One of the most striking similarities in between the Rainforest and the Coral reef, is the sheer number of microclimates that each organism has specialized into. Both the rainforest and the coral reef have such wide levels of biodiversity because each organism has adopted a tiny niche. Both environments also exist in a nutrient deficient state. The rainforest has low nutrient enrichment in its soils. The coral reef also exists in a low nutrient environment. Both exist in states of nutrient deficiency due to a high turnover rate and the sheer number of organisms that need those nutrients.
The rainforest and the coral reef seem to have very similar structures. I have observed that the canopy of the rainforest is similar to the hard coral structure of the reef. Both the canopy and the hard corals support large amounts of life. However, there is even more life teeming underneath in the crevices of the coral and in the understory of the rainforest. By setting pitfall traps and shifting the dead coral pieces while looking for urchins, I got to see a whole new side of both environments. I learned that there is a huge diversity of invertebrates on the forest floor and that for every organism I see on the surface of the coral reef there are ten more underneath.
One of the major differences that I have noticed in the rainforest and on the coral reef, is that the rainforest appears to be more stratified. The organisms in the rainforest that exist in the canopy are rarely found on the forest floor. On the other hand, the fish that are swimming above the coral reef at one moment can be found in a crevice the next. I believe that the water filled environment of the reef allows for greater movement of organisms between the different sections of the coral reef.
I expected that I would really enjoy EBIO 319, but would prefer the marine part of the course! However, I ended up loving the rainforest section equally as well as the marine. Furthermore, I didn’t really expect our class to click as well as it did. I think that by the end of the trip, we all had become good friends. On a side note, I expected that I would leave the rainforest as one giant mosquito bite. However, I didn’t get a single mosquito bite while in the Chiquibul. Similarly, I didn’t expect the rainforest to be so cold. I had to put on a sweatshirt most mornings in the rainforest.
My favorite part of the course was the ATM cave. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done! I also loved designing our own experiments and applying them in the field. I loved that we were given the freedom to see what worked and didn’t work in each study. My least favorite part of this course was of course leaving. I wish that I could stay in Belize forever. I also didn’t love the Christmas tree worm study, but that was primarily due to the very low density of worms!
While I know that I won’t remember won’t remember the details from the presentations or taxon briefings five years from now, I will remember some of the most important guidelines to being a TFB. Rule number one: When you are in the field, things will inevitably go wrong. You must always be prepared for a change in plans and to think of a way to fix a problem like using a vine to tie a camera trap to a tree. Rule Number 2: Always carry a headlamp, a snack, and water! You never know when you will be making it back to base camp and should always be prepared to spend the night in the woods. Rule number 3: always bring plastic bags! There were countless times on the trip that I found my self wishing for a plastic bag to hold wet clothes or to organize equipment. The most important thing I learned is that I love doing field work and want to pursue become a tropical field biologist in the future!
Today, I woke up at 5 am to watch the sunrise and listen to the birds. I didn’t see many birds, but it was nice to drinking coffee and watch the sun come up. It was a bittersweet moment in which I got to reflect on everything we had done on the trip and everything I had learned. I can’t believe that we are leaving Belize today. This trip has been quite the adventure and has passed by so quickly. Hopefully, I will get to come back someday!
We left Las Cuevas Research station around 8:20am and drove to the Golden Grove, a souvenir shop. Then we got back in the car and continued on our trek to the airport. Along the way, we stopped at a restaurant called Cheers for lunch. They had really good watermelon juice!
I did not see any amphibians today. The closest I got to an amphibian sighting was a painted frog on a plate in the souvenir shop. However, I saw more frogs and toads on this trip than I expected.
We made it to the airport shortly after! Sarah Glovers and I got selected for extra security clearing and got to get on the plane first! We saved seats for the whole group which was very stressful. We made it to Houston around 7:40 and passed quickly through customs. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone, but I know that I will see everyone around campus.
Today, we are recollecting our camera traps. After breakfast, we set off on the 50-hectare plot. It took us way less time to collect all of the traps this time. While on the trail, I saw another Mexican tree frog. This Mexican tree frog was clinging to a small plant and had slightly different coloration from the others I have seen on this trip. This frog had slight green markings on its arms. After we got back, we completed all of our presentations for the trip.
After lunch, we hiked along the Monkey Tail trail in order to collect the remaining camera traps. It was really fun trying to find all of the cameras again deep in the forest. Unfortunately, the GPS wasn’t working perfectly, so frequently we had to use the sun and look for signs of our previous journey into the bush.
While in the forest, I saw an Dendropsophus ebraccatus (The hourglass tree frog) for the first time! This frog was much smaller than I realized. He had very unique coloration pattern. He had dark brown lines that contrasted with his bright white color. He was sitting on a small leafy plant.
After dinner, we looked at our camera traps! We saw peccaries, pacas, great curassow bird, and a brocket deer. The biggest catch of the night was 2 ocelots!!!! I really didn’t think that we would see anything on our traps! Today was a great last day!
