In one of the first environmental impact studies ever, the Smithsonian Institution's 1910 Panama Biological Survey provided baseline data for Panama Canal construction, a project creating the largest man-made lake in existence at the time. The Canal, completed in 1914, rerouted the Chagres River on Panama's Atlantic slope into the Pacific Ocean--connecting watersheds across the continental divide. Since then, fish from the Atlantic and Pacific sides of Panama have intermingled, but the mix has not resulted in extinction of fish in tributaries on either slope according to new research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (online) by Scott Smith and Graham Bell of Canada's McGill University and Eldredge Bermingham, Staff Scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, concern about human-induced environmental change was already on the agenda. Faced with the immanent flooding of 500 square kilometers of lowland tropical forest in Panama, the Panamanian government authorized the Smithsonian Institution to conduct the Panama Biological Survey (1910-1912), an extensive biological census of the region to be covered by Lake Gatun, the Panama Canal waterway.
The U.S. Bureau of Fisheries assigned Seth E. Meek from the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History and Samuel F. Hildebrand, his assistant, to census the fish fauna of the Canal area. They made lists of fish in the Chagres River on the Atlantic slope and in the Rio Grande, on the Pacific slope, rivers that would become part of the Canal waterway, a new
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Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute