Meet AEP’s newest faces

The team of the Azuero Earth Project is always changing, it is a NGO that interacts a lot with the local and international community seeking the creation of bonds of cooperation in favor of sustainable development, on October 23 we welcomed a new group of volunteers and practitioners from different parts of the world, they have come to support the projects and objectives of the organization, they have been quickly integrated and have defined the goals to be met.

In the area of reforestation and nursery we have Timo Viel, a conservation biologist, and Gerwald Meulman a student of International Business. Both will be working on the preparation of seedlings for the reforestation of 2018, in addition to giving care and monitoring to the thousands of trees planted in this year 2017. Both enjoy the cultural exchange that occurs within the project, are very active and persistent in their important work.

In the education area is Carolyn Balk. She will be working on the school initiative of the spider monkey; she enjoys the Panamanian culture and visiting the different natural and cultural landscapes of the Azuero region.

In the area of institutional development is Marit Overgoor, an international business student from the Netherlands, she demonstrates great camaraderie and dedication in her work and is improving her Spanish language while working on the administrative functions of the Azuero earth project.

Also there are with us Emmanuel Medina and Eloy González, practitioners of the IPAN high school in Pedasí; and Francisco Huang and Vicente Vásquez, practitioners of the Soyuz Bilingual School of Chitré. They will be supporting all areas of the organization and will be administering the social networks and the project website.

For the Azuero Earth Project it is very important the work done by the practitioners and volunteer because they are the energy that keeps the project moving, their dedication shows the value of volunteering, their knowledge and culture enriches the history of the organization and their efforts push the initiatives to make them a complete success.

Dr. Trevor Caughlin begins reforestation research project with local landowners

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The project welcomes Dr. Trevor Caughlin as a new collaborator with the Program of Organiculture. Dr. Caughlin is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florida, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, who will be conducting a three year research project on the Azuero Peninsula. The aim of his work is study the interplay between landowner decision-making and forest regeneration, which can inform management plans for large-scale restoration.

The restoration of ecosystem functions in deforested tropical areas is necessary to sustain human well-being, conserve biodiversity and store carbon. Such restoration is difficult, given it requires increase in tree coverage at a very large scale, from landscapes to entire regions. When reforestation efforts become this big, the success of reforestation depends on both social and ecological factors. In the Azuero Peninsula, and many other landscapes in Latin America, the greatest potential for reforestation is in cattle pasture located on privately-owned land. Consequently, whether or not landowners decide to enable trees to return is paramount.

IMG_0063Dr. Caughlin is currently conducting workshops with landowners in a different communities of the region, to assess landowner interest in reforestation and better understand how forest cover could return to the Azuero Peninsula. We are overjoyed to be able to support his project, which aligns so closely with the mission of our organization, and are excited to see the process and results over the coming months and years, which we will continue to share.

 

 

 

 

Wildlife DNA barcoding in Tree Cavities

¿How and where do wildlife nest when no trees are available? This is one of the questions researcher and Villanova University student Bonnie Britt will be trying to answer during the following months in the Azuero peninsula.

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Student reseracher Bonnie Britt in the field!

Bonnie is pursuing a masters in Biology and although her work has previously focused on primates, she has decided to concentrate her thesis on the relation between reduced quantities of tree cavities due to deforestation and wildlife (including birds, mammals, reptiles and insect species) nesting behavior. A subject matter that touches on the impact of deforestation on biodiversity conservation.

Since the peak breeding season for many wildlife species occurs during mid-March through July, the research is being carried out from now until August and another field season the following year. Bonnie and her research assistant, Alberto Bethancourt University of Panama student, will be looking at tree cavity availability in dry forest patches as the latter usually lack bigger sized trees.

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A photograph of tree cavities in Achotines

Taking into account that many wildlife species depend on cavity availability for nesting, investigation will be developed in the Achotines and Madroño private forests. These are some of the last available places for nesting opportunities in the area.

Bonnie will be looking at natural cavities to find feces, feathers, hair, and nest materials as samples for DNA barcoding. These will in turn, serve as a tool to identify the array of wildlife species that have visited or have nested within the cavity. This will also be an opportunity to detect predation and competition for cavity use and also to potentially identify new wildlife in the area.

The research will also include the construction and placement of two differentartificial nest box house to analyze if these will be used by wildlife for nesting. These might serve to allure other and more wildlife species which could result in biodiversity restoration in the area. Camera traps will be placed in active nests in both artificial bird houses and tree cavities to monitor predation and competition behaviors surrounding cavities.

