William Beebe Tropical Research Station Background: History, Location and Research
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Purple honeycreeper sitting on branch


The William Beebe Tropical Research Station (WBTRS), also known as Simla, is located in the Arima valley of Trinidad's Northern Range. The station was formerly the New York Zoological Society's Tropical Research Station. A family estate, it was originally purchased by Dr. William Beebe in 1949. Dr. Beebe purchased the estate, which he renamed "Simla" after India's charming "summer capital" in the Himalayan Mountains which he visited during his research that resulted in his monumental four-volume "A Monograph of the Pheasants." In 1950 he donated the estate to the New York Zoological Society, now the Wildlife Conservation Society, for establishment of the Tropical Research Station.

Beebe was an American scientist, adventurer and author, and is considered by many to be "the father of Neotropical Ecology." He first visited Trinidad in 1908 and became enamored with the country's wildlife. You can find a very interesting biography of Beebe here along with extensive related materials.

The New York Zoological Society supported the Station until the 1970s, and during this period the station became an important hub for the study of Neotropical ecology, botany, entomology, ornithology, herpetology, as well as bats, fishes, and fiddler crabs. Many of these works were published in Zoologica, the scientific publication of the New York Zoological Society. A total of 306 papers have been published based on work conducted at the field station in the more than 50 years of the Research Station's existence.

Dr. Beebe died at Simla in June 1962 and Dr. Marc Buchanan was appointed Director until 1970, when rising maintenance costs caused the closure of the field station. After a period of dormancy, Simla was donated to the Asa Wright Nature Center (AWNC) in 1974. This was done because the mission of the Nature Centre so closely paralleled that of the New York Zoological Society. Since that time the AWNC maintained the field station as an active tropical research facility.

The WBTRS is operated by the Asa Wright Nature Centre, a nonprofit conservation and educational trust. All income from fees is used to defray the operating costs of the Station. The AWNC subsidizes scientific research at Simla through provision of low cost facilities for research and provision of a resident full-time research assistant. In addition the AWNC assumes annual deficits and invests in capital improvements at Simla.

The William Beebe Tropical Research Station is located in the Arima Valley of the Northern Range of the island of Trinidad, at latitude 10 41' 1" and longitude 61 17' W. The island of Trinidad sits in the Orinoco delta and is biologically South American, having been connected to the mainland as recently as 11,000 years ago. The Arima valley is located approximately midway along the Northern Range of Trinidad and is drained by the Arima river which empties into the Caroni River to the south.

Located at 800 feet (approximately 240m) in elevation, the WBTRS receives between 2590 - 3070 mm rainfall annually, and generally experiences a moist tropical climate. Rainfall is seasonal, with the dry season occurring between January and May and the wet season between June and December. The field station's properties currently consist of 211 acres with good road access to the national road network. Additionally, more than 1,000 acres of the adjoining AWNC are also available for certain research activities.

The vegetation at the Research Station includes a matrix of semi-evergreen seasonal forests, lower montane forest and abandoned cocoa plantations in various stages of succession (Beebe 1952). A large proportion of the wildlife species known from the island have been recorded at Simla (e.g. 164 species of birds, 27 species of snakes and 16 species amphibians). In addition, its central location in the Northern Range allows for comparatively easy access to other habitat types found on the island.

Research Projects
The William Beebe Tropical Research Station has been the focus for over 306 published studies in Neotropical Biology. Much research has also been conducted on the adjacent AWNC highlighted by the years of work on its resident population of Oilbirds (Steatornis caripensis).


"Oilbird colonies have been found only in northern South America – in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Guyana – and in Trinidad. In Trinidad the best-known colonies are at the Asa Wright Nature Centre, at Aripo, and at North Oropouche (Cumaca). Other colonies are at Huevos Island and La Vache Bay on the north coast.


Two oilbirds on their cave ledge

In 1972 the Guacharo Cave at the Asa Wright Nature Centre was named the Dunston Cave in recognition of the work of British-born naturalist John Dunston who had constructed additional ledges in the cave, thus facilitating an increase in the number of nesting areas and ultimately an increase in the oilbird population. The colony of oilbirds at the Asa Wright is the most accessible known and access to the cave is restricted. On 23rd July, 2002, there were 120 adult oilbirds in the colony in Dunston Cave. In 1953, Dr Donald Griffin, an expert on the acoustics of ultrasonic sound and the sensory basis of bat movements, discovered that, like bats, oilbirds navigate in the darkness of their cave-home through eco-location. In 1978, Dr Mark Konishi, using specimens collected at Cumaca, demonstrated that a disc measuring 20 cm (about 8 inches) in diameter was the smallest object avoided by an oilbird while flying in total darkness, by the use of its sonar.

From 1958 to 1961, Dr. David Snow, a noted ornithologist, conducted a study of the general behaviour, population, food and breeding ecology of the colony at Springhill (now the Asa Wright Nature Centre). One of his findings was that at night oilbirds flew up to 30 miles from their daytime roosts in search of food. However, in the 1980s, Robert Roca, a Venezuelan zoologist developing his doctoral thesis around the use of telemetry to track oilbirds on their nightly forages, discovered that they travelled more than 70 miles from their daytime roost in search of food.

Oilbirds are protected under the Wildlife Conservation Laws of Trinidad and Tobago.”


Works currently underway at the Research Station include:

  • Neural Evolution in the Trinidad Guppy — J. Goodwin & J. Gilliam, Dept. of Zoology, North Carolina State-Raleigh, USA
  • The social organization fo the Trinidadian Guppy — D.K. Croft, The University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  • Auditory perception and parental care of Greater Spear-nosed bats — K.M. Bohn & G.S. Wilkenson, University of Maryland-College Park, Maryland, USA
  • Evolution of coloration and mate preference along resource gradients — G.F. Grether & G.R. Kolluru, University of California-Los Angeles, USA
Manakin sitting on branch Studies in Trinidad and Tobago Ornithology Honouring Richard ffrench
Edited by Floyd E. Hayes and Stanley A. Temple
Department of Life Sciences, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Occasional Paper 11, 2002
Berres, M. E. 2002. Long-term persistence of White-bearded Manakin (Manacus manacus) leks in the Arima Valley of Trinidad, West Indies. Department of Life Sciences, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Occasional Paper 11:131-137.

ABSTRACT. During 1997-2000, I searched for 11 White-bearded Manakin (Manacus manacus) leks studied by Snow (1958-1961) and Lill (1967-1971) in the lower Arima Valley of Trinidad. Four of the leks described by Snow and one by Lill were found in precisely the locations indicated by these authors 29-42 yrs ago. Actively displaying males and visiting females attended each of these leks. However, two leks appear affected by a dissolution process. Of the six leks not found, habitat alteration by humans appeared responsible for the abandonment of three; the factors responsible for the demise of the remaining leks remain unknown. All surviving leks occur in areas distant from human activities, suggesting that leks will persist indefinitely in the absence of any significant disturbance.

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