About

The aim of the project is to promote bat conservation in Belize. We are tackling this in a number of ways:

Making history: the first bat biology course for Belizeans, held in the Golden Stream field centre in January 2016

Capacity Building
At present there is no bat conservation in Belize. For bat conservation in Belize to be successful in the long run it must be carried out by Belize nationals. The long term goal of our project is to form a self sustained bat group to enable Belize to conserve it’s own biological heritage.

Habitat Surveying
The aim is to develop a bat monitoring strategy to serve as a flagship for bat conservation in Belize. This work is concentrated in the Maya Golden Landscape (MGL), southern Belize.

The primary goal is to compile an inventory of bat species, and note their population and distribution within the different habitats of the MGL – baseline information that is essential for future monitoring.

Trapping in an agroforestry plot

With continued monitoring this information will enable us to identify unsustainable activities in the MGL and take action. It can also help identify areas of ecological importance, and determine if it is appropriate to make changes to the management of these areas. More information on our surveying approach can be found below.

Guiding Sustainable Development
With the results of the MGL surveys we will be able to compare diversity in different habitats. By understanding what level of diversity different habitats can support, plans can be made on how to maximise economical and social development while preserving biodiversity.

Habitat Surveying

Extracting a bat from a mist net

We are surveying the different habitats found in the Maya Golden Landscape (MGL), Toledo District, Southern Belize, from October-April 2015 and again from November 2015-April 2016. The primary aim of the study is to start an inventory of species as baseline data for future bat work in the region. We are working in collaboration with the local conservation NGO, Ya’axché Conservation Trust, to develop and implement a protocol for monitoring bat populations in the MGL.

We are using two different surveying approaches: catching bats with mist nets (image above) and recording echolocation calls of passing bats using an ultrasonic bat detector. This approach maximises the number of bats we are likely to find – some species fly too high to be caught in the net, some echolocate too quietly to be picked up on the bat detector. By using both approaches we can sample more species than with one approach on it’s own.

Identification

Great Fruit-eating Bat, Artibeus lituratus

Species caught in the net can normally be identified on the spot (image right, Artibeus intermedius). To aid this we have prepared an identification key for Belizian bat species (available from the Resources page). Some species however cannot be identified in the field – either individuals that are of intermediate size between two species, or two species that look identical in-hand. To identify rogue bats we are taking DNA samples, these can then be used to identify species by DNA barcoding. This work is carried out in association with the Petters Research Institute Biodiversity Centre of Belize (PRI-BioBelize). Barcoding work on our project is funded by the Percy Sladen Memorial Fund.

Recordings of echolocation calls can also be used to identify different species. By looking at the shape of the call, the duration, peak frequency and other parameters we can determine the species of the animal that made it. We have prepared a spreadsheet that provides information about the different qualities of species’ calls, available from the Resources page.

The Location

The blue pool, Bladen Nature Reserve

The Maya Golden Landscape (see map below) is managed by Ya’axché Conservation Trust to protect biodiversity and livelihoods in the watershed of the Golden Stream and surrounding areas. It encompasses a number of communities and protected areas. The idea behind protecting the whole watershed is for ridge to reef protection – managing the whole ecosystem rather than focussing on a small part of it. Bats are useful indicators of ecosystem health and so understanding bat population trends in the region will be a valuable tool for monitoring.

We are sampling a number of common habitats found in the MGL: primary forest, secondary regrowth, cacao agroforestry and citrus monoculture. This will give us a good idea of the diversity found in the region and should provide information on the roles different land-use regimes play in supporting bat populations.

Bladen Nature Reserve (image above, also see map) is an untouched, semi-deciduous/evergreen forest that forms an important part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. It is a biodiversity hotspot and an IUCN category I protected area, the highest level of protection, meaning entry is only permitted for research and educational purposes.

The Golden Stream Corridor Preserve (see map) was created in 1998 to connect the Maya Mountains to the mangrove forests that span Belize’s coast. Large parts of the region were flattened by hurricane Iris in 2001, meaning the majority of the preserve is secondary regrowth of 16 years.

Agroforestry describes a system of farming where trees and crops grown together. In the MGL this normally means that the under-story is cleared from and area of forest and cacao, banana and other fruit crops are planted below. The principal is that as plants don’t need to be in direct sunlight, especially under the hot topical sun, multiple layers of plants can use the same piece of land. This system is meant to be more productive and better for biodiversity than traditional farming, as it closer resembles a natural setting. Agroforestry plots in the MGL tend to be small and connected to other forested areas, giving them high potential for hosting a large number of species, however this remains to be tested empirically.

Moonrise in the orange orchard

Citrus orchards are common in southern Belize (image right), this is also true in the MGL. By comparing monoculture with agroforestry our results will hopefully provide insight into the level of biodiversity the different agricultural regimes can support, enabling farmers to make informed decisions about the way they manage their land. A growing population means that slowly more and more land will need to be used for food production, so it’s important to have information about how farming practices affect biodiversity.

Legacy

We are working with Ya’axché Conservation Trust to set up continued monitoring in the MGL, we’re also working with the University of Belize’s Environmantal Research Institue (ERI) and the Latin American Network for Bat Conservation (RELCOM) to extend this monitoring protocol nationally in Belize. Belize is, at present, the only Central American country that isn’t part of RELCOM, so we have set the ball rolling for Belize to join. We hope that the work we do will encourage other NGOs to start monitoring bat populations and we aim to provide resources to enable this to happen.

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