This morning after breakfast, we picked up our pit falls from the forest. There were a surprising number of ants and beetles in our traps. We sorted all of the organisms from each site into different morpho-species and measured overall diversity in the forest canopy and on the forest floor. We concluded that there was a greater nutrient abundance on the canopy and forest floor.
After lunch, we went into the cave just outside of the research station. This cave was used by the Mayans for religious ceremonies. We could see some of the old platforms and stairs built by the Mayans. While in the cave, we saw a giant green snake scaling the wall of the cave. I got to give my last topic lecture in a secondary chamber of the cave. I think it is safe to say that that will be the coolest place I ever give a talk!
After dinner, we hiked out to the bird tower to watch the sunset. The view from the tower was amazing! As far as you could see, there were rolling hills with no visible human presence. On the way back from the tower, we got to do a night hike. The forest totally changes at night. It was really incredible when we turned off our head lamps and just listened to the forest. We saw cockroaches with a glue like substance on their back and phosphorescent scorpions hiding in a log. We also got to see a tailless whip scorpion which is actually not a scorpion, but is in the arthropod family.
Immediately once we got back, I found another Smilisca baudinii (Mexican treefrog). This frog was a much darker color than the other frogs I had previously identified of this group. This frog also did not have the yellow running down its side. This difference in color may be due to the frog’s ability to change its coloration between the night and the day. The other frogs were found closer to dusk than at pitch dark.
After breakfast today, we designed a study to test arthropod diversity and nutrient levels on the forest floor and in the forest canopy. We placed pee and water filled vials on the trees and on the ground in order to create pitfalls for the arthropods. I saw a Blue Morpho butterfly while placing my vials.
After lunch, we did the infamous leaf cutter ant colony excavation. We looked at colonies that were 1, 5, and 10 years old. It was super interesting to see how the ant colonies changed as they matured. The year-old colony was very small and had very few soldier ants. As the colonies matured, more soldier ants appeared and the fungus colonies got bigger and bigger.
We dug up ant colonies until about an hour before dinner and played card game in our free time. Then, we completed our presentations for the night. After the presentations, I saw another Smilisca baudinii (Mexican treefrog). This one had a very dark coloration.
After dinner, a small group of us went on a tarantula hunting adventure. There are a lot of spiders located in the clearing around the station. We saw a Red Rump tarantula and a Livingston Stony tarantula. We learned how to draw the tarantulas out of their hole. While we were searching, we saw large glistening eyes on the edge of the clearing. As we got closer, we discovered that it was a bird, Pauraque, roosting on the ground.
I woke up today at 5:00am for birding! There were only a few birds actually flying in the clearing. However, the bird calls were so loud and beautiful! Then, we had breakfast and began planning our experiment for the day. Today, we were laying camera traps in order to test the abundance of large cats and their prey on paths and in densely forested areas.
Around 9:40am, we left for our first hike of the day! It was a pretty good hike! There were a lot of steep hills, but the downs were really fun. We got to go off trail in order to lay our camera traps. I was completely convinced the whole time that I was going to grab a vine and it would turn out to be a snake! We saw a Mexican porcupine at the top of one of the hills. I think it was sleeping in a hollowed out tree. When he heard our group, he scampered up the tree. We saw a scorpion eater snake and a few large centipedes. I also saw the Blue morpho butterflies.
After lunch, we went on our second hike of the day! We hiked the Monkey Tail trail. A few trees had fallen over in the last hurricane and were blocking the path. It was a lot of fun to scamper over them! On the hike, I didn’t see too many organisms because I was focused on the camera traps. However, we did see lots of signs of the large cats. We saw a few pieces of scat and some large cat scratches. Hopefully, we will be able to catch some on our cameras. We got slightly turned around on our way out of the forest after the last camera trap. We ended up making it out of the forest thanks to Scot and a GPS! We ended up making it back to the station after dark. When we turned on our headlamps, we could see all of the spider eyes staring back at us. There are a surprising number of spiders!
On the last hike, I finally saw a amphibian. It was a Smilisca baudinii (Mexican treefrog)! While we were handling the frog, it turned a dark brown color, and we could see the characteristic dark lines on the frog’s back and legs.
Today, we left Crystal paradise and started our trek to Las Cuevas research station. On the way, we stopped at Rio-On Pool. The Rio-On river forms large pools of water over these large granite slabs. There were really pretty waterfalls! It was a lot of fun scrambling over the large boulders. After about an hour, we continued on our way to Las Cuevas. We played card games in the van on the way. The 2-hour drive passed very quickly. We played B.S for most of the drive.
After we got to Las Cuevas, we quickly unpacked and ate lunch! Surprisingly, I am not tired of chicken, rice and beans. Then we went on a hike! We hiked the Mayan trail and got to see a lot of Mayan ruins. I was so surprised when Scott told me that the “hill” I was standing on was a Mayan temple covered in trees. We also got to see the ball court where they used to play the Mayan ball game. Supposedly, the prize for winning the game was a sacrificial death!
