In many ways, Belize is similar to Costa Rica: Both countries have largely-intact ecosystems with high levels of biodiversity, have chosen to protect large areas of these ecosystems in parks and preserves, and rely mainly on ecotourism to drive their economies. The one difference is that Belizean biodiversity is not as well understood as the biodiversity of their close neighbor to the south.
Belize is a small country situated in the
Mesoamerican biological hotspot and is known for their large areas of intact ecosystems. Approximately 26% of the country (about 2.6 million acres) is preserved in a total of 95 reserves. Much of this protected land is encompassed in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor that extends from Mexico to Panama and contains protected areas that are linked by biological corridors. The Maya Mountains are found in the southern half of Belize and contains many reserves and parks that are an important part of this Biological Corridor. Many of the endemic species in Belize are found in these mountains.
This project will occur in the northern portion of the Maya Mountains at the field station owned by the Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society (TREES). This facility is the headquarters of a scientific organization dedicated to the study of the biological and cultural diversity of Belize. The field station is owned by wildlife biologists Mathieu Charette and Vanessa Kilburn and is situated along the northern border of the Sibun Forest Reserve, a nearly 82,000-acre preserve. The Sibun Forest Reserve is a portion of an extensive contiguous tract of tropical broadleaf forest that comprises an area of 1.3 million acres – including many of Belize’s largest protected areas.
Six other biologists will be joining the primary investigator for this work. Please check out the first Lab Note for short biographies of the research team.
Biological inventories are an essential
component to the understanding of the biological richness of a country or region. These inventories include the development of actual collections for on-going and future study as well as species inventories conducted through observation and capture/release. This project does both by establishing a major entomology collection in Belize that will be accessible to scientists visiting the country and by conducting an inventory of bats in this area of the Maya Mountains. Further scientific relevance is gained through the collection’s collaboration with one of the largest University entomology museums at the Bohart Museum of Entomology located at the University of California Davis.
Often, comparisons are made between Belize and Costa Rica because both countries rely on their biological diversity and natural beauty to attract scientists and tourists wishing to see nature at its finest. Many biologists have described knowledge of Belizean biodiversity as being about two decades behind what is known of Costa Rica. In terms of their insect fauna, no major insect collections are readily found in Belize. Although biologists have collected insects in the country for many years, nearly all of these insects are housed in the various home countries of these entomologists. Establishing an entomology collection in Belize at the Toucan Ridge facilities would provide a central repository in the middle of Belize for these valuable biological specimens.
In addition to the entomology work, bat inventories will be conducted in this area of the Maya Mountains. Bats are tremendously important to ecosystems due to their pollination activities, seed dispersal role, and their function as a major predator (both invertebrates and vertebrates are consumed by various species of bats). While several researchers continue to actively study the bat fauna of Belize, much of the distribution of bats in the country is poorly known. With at least 82 species of bats known from Belize (this is nearly double the number of bat species found in the U.S. and Canada), inventories are essential to understand their distribution in these ecosystems. In addition to the inventory, insect ectoparasites will be collected from the bats captured in mist nets and placed in the entomology collections.
This project will establish a properly curated entomology collection in central Belize and will conduct an inventory of bat species in this area of Belize. In addition, this project will train the owners and managers of the Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society (TREES) field station in the techniques for proper maintenance of entomology collections, insect curation techniques, and basic taxonomy of insects.
For this project, the specific objectives are to:
This project asks for funding to purchase the entomology collection materials that will establish the insect collections and to purchase four bat mist-nets for the capture of bats in the bat inventory. In addition, funding is requested to cover the field station costs of the seven biologists that will be conducting the inventory and establishing the entomology collections. The Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society field station will be the base of our operations with the collection to be housed and maintained at Toucan Ridge.
The researchers are donating all of their time for the project (nearly 1,000 hours of work in total) and are also covering all of the travel costs (both airline and in-country travel) as well as all incidental expenses while in Belize or while traveling. All other equipment that is not covered in this request will be provided by the researchers and through partnership with the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California Davis.
In addition to the Bohart Museum of Entomology, another collaborator on the project will be the Biodiversity Center of Belize (associated with the City University of New York). They will be conducting DNA barcoding of the specimens at their research institute in Dangriga (insects as well as the bats). We are thrilled with this opportunity to work with The Biodiversity Center of Belize to add DNA into the catalog of the species we encounter.