The butterfly community of Cusuco National Park includes many species, including the glass wings (Ithomiinae); forest specialists well known as Müllerian mimics of each other. Due to their high diversity and habitat specificity, butterflies are often hypothesized as strong biological indicators of neotropical forest quality. This project seeks to examine tropical butterfly ecology in the cloud forests of Cusuco National Park, using Pollard walks as a principal methodology. The range of specific questions this project could encompass are broad, but a focus could be on alpha and beta diversity of butterfly communities in relation to habitat structure, elevation, and other specific parameters such as sun patches and presence of food plants. The project could also look into the ecology of specific species and involve mark-recapture studies to estimate population size or look into biotic interactions such as predation rates or interspecific competition. Alternatively, the evaluation of an umbrella group such as the glass wings as indicators for the butterfly community as a whole would be a most valuable research avenue and a potential great tool for future monitoring of butterfly communities in CNP.
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.