IBISCA-Panama ("Investigating the BIodiversity of Soil and Canopy Arthropods", Panama module) represents a large-scale research initiative to quantify the spatial distribution of arthropod biodiversity in a Neotropical forest, using a combination of (1) international collaboration, (2) a set of common research questions, and (3) an integrated experimental design. Here, we present the rationale of the programme, describe the study sites, and outline field protocols. In the San Lorenzo Protected Area of Panama, twelve 20 x 20 m sites, all less than 2 km apart, were surveyed for plants and arthropods, from the ground to the upper canopy. Access to the canopy and its fauna was facilitated by fogging, single-rope techniques and a variety of devices such as a canopy crane, the "SolVin-Bretzel" canopy raft, the canopy bubble and Ikos. IBISCA-Panama represented the first attempt to combine these complementary techniques of canopy access in a large-scale investigation. Such techniques provided spatial replication during initial field work performed in September-October 2003. Temporal replication across seasons consisted of subsequent field work of varying intensity during dry, early wet and late wet periods in 2004. Arthropods were surveyed using 14 different protocols targeting the soil, litter, understorey, mid-canopy and upper canopy habitats. These protocols included: WINKLER sifting; BERLESE-TULLGREN; hand-collecting of galls and social insects; fogging; beating; woodrearing; baits; and various types of traps such as pitfall, small and large flight-interception, sticky, light, and Malaise traps. Currently, analyses of arthropod distribution in this forest concentrate on a set of 63 focal taxa representing different phylogenies and lifehistories. IBISCA-Panama may be considered as a model for largescale research programmes targeting invertebrate biodiversity. Its collaborative modus operandi can be applied to answer a variety of pressing ecological questions related to forest biodiversity, as evidenced by the recent development of further IBISCA programmes in other parts of the world.