Scientists get creative to carry on research during pandemic

SAN LORENZO, Panama (AP) — Biologist Claudio Monteza pushed by means of thick vegetation to set up a digicam close to a Panamanian freeway in a dense tropical rainforest. Securing the machine to a tree simply off the forest ground, he checked its visual field.

The digicam and others have been arrange to present insights into which animals keep away from highways and which of them are extra apt to examine them out. The findings might sometime assist transportation officers higher defend wildlife in one of many world’s most biologically numerous environments.

But the freeway research “was not the initial plan,” stated Monteza, whose profession was upended final yr when COVID-19 stranded him in his native Panama and suspended his research. Because of the pandemic, many scientists “have had to innovate and look for alternatives.”

The coronavirus abruptly halted research by many Latin American scientists, interrupting field work, sample collection and laboratory experiments. Some of them could focus on writing scholarly articles based on previous research, but others had to get creative to avoid losing a year of their careers.

Monteza had just finished a master’s degree in the United States when he stopped in Panama for a few days before a planned flight to Germany to begin his doctoral studies. Then the world began shutting down. He started taking doctoral classes virtually.

After governments adopted strict quarantine measures, Monteza concluded that one way to get permission for research was to look at highways because they could be studied without significant travel.

Other scientists hauled samples of marine sediment and lab equipment or even entire ant colonies into their homes. One researcher, barred from capturing bats to bring to her laboratory, mounted cameras that allowed her to spy on their sexual habits in the wild.

On a recent day, after installing one camera, Monteza pushed about 50 yards deeper into the forest. Field biologist Pedro Castillo helped him install another camera just as heavy raindrops began to fall. In minutes, both men were soaked, but the opportunity to get into the field was a relief.

Monteza believes the highway research could help push authorities to create wildlife crossings for armadillos, the rodents known as lowland pacas and agoutis, and other animals.

During the first half of 2020, when Panama was under an absolute quarantine, scientists had almost “zero mobility, said Erick Núñez, head of the Panama Environmental Ministry’s biodiversity department. “There was little or no research.”

Later, the Health Ministry started to loosen restrictions and granted passes to some scientists who deliberate to work in protected areas alone or in small teams, Núñez stated.

Researcher Brígida De Gracia of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute was fortunate to give you the option to make money working from home. She had collected sediment samples in 2018, 2019 and January 2020 that allowed her to proceed her research during the pandemic.

But to accomplish that, De Gracia took the samples, a stereoscope, vials, a scale and plenty of books house from her lab in Naos, close to the place the Panama Canal meets the Pacific Ocean.

De Gracia research otoliths, tiny stone-like buildings within the ears of many vertebrates. In explicit, she research them in fish to see how people have affected fish over the previous a number of thousand years.

“You have to store them very carefully,” as a result of they’re so tiny that even a light-weight breeze can transfer them, stated De Gracia, who analyzed and photographed the otoliths at house.

Before the coronavirus arrived, Mariana Muñoz-Romo, a post-doctoral researcher on the Smithsonian, had deliberate to seize a big pattern of bats from totally different locations across the Panamanian city of Gamboa, however the suspension of research actions made that unattainable.

So she adjusted. Instead of catching bats to take again to a lab, Muñoz-Romo shifted to observing the bats’ intercourse lives in their very own habitat. She hopes to uncover the aim of a strong-smelling substance on the forearms of the fringe-lipped bat.

Her mentor was in a position to get permits to set up video cameras and different gadgets in a bat sanctuary in Gamboa. They began recording in mid-2020 and plan to proceed for a number of extra months.

“Analyzing these recordings is fabulous because you can generate a mountain of information,” stated Muñoz-Romo, a Venezuelan who’s a professor on the University of the Andes in Merida, Venezuela.

When the pandemic closed his laboratory in Gamboa, Dumas Gálvez moved dozens of colonies of ants to his house in Paraiso. He needed to proceed observing them as a part of his research into their immune techniques.

Before the pandemic, that required many hours in his lab analyzing their blood and the way they responded to attacking fungi.

“I had to look for alternatives,” Gálvez stated. “And one of the alternatives was initially to do it in my house.”

Gálvez outfitted an additional lavatory to maintain up to 100 ant colonies. His largest colonies have been round 200 ants, so he had an estimated 13,000 ants in his house.

He noticed their lives and reactions for months, however over time they started to die. Exactly why was not clear. It was both due to the fungus or extreme warmth, he stated.

“The conditions in the bathroom were not optimal,” he said. “It was very hot. They dried quickly.”

The pandemic prevented him from going out to gather extra ants, so he shifted his focus and is now learning the interplay of ants and a small predatory frog.

Panama has since eased its pandemic restrictions, and the Smithsonian is reopening its services there. Gálvez has been in a position to resume discipline work and supervising college students.

“If not for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have invested the energy in considering alternatives,” he stated. “I probably would not have ever done this project.”

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