Undergrad Research Assistants
The training course and research assistant options described below (see constituent parts) have been packaged as a series of 2, 4 and 6 week expeditions
Want to get involved or know more? Submit an Expression of Interest!
Start date expedition 1: 12 June
The ultimate option when choosing expeditions is getting a mix of both terrestrial and marine research, for those wanting to get maximum benefit from their time in the field, the 6 week expedition is the one we recommend, if you are not able to commit to 6 weeks then this 4 week expedition is the next best option. Splitting your time between Calakmul and Akumal, you will complete ME001, followed by a week working with the biodiversity survey teams ME002. Then you will travel to Akumal and spend the next 2 weeks at the marine site. If you are not already dive trained and wanting to learn you will not join the research teams and your options will be ME04/05. If snorkelling or already dive trained your first week will be ME05/06 and in your final week you will be able to assist with data collection and the researchers ME007.
Start date expedition 2: 26 June
This 6 week expedition offers the ultimate research experience. The expedition will start in Calakmul you would then travel to the spectacular humid forest in the south of the Calakmul reserve to spend 2 weeks on remote biodiversity surveys ME001 & ME003. You then move to the marine site, here you can learn to dive, complete the reef ecology course and assist with the research efforts ME003/05/06/07. If you opt to not dive or are already qualified then you can spend an additional week with researchers.
Start date expedition 3: 10 July
This expedition gives you 3 weeks in the forest and 1 week at the marine site. The first week is spent in Mancolona camp completing the Mayan jungle ecology course (ME001). Then the group is split into smaller groups to complete biodiversity surveys in different camps over the next 2 weeks (ME002). For the last week the group will move to Akumal and either complete a dive training course (ME004) or the Caribbean reef ecology course with practicals by diving (ME005) if already a qualified diver or by snorkelling (ME006) if not wanting to dive.
Start date expedition 4: 12 June
This 2 week expedition provides a basic introduction into a marine research base. If you are not already dive trained and wanting to learn you will not join the research teams and your options will be ME04/05. If snorkelling or already dive trained your first week will be ME05/06 and in your final week you will be able to assist with data collection and the researchers ME007.
ME001 Introduction to the Ancient Maya and Mayan Jungle Ecology Course
Runs on weeks 1, 3 & 5
This course involves a series of lectures relating to the conservation issues in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and the conservation aims of the Operation Wallacea project, the concept of biodiversity hotspots and the importance of the Yucatan Peninsula, methods for biodiversity monitoring, and the ecology and conservation of key taxanomic groups that are included in the monitoring programme. Each lecture is accompanied by practical sessions in which students receive training in the biodiversity monitoring techniques they will use during surveys in subsequent weeks of the expedition. The course also provides information relating to the Ancient Maya, their relationship with nature and their impact on biodiversity in Calakmul. This information will be delivered through lectures and during a guided tour of the ruined city of Calakmul.
ME004 PADI Open Water Dive Training
Runs on weeks 1 – 8
This course involves a combination of theory lessons, confined water dives and open water dives to gain an official scuba diving qualification.
ME005 Caribbean Reef Ecology Course Ecology with practicals by diving
Runs on weeks 1 – 8; need to be dive trained or have completed ME004
ME006 Caribbean Reef Ecology Course Ecology with practicals by snorkeling
Runs on weeks 1 – 8
The course consists of lectures and in-water practicals and teaches identification of common genera and species of coral and other macroinvertebrates, identification of the major reef-associated fish families and common species. Designed to introduce a variety of methods and practices used for scientific research in the marine environment.
ME002 Mayan Jungle Biodiversity Surveys
Runs on weeks 2 – 8; need to have completed ME001
At each of the four camps there are teams of field biologists completing standardised surveys of a series of key taxa. As a research assistant you will be able to rotate between the different teams at the start of your stay and, if you have a particular interest, to then specialise working with that team. The data gathered from these standardised surveys across Calakmul are integrated into the management plan for the reserve to assess the impact of climate change on biodiversity and to monitor the efficacy of a wide range of sustainable development projects within buffer zone communities that aim to maintain forest cover and abundance of fauna.
