Cusuco cloud forest biodiversity research
This research team is based in the Cusuco National Park; a site which has been listed in a review of 173,000 protected areas in the world as being in the top 50 most important sites to conserve. On arrival the first week is spent learning to live safely in the forest during a jungle survival course (which can include a canopy access course for an additional cost) and a lecture course with practicals on Neotropical forest ecology. After this week-long induction, you will be joining the largest group of forest researchers at any of the Opwall sites. Projects include measuring forest structure and carbon content of the forest, light trapping for moths and jewel scarab beetles, bird point counts and mist netting surveys, determining chytrid infection rates within amphibians, completing spotlight surveys for amphibian distribution, visual transect surveys for herpetofauna, mist netting and soundscape surveys for bats, small mammal trapping and camera trapping for larger mammals alongside many other projects.
The forests of Central America are some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, partly because they are the meeting point of two great faunas – those from North America and those from South America – which have evolved separately. Many of these ecosystems have been badly degraded but there is a proposal to join currently discontinuous areas of forest into a continuous Mesoamerican forest corridor running from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico (where there are other Opwall teams) to Panama. Part of this corridor will encompass the cloud forests of Cusuco National Park in Honduras – a site rich in endemics and endangered species yet threatened by unchecked illegal deforestation. The Opwall survey teams have been working in Cusuco since 2003 and the data produced has resulted in the Park being listed as one of the top 50 most irreplaceable protected areas in the world (based on a review of 173,000 sites worldwide). As well as underlining the biological value of Cusuco, the datasets collected by the Opwall teams are also being used to make an application for funding through a carbon credit scheme and for a UK govt grant for conservation of this region. Funding obtained in this way will then be used to manage and protect the park and the many unique species it supports.
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In the cloud forest of Cusuco National Park it can get warm in open areas (temperatures up to 20 degrees Celsius) but much cooler in the shade of the forest. Overnight the temperature can drop below 10 degrees Celsius at higher altitudes. It rarely rains in the morning but it regularly rains late in the afternoon and overnight.
Fitness level required
Medium – High in Cusuco. You will need to hike from camp to camp for up to 5 hours with your backpack over steep terrain.
Facilities in Cusuco are very basic (tents, hammocks, river showers, basic trench toilets). There is no cell phone signal in Cusuco National Park and very limited satellite internet available through a communal laptop at Base Camp.
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