Several hundred species of aquatic organisms can be found living in the unique habitats of bromeliad pools. This project aims to gain insight into some of the deep ecological mechanisms driving diversity patterns. Building on a detailed study of the aquatic invertebrates in bromeliads carried out over the last eight years, a series of experimental setups will be used to look into metacommunity dynamics and how dispersal affects alpha, beta and gamma diversity of invertebrates. Cusuco National Park has the highest diversity of passive dispersers (invertebrates that need a vector to move between bromeliads) recorded, and the presence of both these and active dispersers allows projects to be developed that study how dispersal strategies affect community assemblages and diversity patterns. In this project students will use small plastic cups as artificial bromeliads strategically placed in the forest to experimentally test hypotheses concerning the impact of factors such as metacommunity size (the number of bromeliads) and patch size (bromeliad size) on the aquatic invertebrate diversity. This can help us to better understand the relationships of tank bromeliads with a wide variety of other organisms.
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.