On coral reefs, the cleaning behaviour of certain species represents an important interspecific and mutualistic relationship that provides a vital ecological service to the wider reef fish community. In the Caribbean, cleaning is performed by both fish (primarily gobies of the genus Elacatinus) and invertebrates (primarily the Pederson cleaner shrimp, Ancylomenes pedersoni). Cleaner species occupy cleaning stations that are sought by client fish who perform set behaviours in order to initiate cleaning. The dynamics of these interactions are complex, and span the taxonomic spectrum of the reef fish community, with Pederson cleaner shrimp alone known to service over 20 families of fish. After mapping the cleaning stations present at a site, students will use remote video observations to explore patterns in cleaning behaviour involving shrimp, gobies or both. Projects could focus on drivers of clientele composition, or how cleaning frequency and duration varies between client species. Alternatively, projects could build on recent research demonstrating the impact of diver presence on the provision of cleaning behaviour through a combination of in water diver observations and remote videography.
In the Caribbean there are a number of core issues that have been affecting the biodiversity of the reefs – including the mass mortality of keystone sea urchins that have allowed algal colonisation of reef areas, an invasive species originally from the Indo Pacific (lionfish) that acts as a predator on reef fish has been spreading across the Caribbean, and overfishing of reef fish by local communities. Opwall has a series of monitoring sites around the Caribbean (Cuba, Dominica and Mexico) and two of those monitoring sites are in Honduras. One is on the island reefs of Utila and the second on the coastal barrier reef of Tela. The island of Utila is used to represent a typical modern Caribbean reef, whereas the mainland bay of Tela offers an alternative type of reef ecosystem, and they combine to help Opwall scientists explore the best ways to protect coral reefs throughout the region. At both sites, teams of Opwall scientists and students collect annual monitoring data to assess temporal patterns of ecosystem change, alongside novel research to address key management priorities and gaps in our current understanding of tropical marine coastal ecosystem function.
Our marine sites are hot and usually dry, but with occasional storms.
Fitness level required
Low. Some fitness is required for in water activities, but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities are comfortable but basic. There is phone signal and limited wifi that is often unreliable.