Anolis lizards are the most diverse tetrapod clade on the planet, with over 400 species occurring in the neotropics. Despite being charismatic and well known, the natural history of many Anoles is highly understudied. Cusuco National Park (CNP) supports 13 distinct species of Anole lizards, four of which are endemic to Honduras. These sympatric species must avoid both inter- and intra-specific competition. Anoles may do this by partitioning their niches with regards to their diurnal active locations and their nocturnal sleeping sites. This project aims to determine the degree of habitat specificity in CNP’s Anoles, investigating how their niches are separated in terms of their diurnal active locations and nocturnal sleeping sites. Data collection involves conducting visual encounter surveys (day & night) for the most common species of Anole lizards using the pre-established network of transects in CNP. When encountering individuals, data is collected on anole morphology (body size, condition, sex, etc.), behaviour (activity, orientation, etc.) and micro habitat use (i.e. height above ground, perch substrate, dimensions, etc.). The collection of such data will allow conclusions to be made on species interactions, behaviour, ecology and niche preference; seeking to form an understanding of how these synoptic species avoid competition in nature.
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.