This expedition is based in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and provides the opportunity to visit multiple different camps and see first-hand how the forest changes, in relation to water distribution and Mayan ruins, impacts the diversity of fauna. Your first week will be spent completing an introduction to the ancient Maya and Mayan jungle ecology course which involves field practicals to illustrate the survey techniques being used. Then you will spend the next two weeks in a remote camp in the humid forests near the Guatemalan border which has large fruiting trees and an abundant food supply resulting in a high density of wildlife. Initial data collected at the remote Dos Naciones camp indicates that these humid forests are crucial for the conservation of flagship species such as jaguar, tapir and spider monkeys and have the highest diversity of birds, bats and herpetofauna in the reserve. Here you will help with surveys on forest structure and tree species composition, birds, bats, herpetofauna, primates and large terrestrial mammals using the same methods as the standard biodiversity surveys and will experience a high number of animal sightings and captures. During remote biodiversity surveys, students will need to help with running the field camp as well as assisting with surveys and a good level of fitness is required due to the hilly terrain. In the last week of the expedition you will travel to the core zone of the reserve to focus on biodiversity surveys in this pristine habitat. Mist net surveys include taking morphometric measurements of captures to monitor birds and bats and the species captured vary considerably across camps. Large mammal surveys involve recording primate sightings (distance sampling) and terrestrial mammal tracks (patch occupancy sampling) encountered along forest transects during morning surveys accompanied by afternoon sessions analysing camera trap data. Herpetofauna are surveyed using line transect surveys and timed searches of aguada habitats for crocodiles and other aquatic species. Frugivorous butterflies are surveyed using baited traps in different forest types. Forest structure is an essential dataset for the project and you will also assist with carrying out quadrat samples.
The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (CBR) in Mexico is an UNESCO World Heritage Site of Culture and Nature and is part of the largest expanse of neotropical forest north of the Amazon, filled with ancient Mayan ruins and supporting one of the highest biodiversity levels in the world. The CBR is also an extremely important wildlife corridor that is crucial for migrating
birds and mammals with extensive ranging patterns such as jaguar and Baird’s tapir. Over the last 10 years the reserve has experienced a notable reduction in rainfall. Monitoring data on birds, bats, herpetofauna, butterflies, ungulates, felids and primates are being used to evaluate the impact of climate change and changing rainfall patterns on the abundance, ranging and diversity of fauna to help determine when and where mitigation should be used to restore water sources. Data are also used to assess the efficacy of a range of sustainable development projects with buffer zone communities designed to minimise forest encroachment. In addition, there are specialist studies on jaguar and their preferred prey, behaviour of spider monkeys and population demographics of Morelet’s crocodiles.
At the marine site, the research is focussed on assessing the efficacy of the newly formed Akumal marine protected area on the abundance and health of seagrasses and the impact of snorkel tours on the abundance, health and behaviour of sea turtles. Research also aims to monitor the combined impacts of water quality and turtle grazing on the abundance and health of the seagrass ecosystem. In addition, the new protected area provides the opportunity for recovery of the coral reefs, but as natural coral recovery rates are so slow, coral reef restoration projects are extremely important. Assisted fertilisation of coral gametes is used by restoration managers to improve genetic diversity before corals are grown and transplanted to nurseries as coral recruits. Corals spawn only once or twice per year at full moons during the summer and in Akumal and Puerto Morelos these gametes are collected ready for fertilization in the laboratory at UNAM university. Operation Wallacea is assisting this long-term research project in Akumal by mapping the distribution of healthy colonies of hard coral species.
In Mexico it is hot and humid. Temperatures rarely drop below mid 20s even at night. It is unlikely to rain much, but you do get occasional heavy showers during the season.
Fitness level required
Medium in the forest, there are some reasonably long walks through the forest, terrain varies by camp with some being almost completely flat and others more undulating.
Facilities in the forest are basic (sleeping in tents or hammocks in a camp site), with a mixture of dry and trench toilets. There are freshwater showers but water conservation is particularly important to bear in mind. There are some limited opportunities to buy snacks at some forest camps and there is no phone signal at any of the sites.