AEP and University of Maryland Agree to Collaborate on Spider Monkey Research Project

In July, the Azuero Earth Project gained a new ally in the fight to protect the critically endangered Azuero spider monkey.

In a memorandum of understanding signed on July 5, the AEP and the Fagan Laboratory at the University of Maryland officially launched a collaborative effort to improve understanding of the ranging behaviors of Ateles geoffroyi azuerensis, a subspecies of the Central American spider monkey that lives only in the Azuero peninsula.

 The Azuero spider monkey is considered critically endangered, with as few as 145 individuals remaining in the wild, and very little is known about its behavorial tendencies. To fill in the gaps, researchers from the Bill Fagan Lab at the University of Maryland will use GPS collars to track the monkeys in the Azuero.

The Azuero spider monkey c. Natalia Reagan

Over the course of the two-year long study, researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how the animals interact with one another and with their environment, especially focusing on how the monkeys have changed their behaviors in response to deforestation of their dry forest habitat.

 Using data collected from the tracking collars and GIS maps developed by the AEP, researchers will be able to better determine where the monkeys live, what they eat, and how they travel from place to place.

Once the data has been collected, AEP and University of Maryland researchers hope to engage other key actors in the region in order to develop strategies for protecting the spider monkeys and promoting their survival as a species.

Using both land cover maps developed by the AEP and field data, researchers will also work to determine which tree species are most important in providing food and habitat for the spider monkeys. The information will be then put to use as part of the AEP’s ongoing effort to create a biological forest corridor that connects spider monkey habitats in different parts of the Azuero using tree species appropriate for the social and dietary habits of the Azuero spider monkey.

Find out more about the Bill Fagan Lab here.

 

University of Florida Student Conducts Tree Mapping Study in Azuero

To estimate the quantity of carbon contained in these landscapes, the team measures the diameter and height of every tree mapped in the study. Here Diogenes and Luis measure a very large Panama tree (Sterculia apetala). c. Sarah Graves

In June and July 2013, Sarah Graves from the University of Florida conducted field research to create a tree cover map of the Azuero Peninsula as part of her Master´s study entitled “Remnant tree communities in dry tropical agricultural landscapes: Use of aerial and satellite imagery for species identification, biomass estimation, and forest cover mapping”.

The goal of the study is to quantify the tree cover of degraded tropical dry and moist forests, tree species diversity and carbon stocks. This research will inform the ecological role of the dispersed tree community and can be directly used in conservation and reforestation initiatives to protect natural ecosystems. Her study is in collaboration with advisor Dr. Stephanie Bohlman in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, with field research partially funded by the Tropical Conservation and Development program at U Florida. 

Luis measures the diameter of a tree on a hill overlooking a recently plowed rice field. Diameter and height measurements are used to estimate the quantity of carbon contained in the trees of the Azuero landscape. c. Sarah Graves

University of Panama undergraduate Lesly Oderay Candelaria, AEP staff member Jairo Batista, Diogenes Ibarra and Luis Mensilla formed the team that collaborated with Sarah in the fieldwork for this study. During the course of the fieldwork, Sarah and her team focused specifically on the region of Venao and Oria Arriba in Los Santos, visiting designated farms to locate, identify, and count tree crowns in their sample area. They also measured diameter and height to calculate biomass. Overall, they mapped over 60 tree species and over 1,500 individual tree crowns.

These field data will be combined with high-resolution aerial imagery to develop a computer model that can map tree species distribution and help understand the tree diversity throughout the area. Aerial imagery was provided by the Carnegie Airborne Observatory at Stanford University. Sarah anticipates that image analysis and results from this study will be complete by June 2014.

Accessing properties far from the main road requires a more Panamanian type of transportation. Sarah rides a horse rented from a nearby landowner to cross the Oria River and access a remote farm. c. Sarah Graves

This study provides invaluable information on Azuero tree diversity and helps to inform the Azuero Earth Project’s efforts to support reforestation of the tropical dry forest in the region. Sarah mentioned that, “from conversations with landowners, it is clear that farmers understand issues such as deforestation and climate change and are receptive to programs to increase local tree diversity”. AEP thanks Sarah Graves and Dr. Bohlman for the opportunity to collaborate on this important project.

To learn more about Sarah Graves, see the Collaborators page. To learn more about native tree species, check out AEP’s tree database.

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs

Meet AEP’s Newest Collaborators!

AEP´s new collaborators: Ashley Stonecipher, Sarah Graves, Lesly Oderay Candelaria, Hannah Metzel, Sabina Roan, and Victor Tran (from top left to bottom right), c. photo subjects

The Azuero Earth Project welcomes several new collaborators to the office in Pedasí who will be conducting research and projects related to environmental conservation and sustainable development. They are eager to meet the Pedasí community and to explore the Azuero Peninsula through their projects!

