Bats (Chiroptera) are the second-most diverse group of living mammals, after rodents, and comprise more than 1,300 species. Several adaptations have uniquely and effectively expanded their ecological breadth – including flight, echolocation, and a generally nocturnal lifestyle. Moreover, bats have many different food sources such as insects, other vertebrates, blood, fruit, and nectar. These feeding guilds are associated with distinctive morphological adaptations, especially in the New Worlds leaf-nosed bats. Bats vary in the roosts they use, from permanent structures such as caves and mines to ephemeral structures such as ‘leaf tents.’ Owing in part to these unique adaptations, bats are parasitized by a plethora of organisms: mites, bugs, fleas, and flies. Among these, the flies are among the most conspicuous. They live in the fur and on the flight membranes of bats where they feed on blood. There are several recent studies about bat flies, discussing host specificity, unbalanced sex ratios in bat fly populations, associations with functional traits in bats, and population structure. The problem often is that datasets are too small to make far-reaching conclusions. This project will contribute to a new dataset encompassing large numbers of bat flies and focuses on effects of habitat. Students will test whether logged areas show increase parasitism with bat flies – in line with the ‘dilution effect.’ In addition, effects of altitude and roosting behavior and feeding guilds of bat hosts will be assessed.
If you would like to do a dissertation or thesis with us but your university hasn’t started dissertation planning or the project selection process, that’s no problem. You can cancel your expedition with zero cancellation charges up until the 15th of April of if you provide documentation from your university saying that they won’t support completing a dissertation project with us.
The forests of Central America are some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, partly because they are the meeting point of two great faunas – those from North America and those from South America – which have 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.