The mountainous cloud forest of Cusuco National Park is a structurally diverse and complex ecosystem which is home to an abundance of species, a significant number of which are endemic and/or endangered. With its patchwork of forest types (broadleaf, pine-oak, elfin), an elevational gradient of over 1200m, and slopes varying from 10° to 50°, the Park contains a huge amount of structural complexity creating a vast array of microhabitats and niches for species to exploit. Compounding this complexity is the historic and ongoing human disturbance within the Park; e.g. deforestation for crop plantations, shade-grown coffee farms, and the legacy of logging conducted in the 1950s-1970s have led to an additional gradient of human disturbance within Cusuco. This project would make use of Opwall’s continuing forest structure surveys (collecting data on mature trees, understorey, canopy and soil variables, alongside elevation, aspect, and slope data), which are conducted at over 100 plots across the Park, to relate structural variables of the forest and levels of human disturbance to ecological factors such as species richness in other taxa, soil chemistry, and abundance of microclimates.
The forests of Central America are some of the most biologically 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. Many of these ecosystems have been badly degraded but there is a proposal to join currently discontinuous areas of forest into a continuous Mesoamerican forest corridor running from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico (where there are other Opwall teams) to Panama. Part of this corridor will encompass the cloud forests of Cusuco National Park in Honduras – a site rich in endemics and endangered species yet threatened by unchecked illegal deforestation.
The Opwall survey teams have been working in Cusuco since 2003 and the data produced has resulted in the Park being listed as one of the top 50 most irreplaceable protected areas in the world (based on a review of 173,000 sites worldwide). As well as underlining the biological value of Cusuco, the datasets collected by the Opwall teams are also being used to make an application for funding through Natural Forest Standard (NFS). This will allow carbon credits from the Park to be issued, which can then be sold to multinational companies wishing to offset their carbon emissions and at the same time help protect biodiversity. Funding obtained in this way will then be used to manage and protect the park and the many unique species it supports.
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.