodiversity database currently contains 3,946 species from BCI. BCI has about 110 mammal species. 72 of these are bats. Of the five species of monkey, the White-faced capuchin and the Black howler monkey have been most extensively studied. Common mammals include the Collared peccary and the well-studied Central-American agouti. Rarer species include Baird’s tapir and a variety of cats such as Puma, Jaguar, and Margay. An important component missing is the White-lipped peccary, that disappeared from BCI in the 1920s. Soberania is probably richer in terrestrial mammal species, but much less is know from this area. The flora of BCI has been described by Paul Standley in 1927 and Tomas Croat in 1978, available online. Currently, 2242 plant species are known from BCI.
Gamboa is accessible by road from Panama City (40 min by car) and the Tocumen International Airport (90 min). BCI is accessible from Gamboa through a STRI boat service (see STRI).