A hothouse for tropical study

August 24, 2001

The Smithsonian Institution was established in 1846 with funds bequeathed to the United States by the English scientist James Smithson. It is now the world's largest museum complex, comprising 16 museums and numerous research facilities.

These include the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama, which is one of the world's leading centres for basic research on the ecology, behaviour and evolution of tropical organisms.

The STRI's origins lie in the building of the Panama Canal and the need to survey the area's flora and fauna for the purpose of controlling insect-borne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.

Today, the 90-year-old STRI has a core staff of 37 scientists. Each year, it plays host to about 500 visiting scientists and students from universities and institutions around the world (up to 30 nationalities, including British) who come to conduct research in fields including animal behaviour, plant ecology, canopy biology, palaeo-ecology, archaeology, evolution, genetics, marine ecology and anthropology.

Although visiting scientists come year round, numbers at the STRI increase by about 25 per cent during the northern summer.

STRI facilities in Panama go beyond Barro Colorado Island and Gamboa. The headquarters of the institute is in Panama City, and there are in total 12 research stations across the country.

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