Our research focuses mainly on the obligate mutualisms of acacia ants with the swollen-thorn acacias, and we aim to learn how the evolution of the association with the plant involves behavioral (individual or social) or morphological modifications. We are therefore also interested in learning about the organisms that can live with the defending acacia ants. Although we are fascinated by ants living on plants, we encourage people to pursue their own research question and we welcome studies in any kind of arthropods.


Our lab combines behavioral, ecological, morphological and evolutionary approaches to understand animal behavior.

Featured publications

Amador-Vargas S, González, Y., Guevara, M., & Gijsman, F. 2022. Scaling of indirect defences in Central American swollen-thorn acacias. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 1-7. doi:10.1017/S0266467422000293 

Amador-Vargas S. & Porras-Brenes K. 2022. Three neotropical bird species shift nest-site preferences from swollen-thorn acacias to other sites in human-altered habitats. Biotropica 54: 1071-1080.

Amador-Vargas S., Wcislo W.T. 2021. Nestmate interference in acacia ants vary with colony size and task-specialization. Animal Behavior 181: 151–163. 

Gijsman, F., Gonzalez Y., Guevara M. & Amador-Vargas S. 2021. Short-term plasticity and variation in acacia ant-rewards under different conditions of ant occupancy and herbivory. The Science of Nature. 108(4):31doi: 10.1007/s00114-021-01738-w.

Featured story


Understanding wildlife vulnerability to road networks

During three years, local scientist Dumas Gálvez drove along a road parallel to a rainforest looking out for dead vertebrates. He began driving along a road parallel to the Camino de Cruces National Park several times per week, and kept it up for three years, documenting any roadkill he encountered, except for amphibians. He drove mostly by rainforest, but also near suburban areas and the Panama Canal.

Featured video

Scientist stories: Dumas Gálvez, PhD

Dumas is one of several Panamanian scientists who discovered his passion for science at STRI. In his case, it was the tropical biology course offered by the Institute every year in the Gigante peninsula (part of the Barro Colorado Natural Monument) during his second year at the university. Although, he always carried that curiosity inside.


Sabrina Amador

Principal investigator

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Tropical Behavioral Ecology.

Panama mailing address

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Attn: Sabrina Amador
Apartado 0843 – 03092
Panamá, República de Panamá

US mailing address

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Attn: Sabrina Amador
9100 Panama City Place
Washington DC 20521-9100, USA