While hiking through the rainforest, I did not see any amphibians. Sad Face. I really expected to see a frog our toad on our hike, because it was sprinkling. I will search more in the leaf litter tomorrow! However, I did see lots of wolf spiders, epiphytes, and grasshoppers. We looked at a giant leaf cutter ant nest. I also saw oropendulm,a black bird with yellow tail feathers. After the hike, there were a lot of termites flying around the station. I got to eat a termite! Dad, they were not minty, but I will try to find a minty one!
We woke up early and began our trek to the Actun Tunichil Muknal caves. The ATM caves were used by the Mayan’s for blood lettings and human sacrifices. When we arrived at the entrance to the historical site, we had to hike to the cave. We got to make three river crossings! It was really fun to swim across the rivers fully dressed in a hard hat. Unfortunately, they did not let us bring cameras on this expedition in order to protect the artifacts in the cave.
When we got to the cave, we swam into the entrance throughout the cave. The water was so cold! We had to squeeze through tiny spaces, scamper down waterfalls, and climb giant rock walls in order to get to the old relics. I honestly don’t believe that we could do this in the United States. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done!
After a wet trek into the cave, we reached a large cavern and had to scale a giant rock wall. Then, we entered the giant open space that contained the majority of the relics. We saw allot of old pots that were used by the Mayans for sacrifices to the gods! There were also a few skeletal remains in the cave. One of them, had an alien shaped head that was caused by Hydrocephalus! We also got to see the crystal princess aka the crystal prince after forensic scientists discovered that the skeleton was male. The crystal prince is a complete skeleton of a sixteen-year-old Mayan.
As we were leaving the ATM caves, it began to rain. On the hike back, I saw Smilisca baudinii ( The mexican tree frog) hoping across the path. This frog had the characteristic light brown and black blotches on its back. A little while later, I saw the tiniest frog I have ever seen. It was about the size of my finger nail. I am pretty sure it was a juvenile Mexican tree frog. Later on the way to dinner, I saw a Incilius valliceps (Gulf coast toad) which has a characteristic white stripe on its back. ‘
This morning Jordan, Isaac, Damien, and I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:45am to watch the sunrise. Although waking up was a little difficult, the sunrise was worth it. The sun was very large and red as it crested over the horizon.
Today, we left Glover’s reef and that was very sad. But I am excited for our week in the rainforest. As we were boating back to Belize, we stopped at Carrie Bow Cay, the Smithsonian research station just inside the Great barrier reef. Clyde the station manager gave us a quick tour.
Then, we were off to swim in the mangroves. WE SAW A MANATEE ON OUR WAY INTO THE GROVE!!!!! Then, we got out and walked around the mangrove and got sufficiently covered in peat. We then snorkeled up the mangroves. I saw a baby Banded Butterfly fish and a few bright orange starfish. At the end of the mangroves, we found a bright yellow seahorse! It was a great way to end the marine portion of our trip. We then continued our trek back to Belize city and ate at a restaurant called Calypso. There lime juice was amazing!
We then got back in the bus and drove to TEC! After checking in, we went for a short hike around the station. I did not see any amphibians on the hike but we saw a ridiculous number of epiphytes!
After dinner, we went to the Belize Zoo for a night tour. While waiting for all the groups to arrive, but it hopped away before I got a closer look! Inside the zoo, I got to feed a Tapir! It was really cool. We also got to see four out of the five large cats of Belize. My favorites were the Ocelot and the Jaguar. The Ocelot, Rayburn, was really cool because when the zoo keeper gave him a piece of chicken he made an adorable NOM NOM NOM sound! The Jaguar, Junior, was raised by hand from a cub. When we arrived at the cage, he did multiple somersaults for treats! It was really cool to see all the animals at night in a semi natural environment! After we got back from the zoo, Scott brought me a large cane toad!
Today was an incredible day! We spent the morning snorkeling and doing reef zonation. We started the day in the Channel. Immediately, I almost ran head into a nurse shark. I was diving down to look at some cool coral and a nurse shark came around the corner about a foot away from me. A little later, we saw a sun spotted eel hiding in the coral.
Then, we went to the aquarium. It was super shallow compared to the channel, but was still really fun. We saw a blue irradescent flounder and a few more nurse sharks free swimming around the reef. Then, we went to a patch reef off Middle Caye. I saw lots of puffer fish and a huge brain coral.
I saw lots of herbivorous fish today! I saw a new parrot fish munching on the coral. I think it was a Red banded parrot fish. Today, was the first day that I could hear the parrot fish’s teeth scraping the algae off the coral. I also saw a huge school of Acanthurus coeruleus (Blue tang surgeonfish).
After lunch, we dissected the lion fish that Scott and Javi caught throughout the week! It was really cool. Mine and Tian Tian’s fish was a large male! After collecting physical measurements of the fish, we made ceviche. It was the best ceviche I have ever had! We took ceviche to one of the other islands and watched the sun set.