• The habitat team quantify forest structure and carbon biomass using a range of measurement in survey plots.
• Herpetofauna will be monitored using diurnal and nocturnal visual encounter surveys along forest transects, combined with pitfall and funnel trap arrays and timed searches of herpetofauna around aguadas.
• Bird abundance and diversity will be assessed using point counts and mist net surveys where birds are identified in the hand and morphometric measurements are taken prior to release.
• Large mammal surveys involve recording primate sightings (distance sampling) and terrestrial mammal tracks (patch occupancy sampling) encountered along forest transects during morning surveys accompanied by afternoon sessions analysing camera trap data.
• Butterflies will be monitored using baited fruit traps in different forest types.
• Bats will be monitored each night using mist net surveys in which bats are identified, morphometric measurements are taken and the bats are marked prior to release to enable abundance estimates using mark-recapture methods. If you wish to specialise in bats by completing your dissertation, you will need a full course of rabies vaccinations before joining the expedition.
ME003 Remote Biodiversity Surveys
There is a rainfall gradient from the north to the south of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve resulting in notable changes to forest structure, tree species composition and fauna abundance and diversity. The remote southern section of the reserve that borders Guatemala contains humid forest with large fruiting trees and an abundant food supply resulting in a high density of wildlife. Due to the remoteness of the area, no biodiversity data existed for this part of the reserve prior to the Operation Wallacea project. Initial data indicates that these humid forests are crucial for the conservation of flagship species such as jaguar, tapir and spider monkeys and have the highest diversity of birds, bats and herpetofauna in the reserve. However, cattle farming is becoming increasingly popular in this area and deforestation is starting to approach the reserve. Data are desperately required to enable communities to apply for funding for ecosystem services provided by the forest and to enable more communities to opt out of cattle farming in favour of sustainable honey production and shade grown crops that do not require deforestation. Students working in this area will conduct surveys on forest structure and carbon biomass, birds, bats, herpetofauna, primates and large terrestrial mammals using the same methods as the standard biodiversity surveys and will experience a high number of animal sightings and captures. There are limited places on this option since the survey teams have to be kept small due to the terrain and remote location of the camp. On this project the volunteers will need to help with running the field camp as well as assisting with surveys and a good level of fitness is required due to the hilly terrain.
ME007 Marine Ecosystem Monitoring
Runs on weeks 2 – 8; need to have completed ME004 or ME005 dive trained if participating in dive based elements of this project
This option can be done for multiple weeks. The beaches and seagrasses in Akumal are a safe haven for a large sea turtle population. Tourism in the area provides important income for local people and has virtually eradicated problems with overfishing and consumption of turtle eggs. However, Akumal is becoming increasingly popular with tourists and, if not managed correctly, the increased volume of people could lead to the loss of important turtle nesting grounds and serious problems with water contamination and sedimentation that damages the reefs and seagrasses. The coral reefs in Akumal are undergoing phase shifts from healthy coral dominated to macroalgal dominated benthic communities, reducing the productivity and longterm resilience of the system. Operation Wallacea are gathering the data necessary to determine the carrying capacity of tourists in Akumal to ensure that the delicate marine ecosystem is protected and a sustainable income is generated for local people. Data collection aims to determine the impact of tourism and water quality on the seagrasses and reef system, to assess the relative importance of Akumal beaches and seagrasses for sea turtle populations, and to investigate the impact of snorkel based tourism on sea turtle behaviour. In addition, the degree of coral cover and abundance of sea urchins and key fish species on the reefs will be monitored as indicators of reef health and the health and connectivity of mangrove systems will be investigated. Students participating in this monitoring programme will have an active schedule that involves dive or snorkel based surveys to assess the health of the reefs, snorkel and kayak surveys to monitor mangroves, snorkel surveys for seagrass monitoring and green turtle identification, and beach surveys to identify nesting preferences of green and loggerhead turtles.