Tag Archives: Wrap Up Blog

Tropical Field Biology Presents: It’s a wrap folks! (Wrap-up Blog)

I cannot believe that EBIO 319 has already come to an end. It feels like just yesterday that we boarded our plane to start our journey. Alas, all good things must come to an end. EBIO 319 gave us the best of both worlds: surf and turf. Finally, I was able to see two ecosystems I have read about time and time again in real life. The first and most obvious similarity between the rainforest and reef is that they are both places of incredible biodiversity. Each ecosystem supports hundreds, if not, thousands of different organisms ranging from microbes to top predators.

Coral reefs and the rainforest are also similar because they are usually restricted to certain latitudes (what we call the Tropics), and they depend on a delicate balance of nutrients. As we have learned, both the rainforest and reef could be considered nutrient-poor environments. In the rainforest, the soil is nutrient-poor as most of the nutrients are incorporated in the living trees, and in the reefs, the water column is also nutrient poor. With this in mind, nutrient cycling is vital for the sustainment of these environments. Corals dependent on nutrient-cycling symbionts and tropical rainforest soil depends on decomposition as the warm humid conditions promote faster decay and recycling of nutrients.

Another similarity that I noticed as I explored these areas was the lack of space. In the rainforest, we had a trail that was easy to walk along, but even two feet off of the trail the vegetation started to thicken making it difficult to maneuver. In the same manner, navigating inside some of the patch reefs was incredibly difficult as every inch of space seemed to be occupied. As I have learned in this class and previous classes, the more diverse an area is the more specialized niches that arise. I saw this phenomenon in both areas as it seemed that every organism had a specific niche within their environment occupying nearly every inch of space. This is a factor that allows these areas to maintain that biodiversity.

I also noticed that with this lack of space and abundance of different organisms it promoted some intense defense and survival mechanisms. From my perspective, it seemed like in both regions’ organisms were always on edge. On the coral reef, there were stinging anemones, sea urchin spines, fire coral, and jellyfish. In the rain forest, it seemed like every corner we turned there was a venomous snake, biting insects, thorns, and poisonous plants.

However, I did also notice some things that I felt were different between the areas. Based on my observations, I felt that sites we went to in the rainforest were more “intact” than some of the sites we went to on Glover’s Reef. By intact, I mean that some areas of the reef seemed to be more in peril (less fish, dead coral, fleshy macroalgae) compared to the rainforest. Partly, I attribute this to the fact that we left the marine protected area for some of the reef sites unlike in the rainforest portion where we remained in the protected area. I even think that factors like climate change could provide some insight as to why some of the coral reefs appeared less healthy in some instances.

Overall, I really enjoyed this course. I do think the amount of work before the trip was greater than I expected, and even during the trip, the amount of work we do every day was more than I anticipated. We worked some days for 10-12 hours which is rewarding but also tiring. Although, I think the work before leaving was really beneficial in providing basic background knowledge of Belize. I also did not expect to do so many cool tourist activities like the ATM cave or Belize zoo. I thought those we were really fun and informative activities to do between the surf and turf portions of our class.

My favorite part of the course was learning about how Belize’s history is intertwined with their natural ecosystems. For instance, it was obvious the pride that our Belizean tour guides, Herbie and Javier, took in the reef, and I was surprised to see that. It was not just a job for them or a way to make money; it was them showcasing the place they call home. It gave me a face to the Belize conservation movement. I also loved going into the caves and learning the history behind them. They are experiences that I won’t forget.

I think my least favorite part of the course was the bug bites; I know it may seem significant, but at some points, they were so itchy that I felt it was hard to focus when doing outside activities. I also was not a fan of the long boat rides. They always just made me feel slightly off for the rest of the day.

I learned a lot about myself and my future during this trip. First, I do not think that I want to do fieldwork in the future. I am not saying I never will, but I am just not sure it is the avenue for me. However, I do know that I loved being exposed to these ecosystems and I want to protect them at all costs. So, the second thing this trip taught me is that I am now more interested in conservation and convincing others to appreciate our natural wonders. In other words, I think I am more interested in communicating complex scientific ideas to non-scientists. On a less serious note, another thing I learned was that traveling is very important to me. This small glimpse of life outside the US allowed me to gain an appreciation for my home and their home. So, now I want to make sure traveling to different places is somehow incorporated into my future.



