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Researchers Present Work at NRM Symposium

On Wednesday, April 17th, the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation (MSBC) in partnership with the Community Climate Change Center and the University of Belize hosted its 7th annual Natural Resource Management Research Symposium. “The goal of the Symposium is to provide a space and platform for researchers, managers, government agencies, NGO’s, and Belizean tertiary level students to come together to share research and findings in Biology and Conservation, and to assess the state of natural resources in Belize.“

This year the ERI was very well represented with five presentations in the symposium. Wildlife Biologist, Emma Sanchez kicked it off with her presentation on a pilot study of the “Distribution, movement patterns and interaction of Grey Foxes in Central Belize.”

Marine Research Fellow, Dr. Arlenie Rogers presented her work with sea cucumbers under the title “Population Structure, Abundance and Distribution of two species of Sea Cucumber (Echinodermata) in Belize.”

Under the theme of Human-Wildlife interactions we had Jaguar Research Fellow, Dr. Bart Harmsen and Wildlife Biologist, Yahaira Urbina presenting on a “Framework for monitoring of predators and game species at the national level” and “Wildlife law awareness and hunting in Belize” respectively. Also, under this theme was Dr. Rebecca Foster, Director of Panthera's Jaguar Program in Belize with her presentation entitled “People, predators & prey: game meat consumption in Belize,” work done in collaboration with the ERI.

In past years the ERI has partnered with the MSBC to organize the symposium and has been very active in the society through its staff.

See the abstracts below:

  • Distribution, movement patterns and interactions of grey foxes in Central Belize, a pilot study.

Emma Sanchez, Yahaira Urbina, Rebecca J. Foster, Bart J. Harmsen. Environmental Research Institute / University of Belize, Price Centre Road, Preschool ground, Belmopan, Cayo, Belize. 822-2701.

Grey foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are one of the most common medium size terrestrial carnivores in Belize. However, little is known about their general ecology or natural history outside of the United States. This pilot study is the first study of grey foxes in Belize and tries to tackle several questions concerning their ecological plasticity. Foxes seem to be well adapted to living in open savannah landscapes and generally do well in human dominated landscapes. Most fox species around the world do well at the interface between forest and open areas exploiting an edge niche. An increase in fox abundance and distribution is therefore often associated with an increase in human development. Foxes might therefore be a good indicator of an increase in human development. To study to what extent foxes exploit the edge niche in Belize, we need to understand to what extent neotropical grey foxes make use of broad leaf forest and to what extent are they confined to an open habitat niche. We studied foxes at the interface between broad leaf forest and savannah close to human habitation. We radio collared 3 foxes to see to what extent they make use of savannah, Broad leaf forest and the human dominated landscape. We will provide general information on habitat use, ranging behaviour and interaction between these three foxes. We will supplement our data with camera trap information from the region to see to what extend fox presence has changed over time and the frequency of camera capture in the different landscape types.

  • Population Structure, Abundance and Distribution of Two Species of Sea Cucumber (Echinodermata) in Belize.

Dr. Arlenie Rogers. University of Belize, Belmopan Central Campus University Drive, Belmopan, Cayo District,

The high demand for sea cucumbers in Asian markets and the increasing need for alternative livelihoods in Belize led to the creation of a new fishery. This paper assesses the population structure, distribution, and abundance of two species of sea cucumber (Isostichopus badionotus, and Holothuria mexicana) in 32 randomly selected sites along the coast of Belize in 2012. Mean length was 20.5 cm for H. mexicana and 22 cm for I. badionotus. Mean adult weight was 562 g for H. mexicana and 346g for I. badionotus while body wall data for H. mexicana was 487 g.

