Juanita Choo



I am an ecologist and ethnobiologist with broad interest in understanding how modern and traditional human activities impact ecological interactions and the environment. I obtained my Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 2010.  I was a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Michigan (2010-2012) before coming to OIST.



Amazon Projects

My current and previous work in the Amazon focuses on understanding how hunting and extraction of plan resources can ultimately affect forest regeneration and tropical biodiversity. I integrate field biology, population genetic, spatial analytical, and ethnobiological approaches to address how human activities influences seed dispersal and survival, plant population genetics, and competitive interactions among plant species. My research work has primarily been conducted in the Amazon. In Venezuelan Amazon, I spent several years working with a semi-nomadic Joti people with collaborators at the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas. I later established field collaborations at the Peruvian Amazon, at Cocha Cashu biological station. In this pristine forest, I was able to conduct comparative studies to better understand how plant population and community dynamics would change under human impacts. In addition, I am also working with collaborators at the University of Massachusetts and Smithsonian to understand sexual differences in the diets of birds at Cocha Cashu.

Okinawa Projects

The use of pesticides for agriculture has negative impacts on the environment and human health. However, the intensity of pesticide use can vary locally, due to various reasons including farming practices and economics. Agriculture can be found throughout the island of Okinawa, however the northern region is most susceptible to pesticide impacts due to the large forested areas that support a diversity of flora and fauna, including endemic species. A first goal of the project is to examine the extent of pesticide residues found in local produce grown throughout the island to determine if there are local or regional differences in these levels and the underlying reasons. Second, I aim to test pesticide levels in the water found within local streams and estuaries to assess potential impacts of pesticide run-offs on terrestrial and marine organisms.

Okinawans are renowned for their longevity. As a consequence, this has stimulated global interest in the local Okinawan diet and produce. Surprisingly, several of the food plants considered “Okinawan” have origins from other parts of the world. I am thus studying the biogeography and historical origins a select number of these “Okinawan” food plants. I am also developing a website to provide informational resource on the plants eaten or used culturally in Okinawa. 



Choo, J., Carasco, C., Alvarez, P., and B.B. Simpson. In review. Contrasting patterns of regulation by distance- and density-responsive enemies contribute to the coexistence of two phenologically distinct and dominant palms. Journal of Ecology.

Choo, J., Juenger, T., and B.B. Simpson. 2012. Consequences of frugivore-mediate seed dispersal for the spatial and genetic structures of a Neotropical palm. Molecular Ecology 21:1019-1031.

Choo, J., H. Ishak, B.B. Simpson, U. Mueller, and T.E. Juenger. 2010. Characterization of 14 microsatellite loci in a tropical palm Attalea phalerata. American Journal of Botany 97(11): 105-106.

Choo, J., Zent, E.L. and B.B. Simpson. 2009. The importance of traditional ecological knowledge for palm weevil cultivation in the Venezuelan Amazon. Journal of Ethnobiology 29: 113-128.

Choo, J. 2008. Potential ecological implications of human entomophagy by subsistence groups of the Neotropics. Terrestrial Arthropod Reviews (1): 81-93.

Choo, 2007. Entomophagy (the traditional consumption of insects by humans). In Bekoff, B. and Nystrom, J. Greenwood (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Animals and Humans. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Choo, J., E. Pang, and P. Prociv. 2000. Hookworms in dogs of Kuching, Sarawak (North Borneo). Transactions of the Royal Society for Medicine and Health 94: 21-22.