  1. Red-rumped tarantula, Brachypelma vagans
  2. Spiny Orb Weaver, Gastercantha cancriformis
  3. Orb Weaver, Araneidae
  4. Wolf Spider, Hogna sp.
  5. Harvestman, Cosmitdae sp.
  6. Florida Bark Scorpion, Centruroides gracilis
  7. Variety of ticks


  1. Watercress algae, Halimeda optunia
  2. Three finger leaf algae, Halimeda incrassata
  3. Mermaid’s fans, Udotea sp.
  4. Green Bubble Weed, Dictyosphaeria cavernosa
  5. Sea Pearl, Ventricaria ventricosa
  6. Bristle Ball Brush Algae, Pencilius dumetosus
  7. Pink Segmented Algae, Janis adherens
  8. Reef cement, Porolithon pachydermum
  9. Burgundy crustose algae, Pessonneliam sp.
  10. Flat Twig Algae, Amphiroa tribulus
  11. Y-twig Algae, Amphiroa rigida
  12. Variety of other Coralline Crustose Algae

Love Letters to Belize

Wow its already time to wrap up and reflect.  It almost feels too soon.  Well here it goes…

The rainforest and the coral reefs on the outside appear very different, but upon closer inspection are very similar functioning ecosystems.   Most notably, these ecosystems function and form in nutrient poor environments.  In the rainforest, the soil lack nutrients and is acidic while the coral reefs are surrounded by nutrient poor waters.  Paradoxically, they are also both nutrient rich environments.  In both cases, the nutrients come from the organisms themselves rather than the surrounding environment.  The nutrients within the tropical rainforest come from within the organisms living there, especially the trees.  Nutrients are made accessible when things begin to break down.  Those nutrients are quickly recycled into other life forms, allowing for such high biological diversity in the tropical rainforest.  

A similar process occurs in coral reefs, as corals and algae provide the nutrients to sustain other life forms living on the reef (rather deriving nutrients mostly from the water).  They also use a form of nutrient cycling to maintain the nutrient levels that allow coral reef to have such high biological diversity.  You can observe this cycling between the genus of green algae, symbiodinium, and hard corals.  Green algae photosynthesizes to provide nutrients for the coral and in turn uses the corals’ waste products to feed itself.  In both ecosystems, the nutrients in derived and conserved within the organisms rather than the surrounding environment.  This allows the ecosystems to maintain such high nutrient and biomass levels which in term allows for high biological diversity in both ecosystems.  

In addition, I also noted several other comparisons between the two ecosystems.  Both involve intense competition for space between organisms.  For example, different trees grow in the same space depending on the state of the area.  Corals and algae compete for the same space on the reef.  Both are also plagued by poaching issues from other neighboring counties.  Both ecosystem provide ecological services to humans from protection from erosion to wood to providing healthy populations of seafood.  Conversely, they also have notable differences in addition to the obvious differences in appearance and mediums (water vs. land).  Coral reefs directly rely on and interact with surrounded ecosystems like mangroves and seagrass while the tropical rainforest tends to exists as its entity.  Coral reefs can also function as fragmented ecosystems in a way as there can be several reef patches within an area that interact while the tropical forest in the Chiquibul is less fragmented.  

Overall, this course exceeded my expectations.  I learned so much not only about the environments we explore, but also about the impact these ecosystem have on current human civilizations.  I unexpectedly also learned an incredible amount about the Mayan people and their culture and how their decline is something we should learn from in relation to our current climate issues.  My favorite parts of the course included taking data for our projects and simply waking up to such beautiful morning scenery.   If I’m being honest, my least favorite part of the course was actually writing these blogposts at the end of the day because I was so tired from all of the activities we had done during the day.  Every night was late night. 

In the end, I would call this experience one of the most valuable in my life up to this point.  I learned that we truly don’t understand much about the environment outside of civilization.  As a result, we fail to wrap put heads around the importance of these environments.  We then litter, overuse resources, and take things from where they belong to be used as pets or “pretty things”.  These environments aren’t just things that function independently from us and us from them.  We are as much a part of nature as everything else, and when our actions result in a negative impacts on these ecosystems, it won’t be long until we feel the effects of those impacts. 

I also learned that environments are constantly shifting.  What I saw in the tropical rainforest and coral reefs this year will not be what future classes observe.  For example, hurricanes are major force in reshaping both landscapes through fallen trees and broken corals.  No hurricane has the same effect. Some can be good as fallen trees gives way to new ones and broken coral branches begin to regrow in new areas of the benthos.  They can also wreck havoc.  These landscapes are made to alter and adapt, and what I saw was complexity unique in itself.

Finally, I learned these environments are disappearing so much faster than I thought.  Most of us know that corals are bleaching and people are cutting down the rainforest, but most of us fail to truly understand the rate and severity until you see it.  Until you see the effect, you don’t realize how fast it is happening.  We saw so much dead coral rubble and so much marine debris.  It’s a really sad idea to end on, but the up side of it is that it made me really appreciate this experience more than I would if I felt like this ecosystem weren’t going anywhere.  In other words, seeing the decline of these ecosystems allowed me to get the most out of this class.