Field exercises for student groups studying small mammal communities at BFREE

Author: Dr. Sara Ash, University of the Cumberlands, Williamsburg, KY

Introduction

Mouse opossum photo by Dan Dourson

Mouse opossum photo by Dan Dourson

As part of BFREE’s initiative to enhance field experiences for student groups, members of the education committee
have designed field exercises focused on small mammals at BFREE. In January 2015, two permanent small mammal trapping grids were established in two habitats at BFREE: cacao agroforestry and tropical broadleaf forest. These permanent grids will facilitate the study of small mammals by student groups and will allow a better understanding of the differences in biodiversity between cacao and unmanaged forest habitats. Because this project is focused on the comparison of agroecosystems to natural habitats, it will also serve as a good example to students of the importance of integrating human needs and

Dr. Sara Ash and Audrey Ash weigh one of the small mammals trapped in the forest grid.

Dr. Sara Ash and Audrey Ash weigh one of the small mammals trapped in the forest grid.

concerns in the disciplines of ecology and conservation biology.

We recognize that instructors have limited time to invest in these field exercises. As such, we have written exercises that require varying levels of engagement, thus allowing for flexibility for instructors (Table 1). While all exercises focus on small mammal species living on BFREE’s property, the Gold exercise requires trapping on both grids, and the data collected from this exercise, when compiled with other groups, will have potential management implications. Additionally, the Gold

exercise will result in enough data that students will gain practice in summary and interpretation of results. The Silver exercise is similar except that trapping occurs only on the cacao grid. The Bronze exercise is a small scale demonstration that will allow students to practice methods for studying small mammals and the chance to see some of the species living on BFREE’s property.

Click here for links to further instruction including video demos.

Table 1: Expected level of investment required to complete field exercises.

LevelGOLDSILVERBRONZE
Grids usedBothCacao onlyCacao only
Number of traps per grid11011030
Number of nights of trapping4-74-73-4


Below find a brief overview of each exercise. Detailed background information and methods are provided in the instructor/student guides for each exercise. A student worksheet is provided in the gold and silver exercises to facilitate data analysis and interpretation.

GOLD LEVEL: Comparison of Small Mammal Communities in Rustic Cacao and Tropical Broadleaf Forest Habitats in Belize, Central America

BFREE map (property outline in purple) with location of trapping grids indicated in red. Cacao grid is located approximately 0.5km north of forest grid.

BFREE map (property outline in purple) with location of trapping grids indicated in red. Cacao grid is located approximately 0.5km north of forest grid.

Principal Ecological Question Addressed: How does community composition and structure of small mammal community differ between rustic cacao and nearby tropical broadleaf forest habitat and within a habitat through time?

Student Outcomes
Upon completion of this experiment, students should:
1. Be able to correctly identify common small mammals of these habitats
2. Be familiar with trapping, handling, and marking methods for small mammals in these habitats
3. Be able to define common concepts of community structure including species composition, richness, diversity and evenness
4. Understand limitations of frequently used indices of species diversity and evenness

Required Class Time
Assuming a minimum class size of 4 students, initial trap set-up will require approximately 4 hours. You should check traps a minimum of 4 mornings after initial set-up. Processing of animals each morning will take about 2 hours. Removal and cleaning of traps will require 6 hours. One 2-hour class period can be used for analysis and interpretation of the results. Alternatively, the analysis and interpretation could be assigned as homework.

Documents Provided
Gold Instructor and Student Guide
Small-mammal-study-student-worksheets-gold


SILVER LEVEL: Small Mammal Community Composition and Structure in Rustic Cacao Habitat in Belize, Central America

Principal Ecological Question Addressed: How does the composition and structure of a small mammal community vary through time within a rustic cacao habitat?

