Bacurú Drõa

Bacurú Drõa: An Old Growth Observatory Research Project in the Darien Gap

An action research project co-developed with the Traditional Emberá Authorities of Tierras Colectivas of Balsa

The project Bacurú Drõa (Old-Growth Forests) was co-developed in collaboration with the Traditional Emberá Authorities of Tierras Colectivas of Balsa with two main objectives:

  1. Establish a community-driven Old-Growth Forest Observatory in full partnership with the Emberá people of the Balsa River to enhance knowledge of old-growth forests, protect biodiversity and improve the local economy.
  2. Accompany the development of a local governance ensuring forest and species conservation, and cultural survival and food-security through capacity-building, empowering and innovative research driven methods.


The project is developed based on a formal agreement elaborated with the traditional authorities of the territory, which you can consult here: PDF icon formal_agreement_with_the_traditional_authorities_of_balsas_.pdf.


The figure below illustrates the 4 spheres of the project:

    These objectives will be achieved by training and working with the six communities of the Tierras Colectivas of Balsa to quantify forest carbon stocks, document tree diversity dynamics over time and carry out inventories of birds, mammals, frogs and insects. The data collected under Bacurú Drõa, the Old-Growth Forest Observatory, will not only be of scientific importance, but will also provide a basis for management plans. A 15-hectare permanent forest plot established following the Forest-GEO methodology forms the scientific core of Bacurú Drõa (see image below). Initial results from the permanent plot highlight the presence of a much higher tree diversity than elsewhere in Panama as well as numerous undescribed species.


    Management team

    The Bacurú Drõa managing team comprises three Emberá coordinators:


    Left: The Administrative Coordinator, Solio Bailarin
    Middle: The Permanent Plot and Scientific Coordinator, Alexis Ortega
    Right: The Logistic Coordinator, Wilmer


    A scientific committee of 4 professors was formed to support and to contribute to the project in diverse areas of research:

    Daisy Dent

    Research interests: Tropical forest ecology and conservation; Impacts of human disturbance on tropical forest ecosystems; Biodiversity monitoring; Secondary forest recovery; Species interactions
    Joseph Levitan
    Research interests: Diversity, Identity & Indigenous Topics; Social Action & Sustainability Education; Teacher Education, Pedagogy & Leadership






    Catherine Potvin

    Research interests: Physiological ecology; Global change; Experimental design and biostatistics; Conservation biology; Tropical ecology.

    Website: (here)







    Juan Carlos Villarreal Aguilar

    Research interests: Tropical plant diversity; Impact of fragmentation on epiphyllous bryophytes; Phyllosphere and nutrient flow.






    To ensure the long-term success of the project, we also propose fully engaging with the people of the Tierras Collectivas of Balsa by:

    • Empowerment of the Balsa communities to allow them to shape their own future;
    • Ensuring that the work of the Old Growth Forest Observatory includes women as well as men, Youth as well as elders while technicians will be selected from each of the six communities by the traditional authorities.
    • Ensuring that the knowledge building from Bacurú Drõa considers at the same time and with equal importance traditional and scientific knowledge systems.
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