Ashley Stonecipher, Pedasí School Gardens Consultant, Peace Corps

Ashley is working with the Pedasí school, Instituto Plinio A. Moscoso, to develop an organic garden with the school´s students and faculty. Ashley comes to AEP having recently completed 2 ½ years in Peace Corps Paraguay working on sustainable agriculture with local farmers and women and teaching about the importance of organic gardening. Ashley received her undergraduate degree in Environmental Horticulture with a specialization in Public Garden Management and a MS in Business Management and a MA in International Business at the University of Florida.

Sarah Graves, University of Florida Field Research Team

Sarah is conducting research to quantify the species diversity and carbon content of the dispersed trees throughout cattle pastures using high-resolution hyper-spectral aerial imagery and LiDAR data. Sarah is earning her Master of Science in Forest Resources and Conservation at UF, advised by Dr. Stephanie Bohlman. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Environmental Science. Sarah then attended the University of Wisconsin to earn a professional certificate in geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing.

Lesly Oderay Candelaria, University of Florida Field Research Team

As a part of her professional internship through the University of Panama in Penonomé, Lesly forms part of the University of Florida field investigation team that seeks to quantify the species diversity and carbon content of the dispersed trees throughout cattle pastures using high-resolution hyper-spectral aerial imagery and LiDAR data. Lesly is in the fourth year of her undergraduate degree in Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Panama in Penonomé.

Hannah Metzel, Environmental Education Intern

Hannah is collaborating with AEP to develop the curriculum for the Pro-Eco Pela´os program. She is double majoring in Environmental Studies and Government at Connecticut College. Through volunteering at the West Hill Park in her hometown and taking several courses in Environmental Science, she has developed an interest in the transformation from fossil fuels to renewable resources. After Connecticut College Hannah plans to attend law school and pursue a career in Environmental Law.

Sabina Roan, GIS Mapping Intern

Sabina is focusing on adding to and updating AEP´s GIS database, as well as participating in AEP´s recycling and the Pro-Eco Pela´os programs and the local turtle monitoring group. Sabina just completed a bachelor degree in Geography with a concentration in Urban Systems at McGill University in Montréal, Canada. Her minors were in Geographic Information Systems and Environment.

Victor Tran, Organiculture Intern

Victor is collaborating with AEP´s Organiculture program to research natural pest management systems and to help out in the experimental organic garden. Victor is visiting from the AEP from Montreal, QC in Canada where he studies Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at McGill University. He comes as a first time traveller to Panama. While not spending time in the gardens, he hopes to learn more about the Panamanian lifestyle by interacting with people in the community, and visiting local farmers in the region.

To learn about about these new collaborators, visit the Collaborators page.

McGill Student Researchers Present on Sea Turtle Conservation in Pedasí

c. Margaret von Saenger

Did you know that 5 out of 7 species of sea turtles nest on the beaches of Panama, including the leatherback, hawksbill, loggerhead, green and olive ridley turtle? Elana Evans and Iké Green-Nault, two undergraduate students from McGill University in Montreal, Canada culminated their semester abroad internship with Pedasí’s turtle conservation group, Tortugeños Pedasieños, by presenting on sea turtle conservation in the Pedasi area during the last week of April. They gave six presentations on their project at the Plinio A. Moscoso high school in Pedasí. They also presented to the children who attended AEP´s Pro Eco Pelaos program.

Elana and Ike´s presentations provided a foundation on turtle ecology and conservation. They explained that the 5 species of turtles that visit Panama beaches serve important functions in the local ecosystem. For example, turtles conserve the health of coral reef systems by feeding on the algae that blocks sunlight for coral growth. In addition, leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) maintain fish populations important to the local economy by preying on the types of jellyfish that attack these fish.

c. Margaret von Saenger

Elana and Ike also talked about the turtle life cycle, explaining that it takes between 20-30 years for turtles to reach sexual maturity. On average, only one turtle out of 1,000 turtles hatched survives to reproductive age, and as a result, mother turtles lay hundreds of eggs each seasons to ensure that their offspring survive. Reproduction difficulties present a challenge to turtle conservation. As Elana explained, ¨Because turtles are slow to mature, the effects of over-exploitation are not immediately evident. The eggs that are taken from a nest in 2013 would, if left to hatch and survive into adulthood, only return to their nesting beach in the 2030s. If a large percentage of the eggs are taken for consumption it is not until 30 years down the road that the effects are visible in population declines.¨

Elana and Ike showed the audience a map of sites where turtles have been seen nesting in the area. They also shared a guide they developed for Tortugueños Pedasieños that identifies the 5 types of turtles in Panama, as well as describing the activities of the group and how to get involved. In addition to their presentations, Elana and Ike also screened the movie ¨A Turtle´s Tale: Sammy´s Adventures¨ as part of the Azuero Earth Project´s Monkey Movie Night series. The film, attended by local youth, some who participated in previous turtle monitoring sessions, follows the life of Sammy the sea turtle as he faces a changing world due to global warming.