Cacao trapping grid with flag numbers

Cacao trapping grid with flag numbers

Student Outcomes
Upon completion of this experiment, students should:
1. Be able to correctly identify common small mammals of this habitat
2. Be familiar with trapping, handling, and marking methods for small mammals
3. Be able to define common concepts of community structure including species composition, richness, diversity and evenness
4. Understand limitations of frequently used indices of species diversity and evenness

Required Class Time
Assuming a minimum class size of 4 students, initial trap set-up will require approximately 2-3 hours. You should check traps a minimum of 4 mornings after initial set-up. Processing of animals each morning will take about 1 hour. Removal and cleaning of traps will require 3-4 hours. You can devote one 2-hour class period for analysis and interpretation of the results. Alternatively, the analysis and interpretation could be assigned as homework.

Documents
Silver Instructor and Student Guide
Small-mammal-study-student-worksheets-silver


BRONZE LEVEL: Identification of Common Small Mammal Species in Rustic Cacao Agroforestry Habitat

Principal Ecological Question Addressed: What is the composition of a small mammal community within a rustic cacao agroforestry habitat?

Sipriano Canti holds a spiny pocket mouse. Canti has been instrumental in establishing the research grids. Photo by Sara Ash

Sipriano Canti holds a spiny pocket mouse. Canti has been instrumental in establishing the research grids.

Student Outcomes 
Upon completion of this experiment, students should:
1. Be able to correctly identify common small mammals of this habitat
2. Be familiar with trapping, handling, and marking methods for small mammals

Required Class Time
Assuming a minimum class size of 4 students, initial trap set-up will require approximately 2 hours. You should check traps a minimum of 3 mornings after initial set-up. Processing of animals will take about 30 minutes each morning. Removal and cleaning of traps will require 2 hours.

Documents
Bronze Instructor and Student Guide


Literature Cited and Additional Recommended Readings

Daily, G.C., P.R. Ehrlich, and A. Sanchez-Azofeifa. 2001. Countryside biogeography: use of human dominated habitats by avifauna of southern Costa Rica. Ecological Applications 11:1-13.

Daily, G.C., G.Ceballos, J. Pacheco, G. Suzan, and A. Sanchez- Azofeifa.   2003.  Countryside biogeography of neotropical mammals:  conservation opportunities in agricultural landscapes in Costa Rica.  Conservation Biology 17(6):1814-1826.

De Beenhouwer, M., R. Aerts, and O. Honnay.  2013.  A global meta-analysis of the biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits of coffee and cacao agroforestry.  Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Environment 175:1-7.

Greenberg, R.  Biodiversity in the Cacao Agroecosystem: Shade Management and Landscape Considerations.  Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

Krebs, C.J. 1998.  Ecological methodology.  2nd edition.  Benjamin Cummings.  620 pages.

Magurran, M. 2004. Measuring biological diversity. Blackwell Publishing.  256 pages.

Nations, J.D. 2006. The Maya Tropical Forest: People, Parks, and Ancient Cities. University of Texas Press. 285 pages.

Pardini, R., D. Faria, G.M. Accacio, R.R. Laps, E. Madriano-Neto, M.L.B. Paciencia, M. Dixo, and J. Baumgarten.  2009.  The challenge of maintaining Atlantic forest biodiversity:  A multi-taxa conservation assessment of specialist and generalist species in an agro-forestry mosaic in southern Bahia.  Biological Conservation 142:1178-1190.

Reid, F.  2009.  A field guide to the mammals of Central America and southeast Mexico.  Oxford University Press.

Rice, R.A. and R. Greenberg.  2000.  Cacao cultivation and the conservation of biological diversity.  Ambio 29(3):167-173.

Schroth, G. and C.A. Harvey.  2007.  Biodiversity conservation in cocoa production landscapes:  an overviewBiodiversity Conservation 16:2237-2244.

Sikes, R.S., W.L. Gannon, and the Animal Care and Use Committee of the American Society of Mammalogists.  2011.  Guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists for the use of wild mammals in research.  Journal of Mammalogy 92(1):235-253.

Tilman D., Fargione J., Wolff B., D’Antonio C., Dobson A., Howarth R., Schindler D., Schlesinger W.H., Simberloff D., and D. Swackhamer. 2001. Forecasting agriculturally driven global environmental change. Science 292: 281–284.