Seasonal upwelling in the Gulf of Panama produces export quantity of shrimps, anchovies, tuna, etc., but reduces the diversity of corals. 3 oceans
The rise of Gatún Lake. In the background the Panama Railway, soon to disappear under the waters of the lake. --
The Panama Canal is among the largest engineering feats of the 20th Century, one of the eight marvels of the modern world—a manmade connection between two oceans. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute will take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity offered by the $5 billion Panama Canal expansion to undertake three major research projects: the Salvage Paleontology Project, the Canal Invaders Project and the Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory’s Tropical Land Use Evaluation Project. Paleontologists and geologists, led by STRI staff scientist, Carlos Jaramillo, will take advantage of huge new earthworks along the Canal to collect fossils and geological information with far-reaching biological, climatic and tectonic implications. What is the tectonic composition of the Isthmus? How did the closing of the Isthmus change world climate? Does Panama’s fossil fauna represent a cradle of biodiversity or an ancient refuge? As animals and plants cross the Isthmus, what makes a successful invader? Which organisms fail to prosper? In the tropics, overgrowth by dense vegetation and intense weathering alter the chemical composition of rock outcrops, destroying fossils soon after they are exposed. Canal widening presents a unique opportunity to access freshly exposed outcrops. New Canal excavations reveal formations spanning the last 30 million years: before, during and after the Isthmus of Panama, a natural land bridge connecting North and South America, arose from the sea. For the Salvage Paleontology Project, time is of the essence. Fossils must be documented, mapped and collected before heavy rains erode them away. Over the last 20 years, with active participation by Panama’s General Office of Mineral Resources and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, STRI’s Panama Paleontology Project (PPP) has studied the formation of the Isthmus of Panama by further excavating rock outcrops exposed during the construction of the original Canal. Only a small proportion of the original outcrops could be studied. Most are now overgrown or eroded. The project has generated more than 150 scientific publications, many of which raise fundamental questions. PPP research revealed that the Isthmus of Panama closed some 3.5 million years ago (Coates et al 2003). The southeastern Caribbean Sea, once dominated by upwelling and low carbonate production, became a nutrient poor environment with major carbonate production (O’Dea et al. 2007). Two million years later, a series of extinctions in the Caribbean are thought to represent the final die-out resulting from the closing of the Isthmus (Jackson and Johnson, 2000, 2001). The new project will specifically address four questions: 1. What geological structures conform the Isthmus of Panama? How did tectonic plates shift as the Isthmus formed? What is the distribution of sedimentary and igneous rock? Does information from the Canal area support current tectonic theory? 2. How did the rise of the Isthmus change ocean currents and climate? The world was a very different place before the Isthmus rose to connect North and South America. The Gulf Stream did not exist, nor did the Caribbean Sea. A strong current probably flowed from what is now the Pacific Ocean into what is now the Atlantic. How did the Gulf Stream develop? How did major changes in ocean currents affect the climate? Did these changes affect the position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone? Was there upwelling in the Eastern Pacific? 3. What was the distribution of animals and plants on the Isthmus during this time span? Previous excavations in the Miocene sediments of the Cucaracha Formation in the Culebra Cut produced fossil land mammals including rodents, bear-dogs, “true” canid dogs, horses, rhinos, oreodonts and extinct, deer-like mammals suggesting that the area was once dominated by animals related to organisms found in North America. Panama’s current flora and fauna have much stronger ties to South America. What forces shaped animal and plant communities over 30 million years? 4. How did invasions across the land bridge proceed and what was their outcome? As the gap between South and North America closed, the Great Biological Interchange began. Animals and plants from the South moved North and vice versa. Which organisms are more successful invaders: herbivores or carnivores, large organisms or small ones, trees or bushes?
Past, current and future role of the Panama Canal in regional and global coastal invasions –project by Mark Torchin, STRI and Gregory Ruiz, SERC Biological invasions cause billions of dollars of economic damage each year and are a serious threat to native biodiversity. Once established, introduced species can become numerically or functionally dominant in invaded communities, altering ecosystem processes, impacting economies, and affecting human health. In marine and coastal environments, ships are a major transfer mechanism of introduced species. However, what controls or limits the extent of invasions in any region remains poorly understood. Funded by SENACYT and SI MSN, Scientists from STRI and SERC are joining forces to evaluate this problem. Panama is major hub for international shipping and thus provides an important focal point to evaluate hypotheses about of ship-mediated invasions. The Panama Canal serves as an aquatic corridor between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Since its opening in 1914, approximately 800,000 ocean-going commercial vessels have passed through the Canal. Recently, the annual number of commercial ship transits exceeded twice the number of ship arrivals in the largest U.S. ports. This suggests that the potential supply of organisms associated with ships may be relatively high, yet, surprisingly, reports of marine invasions are limited in this tropical region. Current plans for expanding the capacity of the Panama Canal and Panama’s ports will increase shipping and the potential for invasions. STRI and SERC scientists are evaluating how shipping, environmental and biotic processes interact to facilitate invasions in the Panama Canal and how this can elucidate processes driving marine and coastal invasions in general.
