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The Mexican research project is run in the vast Mayan Jungle (Selva Maya) that covers the southern section of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and extends into the neighbouring state of Chiapas to the east and the Petn region of Guatemala to the south. This dense jungle is the largest expanse of tropical forest outside of the Amazon. In addition to a large collection of Ancient Mayan ruins, the Selva Maya is one of the largest remaining strongholds of endangered mammals such as jaguar and tapir. The Operation Wallacea research project is based in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Yucatan Peninsula section of the Selva Maya. The data collected by students will be used to apply for long-term funding to protect the Calakmul forests and wildlife from deforestation and hunting under the Reduction in Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+ scheme). The specific research objectives are: To conduct record data on tree diversity and tree volume in order to calculate reliable estimates of the carbon biomass contained in Calakmul, which will determine the extent of funding that can be obtained from REDD. To assist in the biodiversity surveys of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds completed by specialists, which will also determine the extent of funding that can be obtained from REDD To ascertain population density of large mammals to enable creation of sustainable hunting quotas for buffer zone communities. The second week of the expedition will be run from the marine research site operated by Operation Wallacea in Akumal or in Xpu Ha. Akumal and Xpu Ha are popular tourist spots due to the beautiful beaches, coral reefs and permanent presence of turtles, although Akumal is the more developed of the two. However, if not carefully managed, tourism will start to impact on the coral reef ecosystem causing irrevocable damage. The main research objective at Akumal and Xpu Ha is to complete annual monitoring of the coral and reef fish communities, in areas with different tourism levels and to measure water quality as a means of determining how water contamination and sedimentation affect the coral reef system. During this week the students will mainly be completing dive training or the Caribbean reef ecology course (if already dive certified or wishing only to snorkel), but they will also contribute to some ongoing data collection. During in-water practicals (diving or snorkelling) students will assist with abundance surveys of lion fish (and invasive species) and sea urchins (important grazers that maintain coral health). In their spare time, students will be helping with surveys to determine the annual abundance and distribution of turtle nesting sites, abundance and health of juvenile turtles in the sea grasses and tourist surveys used to determine the carrying capacity of the bay. Forest week The teams will spend their time in the jungle field camps distributed across the Calakmul reserve, but with a day visit to a Mayan archaeological site. During their week in the Mayan jungle the students will complete 12 half days of activities as follows: Introduction to the Ancient Maya (2 sessions). This day-long course on the Ancient Maya includes a museum tour, a guided tour of the breathtaking Calakmul ruins, and information relating to the effect of Ancient Mayan agro-forestry on tree and wildlife diversity in the reserve. Jungle skills training (1 session) Mayan forest ecology and conservation lectures (3 sessions). This lecture course on Mayan Forest Ecology consists of 6 lectures covering the following topics: Lecture 1: Biodiversity, evolution and classification, Lecture 2: Endemism, biodiversity hotspots and forest structure in Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Lecture 3: Herpetofauna and adaptation (reptile and amphibian diversity in Calakmul, snake teeth and venom, Batesian mimicry, herpetofauna survey methods), Lecture 4: Neotropical birds (bird identification and ecology, birds as indicators of forest health, bird survey methods), Lecture 4: Neotropical mammals (effect of forest disturbance on bat diversity, forest ungulates and seed predation, spider monkey social structure, jaguar ranging patterns in Calakmul, mammal survey methods) and Lecture 6: Conservation synthesis (the use of Opwall datasets to monitor changes to forest cover and biodiversity over time, GIS and modelling species distribution patterns, sustainable hunting of peccary and deer, REDD scheme). Carbon biomass and habitat surveys (2 sessions). Students will work alongside the habitat survey team to mark and then survey 20m x 20m forest quadrats. Surveys will involve numbering all trees for subsequent species identification, measuring the diameter at breast height (DBH) and height or each tree, measuring all dead wood (because even dead wood contains carbon), and counting the number of the saplings in the quadrat. Biodiversity surveys (4 sessions). Students will work alongside a range of specialist teams to complete surveys on: Mist net surveys for birds (includes learning how to identify birds in the hand and take morphometric measurements). Scan search sampling for herpetofauna from forest transects Pitfall trap surveys for herpetofauna next to aguadas (temporary lakes). Large mammal transect surveys based on visual encounters (e.g. primates and deer) and tracks (e.g. jaguar and tapir) Mist netting for bats Dawn point counts for birds Marine week During their marine week the students will be completing one of the following options: -A full PADI Open Water dive training course -Completion of a Caribbean reef ecology course consisting of lectures and in water practicals either by diving (if a qualified diver) or snorkelling. The lectures cover an introduction to coral reef ecosystem (characteristics of a reef, reef formation), coral and algal species (growth forms and common species), mangrove and seagrass ecology (importance of connective systems, threats to mangroves), economically important invertebrates (lobster fishery, aquarium trade), identification of coral reef fish (main reef fish families), reef survey techniques (quadrats, transects, stereo video), threats to and conservation of reefs (Akumal case study, other marine protected areas in Caribbean) -Completion of a PADI Open Water referral course (students need to arrive having completed their theory and pool training) which takes the first 3 days and they then join the Caribbean reef ecology course.
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