• Overview
  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
  • Costs to Consider
  • Site Conditions

2024 Dates

4 weeks: 4 weeks terrestrial only – 24 June – 21 July 2024

Click Here for Expedition Dates

Calakmul terrestrial biodiversity research experience

Research is completed at a series of forest camps across the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. Arrivals on this programme first complete an introduction to the Ancient Maya and Mayan jungle ecology course alongside practicals in survey techniques. Following this you will be helping teams of field biologists completing standardised surveys on a series of key taxa. These surveys are aimed at assessing the importance of the unique aguada habitats for fauna (aguadas are the only water bodies in the reserve) and understanding the relationship between Ancient Mayan manipulation of the forest and current biodiversity. There are several thousand Ancient Mayan ruin sites in the reserve and the forest adjacent to these areas contains the remnants of 7th century agroforesty resulting in very high abundance and diversity of fauna. If you stay on site for multiple weeks you can travel to different forest camps to see how the forest changes and to assist with biodiversity surveys.

Key Activities:

  • Bats: Mist netting long into the night for bats, where morphometric measurements and measurements relating to body condition and reproductive status of captured bats are taken and species identified. Additional data for insectivorous bats that cannot be caught in mist nets will be collecting using acoustic recorders at mist net locations
  • Birds: Mist netting is also conducted early in the morning for birds to capture individuals so that morphological measurements and measurements relating to body condition can be taken and individuals marked for population studies. Student can also help collect bird recordings for development of the Calakmul bird vocalization library
  • 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 an afternoon session analysing camera trap data.
  • Herpetofauna are surveyed using diurnal and nocturnal visual encounters surveys along line transect. As many herpetofauna aggregate around aguadas (the only water bodies in the forest) diurnal and nocturnal timed searches of for herpetofauna will be conducted at aguada habitats.
  • Frugivorous butterflies are surveyed using baited traps in the canopy and understory of different forest types. Forest structure is an essential dataset for the project and you will also assist with carrying out quadrat samples.
  • Habitat: Habitat plots will be carried out at set intervals along each survey transect to enable a better understanding of the forest structure and tree species composition across different locations in the reserve and to complement the data collected for all other taxonomic groups.
  • Guided tour of the Calakmul archaeological site
  • Maya forest ecology lecture series covering: Biodiversity monitoring in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Forests of the Maya and their importance for primates, Aguadas and their importance for herpetofauna, Birds, bats and butterflies as indicators of ecosystem health in the Neotropics, Felids and ungulates of Calakmul, and Conservation Management.

Mexico Terrestrial Research Objectives

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.

Mexico Marine Research Objectives

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, students will have the chance to work alongside our team at Akumal Dive Center to complete their PADI open water dive training and complete a Caribbean reef ecology course in which they will learn about the major conservation issues with Caribbean reefs and will participate in variety of techniques for coral reef monitoring.

  • Attend lectures/workshops on Mayan forest ecology course
  • Learn survey methods to sample birds, bats, herpetofauna, butterflies, large mammals and forest structure.
  • Visit the Calakmul archaeological site
  • Work in some of the most remote areas of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve
  • Opwall fee.
  • Cost of international flights into and out of Cancun.
  • Cost of internal travel to and from the start and end point of the expedition, plus any hotels you might require. The standard package costs around £319 or $415.
  • Extra nights’ accommodation in Cancun costs around £72 or $93 (breakfast included).
  • Park entrance fees are £20 or $26.
  • Mexico charges a tourist tax, currently approximately $14 before leaving the country to travel home.
  • Vaccinations and prophylactic medicines – cost can vary depending on your healthcare provider.
  • All prices in GBP or USD unless specified.
  • Standard travel insurance – cost can vary, for 2 weeks it can range anywhere from £40-80 or $40-150.

Most of our volunteers fundraise for their expedition costs. Find out more.

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.

Creature comforts
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.


  • Mexico
  • Calakmul
  • Dos Naciones

Want to get involved with this project?


Want to get involved with this project?

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