The effective conservation of Cusuco National Park is imperative for many endemic species, none more so than cloud forest amphibians. The spread of chytrid fungus has caused severe declines in many amphibian populations and is a major concern for global amphibian conservation. Chytrid is known to have been present within the amphibian populations of Cusuco for at least 15 years, but its prevalence within specific areas of the forest and the extent to which different species are affected are not well known. Amphibian species will be encountered during diurnal and nocturnal transects and swabbed for chytrid. Swabs will be taken back to the lab at base camp and tested for the presence of chytrid using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and visualised using agarose gel electrophoresis. Individuals will also be assessed for visual signs of infection. Prevalence of chytrid will be mapped in the park using multiple years’ data to assess whether the disease is continuing to spread to previously uninfected areas to contribute to the investigation into the underlying mechanism of infectivity.
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.