Lab Members of the Neotropical Ecology Laboratory

Camilo Alejo

I am a biologist from Universidad de Los Andes (Colombia) and completed a Masters degree in Conservation and Biodiversity use at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Colombia). My research interests are situated in the interface between forest ecology and the use of biodiversity in indigenous territories and protected areas. During my previous studies, I have studied non-timber forest products from an ecological, traditional knowledge, and social-ecological perspective in indigenous territories of the Colombian Amazon. As a Ph.D. student in Dr. Potvin's Neotropical Ecology Lab, I am interested in exploring scenarios in different scales that preserve carbon stocks, conserve biodiversity, and promote sustainable livelihoods from neotropical forests. Currently, through an internship of the Environmental Defense Fund, I am analyzing through matching techniques the effectiveness of indigenous territories and protected areas from Latin America to conserve forest biomass. This approach seeks to contribute to build new and participatory conservation baselines. Departing from this regional scale research, I am looking to revisit the concept of forest degradation, by exploring local land-use scenarios in which forest inhabitants contribute to forest carbon stocks and biodiversity, while they guarantee provisioning ecosystem services.

Nicole Meier

I graduated at the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Forest Conservation Science and Environmental Studies in 2018. During my formation, I have been introduced to several research centers and programs in the tropics and Canada, such as the Tiputini Biodiversity Center, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Credit Valley Conservation. As a Master student in the Neotropical Ecology Laboratory, my research interests are directed to socio-ecological system driven questions in Panama, where I come from. In addition to my thesis research, I am assisting as a research assistant to the analysis of a portion of the Sardinilla plantation data, focusing on the diversity of bird, butterfly, sapling, herbaceous plant, and epiphyte´ species in the plantation. 
Christopher Paul Madsen

I was born and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. I attended the University of Victoria for my Bachelors of Science (Honours in Biology). I wrote my Honour’s thesis on Environmental Niche Modelling of three species of Erythronium to investigate the possibility of a post-glacial lag in their colonization of model-predicted suitable habitat. I also performed vegetation surveys in past Indigenous village sites on the Central Coast of British Columbia to look for a remnant signal of the cultivation (and thus higher abundance) of traditionally used plants. In the Neotropical Ecology Lab, I would like to study mechanisms that improve the biodiversity conservation value, carbon sequestration and ecosystem services provided by tree plantations and forest restoration projects. I am very interested in how different assemblages of tree species, functional traits, soil character and possibly amendment of biochar can affect these aspects of afforested areas. As an internship, I will carry out tropical forest carbon stock analysis in Chucantí, and as my main research project I will analyze the many kinds of data gathered from the Sardinilla Biodiversity Experiment in Panamá.
Marina Duarte

My background is mainly in restoration ecology. I have a Bachelor’s in Biology and am currently a PhD candidate in Forest Resources at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, since 2014, under the supervision of Dr. Pedro Brancalion and co-supervision of Dr. Catherine Potvin. In this doctoral project, we are trying to understand a little bit more about how biodiversity acts on ecosystem functions, in forests. Our field work takes place at a 10-year-old forest restoration experiment in Brazil (which bears more than a hundred tree species) and at the 15-year-old Sardinilla Experiment, in Panama. In Sardinilla, we are looking for sets of functional traits that can be related to high carbon storage, over the years, during the forest restoration process.

Javier Mateo-Vega (Costa Rica)
Contact information: javier.mateovega{at}

I am PhD student in Dr. Potvin’s Neotropical Ecology Lab and a Research Fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama. My research interests lie in understanding the forces and trade-offs that drive and constrain forest conservation and other land-uses in complex multicultural and multifunctional landscapes. I am interested in contributing to the body of knowledge that informs how to manage complex social-ecological systems sustainably. I am currently using eastern Panama (i.e. Bayano Region and Darien) as a model site. Drawing from several disciplines, my research seeks to (1) understand the factors that shape the position of indigenous peoples on the climate change mitigation mechanism, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+); (2) test whether forest carbon stocks and tree diversity converge at the landscape level; (3) elucidate the effects of land invasions on forest cover; (4) model land use trade-offs based on the desires of the various groups that inhabit eastern Panama; and (5) reveal the values that different groups attach to varying land-use scenarios and their implications on the provision of ecosystem services.

>> View video: The agricultural frontier [English] | La frontière agricole [Français]

Divya Sharma
email: divya.sharma2{at}

I completed my Master's with Dr. Potvin in 2015, aiming to further the understanding of social-ecological landscapes development. Specifically, I studied land use changes in the indigenous community of Piriatí-Emberá in Panama. The community lies in the Upper Bayano watershed, which is characterised by continued battles over legal land title and on-going conflict between the indigenous communities and colonist farmers, who are encroaching on indigenous lands. The community of Piriatí-Emberá was formed by settlers who were relocated from the Bayano River after it was flooded by the creation of a hydroelectric dam in the early 1970s. The community members have expressed concern over loss of forest in their lands and in their culture through time. Thus, my research sought to better understand reasons for changes in land use and culture in order to help identify causal factors in the genesis of a social-ecological landscape, using the indigenous community of Piriatí-Emberá as a case study. I am currently Dr. Potvin's Research Assistant and Administrative Assistant for her initiative known as Sustainable Canada Dialogues, a network of 60+ Canadian scholars from all provinces who have built a collective vision of a pathway to sustainability for Canada. I am also Project Coordinator for Sustainable Canada Dialogues’ third phase, Acting on Climate Change: Indigenous Innovations.

>> View video: Indigenous peoples, local livelihoods and forests [English] | Peuples indigènes du Panama et leurs forêts [Français]
Last update: May 24, 2019