Several hundred species of aquatic organisms can be found living in the unique habitats of bromeliad pools. This project aims to gain insight into some of the deep ecological mechanisms driving diversity patterns. Building on a detailed study of the aquatic invertebrates in bromeliads carried out over the last seven years, a series of experimental setups will be used to look into metacommunity dynamics and how dispersal affects alpha, beta and gamma diversity of invertebrates. Cusuco National Park has the highest diversity of passive dispersers (invertebrates that need a vector to move between bromeliads) recorded, and the presence of both these and active dispersers allows projects to be developed that study how dispersal strategies affect community assemblages and diversity patterns. In this project students will use small plastic cups as artificial bromeliads strategically placed in the forest to experimentally test hypotheses concerning the impact of factors such as metacommunity size (the number of bromeliads) and patch size (bromeliad size) on the aquatic invertebrate diversity. This can help us to better understand the relationships of tank bromeliads with a wide variety of other organisms.
The forests of Central America are some of the most species diverse forests in the World partly because they are the meeting point of two great faunas – those from North America and those from South America which had evolved separately. Around 3 million years ago the land bridge that is now Central America began to form and the two faunas began to intermingle. Many of these forests have now been badly damaged but there is a proposal to join currently discontinuous areas of forest into a continuous Meso American forest corridor running from the forests of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico (where there are other Opwall teams) to the forests of Panama. Part of this corridor will be the cloud forests of the Cusuco National Park in Honduras, but this forest has suffered some significant deforestation.
The Opwall survey teams have been working in the Cusuco Park forests since 2003 and the data produced has resulted in the Cusuco Park being listed in the top 100 most irreplaceable forest sites in the World from a review of 173,000 protected areas worldwide (and in the top 25 most important sites for the protection of amphibians). All the data collected by the Opwall teams is being used to make an application for funding through the Natural Forest Standards system. This will include carbon Natural Forest Credits being issued (on the basis of the information about the carbon and biodiversity within the park) which can be sold by the Honduras Forestry Department to multi-national companies wishing to offset their carbon emissions and at the same time help protect biodiversity. Funding raised in this way is then used to manage and protect the park. The role of the Opwall teams is therefore to complete annual surveys of the key biodiversity taxa to check on changes.
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. You will need to hike from camp to camp for up to 5 hours over steep terrain with your backpack.
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.