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Barro Colorado Island

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Title: Barro Colorado Island  
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Subject: Gatun Lake, Smithsonian Libraries, Geoffroy's spider monkey, Martin Moynihan, Nature reserves
Collection: Biological Research Institutes, Lake Islands of Panama, Nature Reserves
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Barro Colorado Island

The Barro Colorado Research Station

Barro Colorado Island (BCI) is located in the man-made Gatun Lake in the middle of the Panama Canal. The island was formed when the waters of the Chagres River were dammed to form the lake in 1913. When the waters rose, they covered a significant part of the existing tropical forest, and the hilltops remained as islands in the middle of the lake. It has an area of 15.6 km2 (6.0 sq mi).[1]

The island was set aside as a nature reserve on April 17, 1923 by the U.S. Government.[2] Initially administered by the Panama Canal Company under the direction of James Zetek,[3] since 1946 Barro Colorado Island has been administered by the Smithsonian, together with five adjacent peninsulas, as the Barro Colorado Nature Monument (BCNM).[2] The BCNM has an area of 54 km2.[4] It is among the most-studied areas of tropical forest in the world.[5] The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) has a permanent research center on the island, dedicated to studying tropical forest ecosystems.[4] Because the Island's diverse ecosystem has been very little altered by humans, Barro Colorado has been studied for over eighty years within a great variety of biological disciplines. Only the larger fauna disappeared from Barro Colorado after the lake was flooded in 1914. Many scientific studies have been conducted to document the changes in the species composition of the island.

Hundreds of scientists conduct research projects on Barro Colorado Island every year.[2]

In 1978, Thomas Croat published his Flora of Barro Colorado Island documenting the plant species on the island.[1][2] In 1999, Egbert Leigh, who first visited the island in 1966, and now spends half his week there, published Tropical Forest Ecology : A View from Barro Colorado Island.[6][7] In 2002 The Tapir's Morning Bath by Elizabeth Royte was published, chronicling the lives and work of scientists working on the island.[5]

National Geographic produced a documentary featuring the Barro Colorado Island titled World's Last Great Places: Rain Forests released in 2007. The first selection, titled Panama Wild: Rain Forest of Life features scientists from the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute and also highlights the battles for survival and partnerships among species within this richly diverse ecosystem.


  • Forest dynamics plot 1
  • Visiting Barro Colorado Island 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4

Forest dynamics plot

In 1980, a 50-ha forest dynamics plot was established on BCI by researchers from STRI and Princeton University. The first census was conducted in 1982 and recorded every free-standing tree and shrub in the plot of more than 1-cm dbh, totalling approximately 240,000 stems of 303 different species. It has been recensused every 5 years since 1985, allowing scientists to study the normal dynamics of the forest, as well as extreme events, such as El Niño.[8] Another 50 ha plot was later established in the Pasoh forest reserve, Malaysia in 1987, allowing the dynamics of two tropical forests to be compared.[9]

Visiting Barro Colorado Island

Visitors are allowed on Barro Colorado Island. Access is, however, regulated by STRI. To visit BCI, you must make a reservation with the staff and arrange for a tour. Tours generally include transportation to and from the island (often by boat from Gamboa), a 2–3 hour guided hike, lunch, and a visit to the museum. Hikes through the island offer up the opportunity to spot several creatures, including monkeys, anteaters, birds, and insects.[10]


  1. ^ a b Thomas B. Croat (1978). Flora of Barro Colorado Island. Stanford University Press. p. 3.  
  2. ^ a b c d Ira Rubinoff and Nicholas Smythe (19 August 1982). A jungle kept for study. New Scientist. pp. 495–.  
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (n.d.). "Barro Colorado Island". Terrestrial Research Facilities.  
  5. ^ a b Elizabeth Royte (4 November 2002). The Tapir's Morning Bath: Mysteries of the Tropical Rain Forest and the Scientists Who Are Trying to Solve Them. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 42–.  
  6. ^ Leigh, Egbert Giles (1999). Tropical Forest Ecology : A View from Barro Colorado Island. Oxford and New York:  
  7. ^ Royte p.40
  8. ^ "Barro Colorado Island". Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-20. 
  9. ^ Condit, R.; Ashton, P. S.; Manokaran, N.; Lafrankie, J. V.; Hubbell, S. P.; Foster, R. B. (1999). "Dynamics of the forest communities at Pasoh and Barro Colorado: comparing two 50-ha plots". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 354 (1391): 1739–48.  
  10. ^ "Visiting Barro Colorado Island". 
Ventocilla, Jorge (April 2008). "Celebrating the 85th Anniversary of Barro Colorado Island" (PDF online facsimile). Luna Llena: Barro Colorado Nature Monument Visitors Program Newsletter (Panama:  

External links

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