Forest Research Objectives
The forests of Central America are some of the most species diverse forests in the World partly because they are the meeting point of two great faunas – those from North America and those from South America which had evolved separately. Around 3 million years ago the land bridge that is now Central America began to form and the two faunas began to intermingle. Many of these forests have now been badly damaged but there is a proposal to join currently discontinuous areas of forest into a continuous Meso American forest corridor running from the forests of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico (where there are other Opwall teams) to the forests of Panama. Part of this corridor will be the cloud forests of the Cusuco National Park in Honduras, but this forest has suffered some significant deforestation.
The Opwall survey teams have been working in the Cusuco Park forests since 2003 and the data produced has resulted in the Cusuco Park being listed in the top 100 most irreplaceable forest sites in the World from a review of 173,000 protected areas worldwide (and in the top 25 most important sites for the protection of amphibians). In 2016 all the data collected by the Opwall teams is being used to make an application for funding through the Natural Forest Standards system. This will include carbon Natural Forest Credits being issued (on the basis of the information about the carbon and biodiversity within the park) which can be sold by the Honduras Forestry Department to multi-national companies wishing to offset their carbon emissions and at the same time help protect biodiversity. Funding raised in this way is then used to manage and protect the park. The role of the Opwall teams is therefore to complete annual surveys of the key biodiversity taxa to check on changes.
Marine Research Objectives
In the Caribbean there are a number of core issues that have been affecting the biodiversity of the reefs – including the mass mortality of keystone sea urchins that have allowed algal colonisation of reef areas, an invasive species originally from the Indo Pacific (lionfish) that acts as a predator on reef fish has been spreading across the Caribbean, and overfishing of reef fish by local communities. Opwall has a series of monitoring sites around the Caribbean (Cuba, Dominica and Mexico) and two of those monitoring sites are in Honduras. One is on the island reefs of Utila and the second on the coastal barrier reef of Tela. The island of Utila is used to represent a typical modern Caribbean reef, whereas the mainland bay of Tela offers an alternative type of reef ecosystem, and they combine to help Opwall scientists explore the best ways to protect coral reefs throughout the region. At both sites, teams of Opwall scientists and students collect annual monitoring data to assess temporal patterns of ecosystem change, alongside novel research to address key management priorities and gaps in our current understanding of tropical marine coastal ecosystem function.