Lab Members of the Neotropical Ecology Laboratory

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.
Chantal Hutchison

I will be developing climate-driven neighbourhood competition models for growth and survival to better understand the mechanisms driving stability of forest ecosystems. The basic theory underlying this problem is the insurance hypothesis, which says a diversity of complementary species responses to changing conditions maintains ecosystem function. To test this hypothesis, the covariance matrix of responses to climatic fluctuations between relevant variables will be investigated. Trees are an ideal study population because they are sessile, allowing a more controllable investigation of the mechanisms responsible for the competitive and facilitative interactions responsible for complementarity. These models will be built/tested using long-term data collected from the Sardinilla planted forest in Panama as well as the Anhembi study site in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I’m also interested in scaling our predictions to the landscape level and integrating over an entire forest rotation to address practical problems in forestry.
Lic. Lady Edianis Mancilla H
Contact information:

Since 2007, I have worked in Dr Potvin’s Laboratory first as an intern at Sardinilla Project and I carried out an experiment in wood decomposition. In 2008, I became involved in the STRI-Ipetí-Emberá carbon project collaborating directly with the community to establish plantations of timber trees and agroforestry. I am currently a research and administrative assistant as well as the Fund Manager of all the research projects. I am responsible to oversee an inter-sectorial working council that we created to develop a proposal for a conflict resolution mechanism as an important tool for REDD+ implementation in Panama.
Jose Temistocles Monteza
Contact information:

I am the manager of the Sardinilla project where my role is multiple. I ensure the day to day maintenance of this 10 hectares plantation. I have been working in Sardinilla since its establishment and I am responsible to collect the core set of data on tree and ecosystem traits (e.g. tree height, litter production, herbaceous productivity). I also provide support to the many graduate students and researchers of this multiple users plate form and coordinate local workers. Finally, with the Help of Daniel Lesieur (Université du Québec a Montréal), I am responsible for the data base where all the information obtained in Sardinilla is concentrated. In 2008-2009 and 2010, I further collaborated with the carbon project of Ipetí Emberá being responsible of capacity-building regarding the planting and pruning of the trees. I also measured all the trees to follow their growth.

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]

Gerardo Vergara Asenjo

My research tests methodologies to measure forest carbon stocks and stock changes under processes of degradation and the aspects of forest conservation in the context of REDD+. The study areas are located in two Latin-American countries with different capacities and realities in the forest sector, namely Panama and Chile. Panama is actively engaged in two REDD readiness programs, i.e. UN-REDD and FCPF of the World Bank, whereas Chile is getting initially involved in REDD+ activities by way of reducing forest degradation and low scale logging in temperate forests. Including these two countries will allow working in both tropical and temperate rainforests, which share a global importance in terms of carbon storage and biodiversity A particular emphasis in determining accuracy and precision of integrated methods (remote sensing techniques and ground measurements) and its applicability to developing countries will be carried out. Through a multi-source approach my research will provide new information that could contribute to inform the implementation of measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) systems and will give hints on technical issues related to measure carbon stocks. A secondary objective will be placed in the cost-effectiveness of these methods.

>> View video: Always higher - Estimating forest carbon stock [English] | Toujours plus haut - Estimer les réserves de carbone des forêts [Francais]
Last update: Dec. 12, 2016