Frugivorous butterflies from the Charaxinae family are often used as indicators of forest disturbance as their abundance and diversity is directly impacted by changes to the forest environment and they only persist in high numbers in primary forest. However, in Calakmul, these butterflies appear to behave differently. A pilot study indicated that Charaxinae abundance and diversity does not vary in relation to disturbance factors but does appear to vary considerably across different locations in the forest. This unusual behaviour is likely an artefact of the unique forest in Calakmul created by Ancient Mayan agroforestry. The relationship between forest structure and tree species composition with butterfly community structure will be investigated by placing a series of conical traps in different forest locations. Traps will be made from mosquito netting rolled into a large cylinder with a plastic plate hung from the bottom. The plastic plate will be baited with rotten bananas and other fruit each morning at 10-11am and then checked in the afternoon between 3-4pm. Traps will be hung from suitable trees in different areas of the forest and a 20m x 20m habitat plot (using the previously described methods) will be conducted around each trap in order to record forest structure variables and tree species composition. A total of 10 traps (5 understorey and 5 canopy) will be used in each of the research camps. Each butterfly caught in the trap will be identified to species level and will then be released.
The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (CBR) in Mexico is an UNESCO World Heritage Site of Culture and Nature and is part of the largest expanse of neotropical forest north of the Amazon, filled with ancient Mayan ruins and supporting one of the highest biodiversity levels in the world. The CBR is also an extremely important wildlife corridor that is crucial for migrating birds and animals with extensive ranging patterns such as jaguar and Baird’s tapir. Over the last 10 years the reserve has experienced a notable reduction in rainfall. Monitoring data on birds, bats, herpetofauna, butterflies, ungulates, felids
and primates are being used to evaluate the impact of climate change and changing rainfall patterns on the abundance, ranging and diversity of fauna to help determine when and where mitigation should be used to restore water sources. Data are also used to assess the efficacy of a range of sustainable development projects with buffer zone communities designed to minimise forest encroachment. In addition, there are specialist studies on jaguar and their preferred prey, behaviour of spider monkeys and population levels of Morelet’s crocodiles.
In Mexico it is hot and humid. Temperatures rarely drop below mid 20s even at night. It is unlikely to rain much, but you do get occasional heavy showers during the season.
Fitness level required
Medium in the forest, low on the marine site. There are some reasonably long walks through the forest, terrain varies by camp with some being almost completely flat and others more undulating. On the marine site lower levels of fitness are required (although you will likely be very tired at the end of the day after the in-water sessions).
Facilities in the forest are basic (sleeping in tents or hammocks in a camp site), with a mixture of dry and trench toilets. There are freshwater showers but water conservation is particularly important to bear in mind. There are some limited opportunities to buy snacks at some forest camps and there is no phone signal at any of the sites. On the marine site the facilities are a little less rustic – you sleep in bunk beds in dormitories about 10 minutes drive from the beach. There is good phone signal and the site is well supplied with shops.