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 PedasĂ­ who will be conducting research and projects related to environmental conservation and sustainable development. They are eager to meet the PedasĂ­ community and to explore the Azuero Peninsula through their projects!

Ashley Stonecipher, PedasĂ­ 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 PedasĂ­

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

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs

McGill Students Visit PedasĂ­, 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

AEP Graduate Fellow Conducts Survey of PedasĂ­ Area Tourism Businesses

c. Kara Luggen

In order to understand the priorities of the Pedasí tourism business sector and its contribution to the Pedasí community, AEP graduate fellow Kara Luggen conducted interviews with 32 business owners and managers in August 2012. Her report, titled “Pedasí Business Survey: Insights, Concerns and Opportunities for Collaboration” will help the Azuero Earth Project plan programs that better take into account the priorities of all sectors of our community.

When asked about challenges facing the region, businesses emphasized the importance of town planning/zoning, improving the area’s infrastructure, increasing environmental awareness and increasing the stability and accessibility of potable water. See above for a full list of issues and challenges mentioned by survey participants.

The Azuero Earth Project will continue to use the information from the report for project planning and development in 2013. Many thanks to Kara Luggen, candidate to master’s degrees in International Affairs from the School of International Service at American University and Natural Resources and Sustainable Development at the U.N. University for Peace for developing this important report.

Visiting Researcher Kara Luggen Examines the Role of Real Estate and Tourism in PedasĂ­



Kara Luggen is a visiting student from the University for Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica studying Natural Resources and Sustainable Development.  Kara was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio but felt attracted to the coasts and has lived in California, New York and Washington, DC.  As an aspiring practitioner in the field International Development, her interests are focused on poverty alleviation and building safe communities in harmony with the environment.  Through the combined cooperation of community, developers, government and non-profits she envisions generating win-win scenarios for the future sustainability of the environment and livelihoods of people. This July and August, Kara is working with the Azuero Earth Project to conduct a series of conversations aimed at understanding the priorities and perspectives of the real estate and tourism sectors of the Pedasi community, and produce suggestions for ways to improve Pedasí and its environment.

Meet your Neighborhood Researchers!

Michele Goodfellow: Michele Goodfellow is completing her undergraduate degree in Natural Resource Conservation at the University of Florida.  From May-June 2012, she is partnering with Eduardo Ducreuz, a student from Panama’s Technological University in order to map the trees in the Azuero peninsula and determine their contribution to carbon intake as an undergraduate field assistant to Stephanie Bohlman, professor at the University of Florida.

Michael Bauman: Michael Bauman is a Master’s student from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida and is here on the Azuero from May to July. The goal of Michael’s project is to use ecological and social characteristics of the province to determine areas important for forest conservation. This season, he will be conducting interviews with organizations and landowners throughout the province to assess levels of organizational support for forest conservation and restoration programs and landowners’ willingness to conserve and restore forests.