Caribbean terrestrial biodiversity research experience
The research at this site include specialist studies on a different invertebrate taxa each year in order to compile species lists for that taxon. The surveys are led by a specialist expert in the taxon being studied and survey techniques used vary by taxon but include sweep nets, pit fall traps, light traps, and flight intercept traps. There are other teams measuring forest structure and assessing the rate of recovery post hurricane and the carbon stocks. Another team is working on the spread of an invasive anole species and the impact on the native anole species. Other projects include completing standardised point counts of bird communities across the island to quantify changes in the bird communities and mist netting to gather data on the morphometrics, molt pattern and movement and longevity pattern for the bird species encountered. In addition nocturnal surveys include mist net and soundscape studies of the bat communities. There is also the opportunity to assist in the marine surveys at Champagne reef. Champagne reef is a unique location, which naturally mimics ocean acidification, with volcanic bubbles coming out of the ground containing carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide dissolves into the water, thus lowering the pH in that area. Predictions are that in 100 years’ time our oceans could have a pH as low as 7.7, against the current pH of the ocean at 8.1. The Champagne reefs are therefore modelling the changes that are predicted will be happening to reefs across the world in the future. In between working on the various science projects there are regular lectures based on the last 10 years of published papers on Caribbean Island Biodiversity and Conservation. Topics covered are the importance of the Caribbean biodiversity hotspot, the formation of the Lesser Antilles and biodiversity of Dominica, volcanology and survey techniques being used on the various projects during the week.
Dominica marine training and research experience
For this part of the expedition you will be based in either the Cabrits National Park or Soufriere and Scotts Head. Your journey to the marine research centre begins by travelling to Roseau, the capital of Dominica, where you will join a sea mammal search on a small catamaran. Here you will learn about some of the sea mammal research taking place around Dominica, and hopefully locate a sperm whale pod using hydrophones. For your first week at the centre you will take part in one of the courses, either learning to dive, or completing the Caribbean reef ecology course if you are already dive trained or have chosen to snorkel instead. If you are spending two weeks at this centre you will then either complete the Caribbean reef ecology course in your second week or help the researchers with stereo video fish counts of the reef fish communities and 3D modelling of the reefs around the marine national park.
The Caribbean region is a Biodiversity Hotspot and is recognised as a conservation priority area. Despite occupying just 0.15% of Earth’s surface, the Caribbean is home to 2.3% of the planet’s primary vegetation and 3.5% of all vertebrate species. Endemism in the region is also high with 100% of amphibians and 95% of reptiles found only in this hotspot. Operation Wallacea began surveying on the island in 2014, with large scale biodiversity surveys for birds, bats, invertebrates, reptiles and habitat structure. This has resulted in the discovery of many new species for the island and a much better understanding of the ecology of Dominica’s wildlife.
On September 18th 2017 Dominica was hit by a devastating hurricane. Hurricane Maria hit Dominica at category five speed, with all areas of the island affected. The high winds and rains had a significant environmental impact with 30% tree loss across the island, and most of the remaining trees losing foliage and branches. Since the Opwall teams had data on forest structure and community structure of key taxa before this hurricane event and have been able to repeat those surveys post hurricane, there is a unique opportunity to quantify the effect of Caribbean island hurricanes on the biodiversity of those islands and how quickly they recover.
In addition to the forest conservation priorities, Operation Wallacea, in partnership with the Dominican Fisheries Department, have identified priority marine areas around the island for investigation. These areas are surveyed using stereo video, 3D modelling and benthic study methods. Results from these surveys will begin a marine monitoring scheme that can measure changes in the reef over time, and help advise the Dominica Fisheries department of any conservation measures that may need to be put in place.
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At our forest site weather can be very variable, during the day it will be hot and humid, with sporadic periods of rain. There may be days with a lot of rain. Our marine site is hot and usually dry, with occasional storms.
Medium – High in the forest. For some surveys you will need to hike for long periods over steep terrain. At the marine site some fitness is required for in water activities, but conditions are relatively easy
Facilities in the forest are basic (tents, cold water shower and no access to the camp by road – you must cross a rivers to get to camp). There is very limited cell phone signal and no wifi. Marine site facilities are comfortable but basic. There is phone signal and limited wifi.
It is sometimes possible to use an Operation Wallacea expedition to gain credits from your own university. Find out more here.Learn more
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