Size distribution was distribution was bimodal for H. mexicana (median of 19 cm) and unimodal for I. badionatus (median of 20 cm). The largest number of individuals ranged from 170-190 cm and 270-300 cm for H. mexicana and 140-220 cm for I. badionatus. Body wall weight distribution for H. mexicana was uni-modal, with a greater number of individuals between 250-350; median of 458 g and mean of 487 g. A total of 124 H. mexicana individuals and 108 I. badionatus were quantified, with mean densities of 12.9 and 1.8 ind./ha respectively. Based on these results and the total coastal waters area, we estimated a stock of 7 630 164 individuals for H. Mexicana and 5 536 349 for I. badionotus. With the current rate of extraction, the adult population may soon be depleted.

  • People, predators & prey: game meat consumption in Belize.

Rebecca Foster, Harmsen, B. J., Collins, J., Urbina, Y. and C. P. Doncaster. Panthera, 8 West 40th Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10018, USA, School of Biological Sciences, B85, Life Scienc-es Building, University of Southampton, Highfield Campus, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK Environmental Research Institute, University of Belize, Pre-School Grounds, Price Center Road, PO Box 340, Belmopan, Belize, Central Ameri-ca.

Over-exploitation of game species by humans can have multiple negative repercussions: 1) local extirpation of game species; 2) loss of an important source of protein for local people; and 3) depletion of wild prey base for large predators, leading to livestock predation and persecution of predators. We present the results of inter-views with 806 people (1% of all households) across all six districts of Belize to investigate patterns and levels of game meat consumption. Here, we compare the rate of consumption of bush meat versus domestic meat by people throughout Belize, identify explanatory factors for the observed patterns, and examine hunting pressure on six commonly hunted prey species in Belize. We also estimate the threshold size of prey populations required to sustain the observed rates of off-take, and discuss whether current off-take is likely to be sustainable in the long-term. Finally, we investigate competition for popular game species between humans and jaguars. We conclude by discussing the implications of continued game hunting at current rates, for the people, predators and prey species of Belize.

  • Framework for monitoring of predators and game species at the National level.

Bart J. Harmsen, Emma Sanchez, Yahaira Urbina, Rebecca J. Foster. Environmental Research Institute / University of Be-lize, Price Centre Road, Preschool ground, Belmopan, Cayo, Belize. 822-2701.

Monitoring in Belize often takes place at the protected area level. Managers want to assess the status of indicator species within the protected areas under their care and individually apply for grants and develop monitoring protocols that suit the individual needs of the organization and area. However, many processes of management and monitoring need to take place at the larger landscape level, ignoring the arbitrarily drawn land units of protected areas. In this presentation we propose a collaborative approach to monitoring predators and game species at the landscape level. As part of the larger monitoring effort within the Environmental Research Institute (ERI / UB) we are proposing a national monitoring program (NMP) for predators and game species. We will provide preliminary results from pilot studies concerning the most efficient way to monitor these species in terms of logistics and cost and statistical power to detect change over time. The NMP will provide a frame-work to develop the monitoring protocol, bring stakeholders together, insure inclusion in the process of developing a national monitoring protocol, fund the nationwide monitoring schemes and assure commitment to the process.

  • Wildlife Law Awareness and Hunting in Belize

Yahaira L. Urbina,, Rebecca J. Foster, Emma E. Sanchez, Bart J. Harmsen. Environmental Research Institute/UB, Price Road, Pre-school grounds, Belmopan, Cayo, Belize. 822-270.

Wildlife laws are the foundation of conservation policies governing the public’s actions at a national level, and are instrumental for the development and management of conservation projects. This study presents the results of the first nation-wide survey in Belize assessing the level of wildlife law awareness and the public level of involvement in hunting. We quantified the influence of demographic (age, sex, ethnic group) and socioeconomic (education, experience of conflict with wildlife, hunting and farming involvement, and ownership of wildlife as a pet) factors on wildlife law awareness levels. Most respondents had moderate understanding of national wildlife laws, but were rarely able to identify the enforcing agency. Education and District were the only factors which explained the levels of wildlife law awareness. Hunting levels were higher in the rural areas of the Toledo, Cayo and Orange Walk districts. The findings of this study can guide government agencies in disseminating relevant wildlife law information in those communities most in need of it, hence serving as the base of a national campaign.