Record Unit 9585, Smythe, Nicholas D. interviewee, Nicholas D. Smythe Interview, 1990
Nicholas David Edward Smythe (1934- ), a Biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), joined the staff in 1970. He was born on December 15, 1934, in Kent, England. He received his bachelor's degrees in zoology and psychology from the University of British Columbia in 1963 and received the Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Maryland in 1970. In 1962, he married Tanis D. Smythe, who also worked at STRI, and they raised two children at STRI.
Smythe received the major impetus for his career from John Eisenberg, whom he studied under at the University of British Columbia and followed to the University of Maryland. In 1965 he received a Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellowship to study tropical mammals at STRI for two years. After Smythe finished his Ph.D. at Maryland, he taught a course in Costa Rica for the Organization for Tropical Studies in 1970.
In the fall of 1970 he was contracted to develop STRI's Environmental Sciences Program, which involved establishing baseline studies of climate and its effect on vegetation. While Smythe continued his studies of the frugivorous mammals the paca (Cuniculus paca) and agouti (Dasyprocta punctata), he spent much of the later 1970s and early 1980s as STRI's first Conservation Coordinator. His efforts in educational outreach and political lobbying contributed to the incorporation of STRI into the expanded Barro Colorado Nature Monument and the establishment of the adjacent Parque Nacional Soberania.
Between 1982 and 1987, Smythe received two grants from the W. Alton Jones Foundation to research the prospects for domesticating the paca and for garden hunting in tropical forests as alternatives to destruction of the rain forest to raise cattle. He received grants from Scholarly Studies for two more years to continue the successful paca program and later examined the relationship between the palm, Astrocaryum standleyanum, and the predators that disperse its seeds.
During his career, Smythe has written seventeen articles and book chapters on tropical ecology, particularly on the relationships between small mammals and plants. At STRI, Smythe also supervised graduate student and postdoctoral research, consulted on wildlife management with universities in Costa Rica and Venezuela, and served as liaison for STRI with INRENARE, the Panamanian national institute of natural resources.