Elana and Ike´s project and collaboration with Tortugueños Pedasieños culminates their spring semester study abroad program through McGill University. Their project also anticipates the upcoming turtle monitoring season, which starts in June here on the Azuero Peninsula. The Azuero Earth Project would like to thank Elana and Ike for their contribution to local turtle conservation efforts.

c. Margaret von Saenger

Tortugeños Pedasieños, coordinated by Robert Shahverdians, Victor Vera and Margaret von Saenger focuses on turtle monitoring and conservation activities on Pedasí beaches and is open to anyone in the Pedasí community who wants to protect local turtles. For more information about Tortugeños Pedasieños, how to get involved with local sea turtle monitoring efforts, and how to purchase a copy of the turtle guide developed by Elana and Ike, contact Margaret at 6937-5605 or tortugaspedasi@gmail.com.

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs

McGill Students Visit Pedasí, Interview Local Community on Waste Management

c. Ana Spalding

From March 25-27, McGill University students visited Pedasí to participate in the Panamanian section of a course called “Environmental Management for Developing Areas”, taught by Dr. Ana Spalding, Adju. The course was part of McGill´s Panama Field Study Semester, a study abroad program designed to introduce students to critical themes of the Latin American tropical environment. The program represents a partnership between McGill and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).

Dr. Spalding lectured on how environmental management fits into the ¨development¨ process, particularly how traditional and modern land use affect environmental sustainability. She focused on how Pedasí faces infrastructure pressures from increased real estate projects and tourism using the example of trash management and the recycling initiative Recicla Pedasi, formed as a partnership between AEP, the Mayor´s office, and Plinio Antonio Moscoso High School. The class visited El Quindio, the local trash dump, led on a tour by Pedasi Mayor Dr. Ricardo Barrios.

These lectures created a background for interviews on waste management in the Pedasí community. Students groups interviewed local residents as well as business owners (restaurants, hotels, and supermarkets) on local waste management practices: type and amount of trash disposed, methods of disposal, and experience with recycling.  Students then analyzed the responses from these interviews and reported on their findings.

Dr. Spalding commented: ¨This course was particularly satisfying as the interviews were conducted in collaboration with the Azuero Earth Project´s waste management project, which really made it possible for the students to feel that their work had practical applications and would actually be used by a local organization.¨

Read McGill University’s thank you letter to AEP

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs

SIT Student Researcher Surveys Peninsula Farmers about Agricultural Practices

Alexandra Guest on Volcán Baru, c. Julia Brokaw

The Azuero Earth Project welcomed a new student researcher, Alexandra Guest, to Pedasí on April 15. For the last month of her university semester abroad Alexandra is conducting an independent study project (ISP) in collaboration with the Azuero Earth Project. She is partnering with AEP´s Organiculture Program to investigate the state of agriculture on the Azuero Peninsula through surveys with local producers on their current practices. This research will inform land owner thoughts and opinions, as well as the policies that exist to protect the native tropical dry forest.

Alexandra is a college junior at Skidmore College studying Environmental Science, focusing on animal physiology and climate change impacts on animal adaptation. Alexandra is currently part of a study abroad program in Panama called ¨Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems and Biodiversity Conservation¨ with the School for International Training (SIT).

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs

Meet Visiting Research Students from McGill!

c. Elana Evans

This January-April, AEP welcomes Elana Evans and Iké Green-Nault, two undergraduate students from McGill University in Montreal, Canada who will be interning with Pedasí’s Turtle Conservation Group. 

Elana Evans: Elana is a senior studying Environmental sciences Originally from Toronto, she has also lived in Calgary, Montreal and Italy. Her favourite pastimes are going on canoe trips, checking out live music and taking photos. She is very excited to be in Pedasi and working with the Turtle group!

Iké Green-Nault: Iké is currently studying Environmental Science. A passion for biology and conservation issues, combined with an equal passion for the summer, for Latin America and for the Spanish language made Panama a prize destination. He is here to study and to assist Pedasí’s marine turtle conservation initiative.

c. Ike Green-Nault