Masters of Science in
May 22nd, 2016
about 225 M
mass of land
and splits to
Before the Isthmus emerged
Tropical Heat to Pacific
Completion of collision of Central America
With South America
El Salvador Nicaragua
After the isthmus is closed
Transport of salty
warm tropical water
to northern lats.
Blue represents where the Conveyor Belt is on the bottom;Blue represents where the Conveyor Belt is on the bottom;
pink where it is at the surface.pink where it is at the surface.
The world ocean “Conveyor Belt”
system of currents
Panama changed the oceanic circulation. ThePanama changed the oceanic circulation. The
temperatures in Europe increased causing mildertemperatures in Europe increased causing milder
winters which prevent the freezing over of ports.winters which prevent the freezing over of ports.
It contributed to the Ice Age era making AfricaIt contributed to the Ice Age era making Africa
Lossing tropical forest in Northern Africa mayLossing tropical forest in Northern Africa may
have contributed to the human ancestorshave contributed to the human ancestors
becoming more terrestrial evolving into modernbecoming more terrestrial evolving into modern
“The Panama Effect”
“We are all
Panama: The Bridge
• 60% of the Mammals in the
South are originally
from the North.
Cats, Bears, Canids, Deer,
Horses, Camels, Tapirs,
Mastodonts, Peccaries, Mice,
• Three species survive from
the South: porcupines,
opossum and armadilo.
Spiny rats, Sloths, anteaters,
Capibaras, Carnivorous giant
birds, grazing marsupials,
Marsupials, Pacas , toothless
NORTH AMERICA’S TERRESTRIAL BIOTA
North America had efficient open-country
land mammals due to invasions from
Eurasia and even Africa, such as rodents,
How does this biota vary
over different parts of the
region in relation to
and geographic factors?
What fundamental trade-
offs drive this variation?
BIRD MIGRATIONBIRD MIGRATION
THROUGHOUT THETHROUGHOUT THE
Panama has aboutPanama has about
1000 bird species, a1000 bird species, a
third are migratory.third are migratory.
WHALE NURSERY –WHALE NURSERY –
Bay of PanamaBay of Panama
The completion of the isthmus set in motion a naturalThe completion of the isthmus set in motion a natural
experiment: populations of marine animals and plants wereexperiment: populations of marine animals and plants were
split and isolated in different and changing environments thatsplit and isolated in different and changing environments that
forced their evolutionary divergence and changes in theirforced their evolutionary divergence and changes in their
2 very different oceans (or 3 or 4)2 very different oceans (or 3 or 4)
PANAMA: THE BARRIER (2nd
Caribbean Sea vs Pacific Ocean
Which one is more biodiverse?? Why???
SW NWBay of Panama
Zone of upwelling
Zone of high productivity
Rich bottom water
THE UPWELLING OF THE PACIFIC
The Panama Canal
Canal Waters Time
Canal construction “joins back the barrier”
Makes a “freshwater bridge”
Smithsonian expeditions 1910-1912 Panama Canal construction
Lake Gatun and Barro Colorado Island from the air, 1927
camels & peccaries
Fossils Gastropods – Gatun Formation
Paleontology and Geology
of the New Panama Canal
Hub for international shipping
Panama Houston Chesapeake
More shipping than largest US ports
Increase in Canal
transits over time
The Panama Canal: unique opportunity to study biological invasions
BIODIVERSITY (3rd B)
Plants have been invading South
America ever since it separated from
Africa 100+ million years ago, Ex.
Competitive, fast-growing, ant-
defended pioneers like Cecropia.
The movement of plants and animals
through Panama has been crucial to
maintaining species diversity, genetic
diversity within these spp & trophic
structures. This is critical for
competition, abundance of mutualism
and resistance to exotic invaders.
Learning what advantages are derived
from moving long distances is crucial to
learning how interdependence underpins
diversity & productivity.
Self-sufficiency is the enemy of
productivity in natural ecosystems &