How does Motus work? Part II in a five-part series

For over 50 years, traditional Radio-telemetry has been the cornerstone of tracking migratory studies. This is very useful to track movements of small animals with high temporal and spatial precision. But it also has its limitations because some of these former radio-telemetries may be quite impossible to use on tiny insects, animals or birds, because of their weight and size. Hence automated receivers, along with recent miniaturization and digital coding of tags, have improved the utility of radio-telemetry by allowing many individuals to be tracked continuously and simultaneously across broad landscapes. Tiny, digitally encoded tags (also called nanotags), are safely attached to an animal, insect, or bird, and these nanotags send out a unique identifying signal approximately every 30 seconds. If tagged animals fly by a strategically placed Motus tower with antenna tuned to the same frequency as the nanotags within a 6-mile distance approximately, the tag is automatically detected. Detection range depends on many factors such as tower height, antenna type and orientation, terrain, vegetation, and height of the animal relative to the tower.  

Overview of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. Source: www.motus.org & Birds Canada

Motus Receiving Stations and Towers:

Receiving Stations are equipped with a high-accuracy GPS sensor that allows for precise time synchronization and geolocation of the receiver. Automated radio towers can be arranged to track tagged animals or insects and are custom built in a variety of styles depending on their use. But essentially it consists of:

1) an automated radio receiver,

2) one to six antennas of various types can be used

3) the tower (or support structure which is also called the mast) structure and,

4) a power source either through an existing power source or through solar power for remote locations.  

 Photos of various Motus Tower Stations. Source: www.motus.org & Birds Canada

Antenna Receivers can accommodate multiple antennas tuned to a specific frequency and may be mounted to existing structures such as tall buildings, cell phone towers, or self-standing towers. The various components of the Antenna include the ‘elements’ which are little horizontal bars. The ‘boom’ is the center bar which basically holds the elements at a specified distance. Different antennas are designed to pick up different radio frequencies. There’s no electricity on the antenna, but rather the size of the antenna, the length of the elements, and the spacing between the elements on the boom create a parabola much like a tuning fork that is tuned into a specific frequency. These antennas do not send out any frequency or ping. Rather these are “passive” receiving devices for only the specific radio frequency.

Dense arrays of radio towers can be used to track local movements and if animals are detected by multiple towers, can be used to provide precise movement data. Coordinated arrays of automated radio towers, such as those organized by Bird Studies Canada’s Motus Wildlife Tracking System, allow for tracking of animals at continental scales. Animals passing within range of these towers are automatically detected and detection data is logged on to the receiver and passed on to the researchers that tagged that animal. Detection data can be downloaded directly from the receiver unit. Alternatively, towers can be connected to wired or wireless internet, or communicate through cell phone technology, which allows for around the clock remote access to detection data. As research and tracking technologies continue to improve, the international connectivity and migration ecology of birds and other tagged wildlife is better understood. The costs to install a receiver station vary and depends on the number and type of antennas. It also depends on whether existing infrastructure can be used to mount antennas, and the power source. Information about receiver deployments, including geographic coordinates, start and anticipated end date and time, and antenna configuration and orientation, is registered in the Motus database, and made available to all users. 

Stay tuned for Series Article Part III: Nanotags and how they work

Roses and Thorns: A Reflection on Life at BFREE by Cacao Fellow Graduate

There are experiences in life that can be considered life-changing, but nothing compares to spending about 70% of two years in the rainforest. I can confidently say that the two-year fellowship program at BFREE has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life.

It all began when I came across a Facebook ad about an opening at BFREE for a Fellowship position. Applying was a no-brainer for me, as I was tired of being confined to a small cubicle in my previous job. A few days after applying, I received an email from Heather inviting me for an interview. I vividly remember my first trip on the entrance road – I was supposed to get a ride in and ended up helping push a pickup truck along with some of BFREE’s staff. I won’t pretend that I enjoy traveling the entrance road, but as with most things in life, there are silver linings. For instance, I began to consider the 14 km trek as a great workout—truly a win-win situation!

To call myself a “naturalist” would be an understatement; many times, I find myself at peace when I’m lost in nature. If I’m not alone, I’m probably with Nelly, Heather, or Mario, engaged in a friendly competition of bird recognition—mind you, I had never been involved in birding before. The abundance of bird species at BFREE intrigued me, leading me to learn as much as I could from these amazing creatures. Another wonderful aspect of working at BFREE has been the chance to share cultural experiences with guests from other countries. Meeting and connecting with people who are passionate about conserving the environment is an incredible feeling.

The most significant highlight of my time at BFREE was being mentored by Mr. Erick Ac, a prominent agronomist from Guatemala. Under his guidance, I learned everything from seed germination to pruning grafted Criollo cacao trees in the field. BFREE’s relatively new initiative of propagating wild cacao in degraded landscapes is fascinating, as it aims to tackle two main problems. The first is preserving cacao genetics, and the second is restoring degraded landscapes through agroforestry.

I was initially skeptical about the project, but now, three years later, the Crioco staff has harvested a few hundred kilograms of wet cacao beans. This success shows that the project is achieving its objectives. I am even more enthusiastic because of this, and I strived to maintain accurate data to support the extension of this project. Such efforts align with BFREE’s vision of research and addressing scientific questions within the Bladen and Maya Mountain region.

The cacao program has opened up other remarkable opportunities for me. BFREE generously awarded me a partial scholarship to complete my undergraduate degree at the University of Belize. Moreover, I’ve been honored with a unique scholarship from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), where I am pursuing a master’s degree in Entomology and Plant Pathology. This special scholarship is a result of the collaboration between UTK and BFREE in the cacao program over the past few years.

My aim is to carry forward my research in cacao production and contribute insights into pest and disease management. The support that I have received exemplifies BFREE’s dedication to help provide opportunities for marginalized groups. I’m deeply thankful for the invaluable learning experiences I gained at BFREE and appreciative of the fellowship opportunity offered by Mr. Jacob Marlin and Ms. Heather Barrett. I’m also grateful to the friends and professors I’ve met along the way, especially Dr. Denita Hadziabdic Guerry and Dr. DeWayne Shoemaker, for their significant contributions to my academic development.

New Collaboration between BFREE, Penn State University, and University of Tennessee Knoxville

BFREE is excited to announce a new innovative collaboration among faculty and students from Penn State University, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and BFREE. The overall goal is to build on BFREE’s cacao agroforestry program by initiating science-based projects that both develop and enhance our understanding of the novel cacao-based agroforestry systems at BFREE and, more broadly, for Belize and Central America. Our hope is this new program will support sustainable development goals while conserving tropical rainforest.

Three projects have been awarded seed grants totaling almost $150,000 as part of the Penn State-BFREE Research and Education Initiative. Funding for this initiative was provided by Penn State Cacao and Chocolate Research Network (CCRN), the Hershey Company, Penn State Global, Penn State Huck Institutes of Life Sciences, Ag Sciences Global in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, and a private donor affiliated with BFREE.

One project seeks to identify a range of woody plant species in Belize, which incorporated into future cacao agroforestry systems could bolster biodiversity, enhance ecosystem services, and increase climate resilience. An outcome of this effort will be the creation of a comprehensive resource — the “Belize Agroforestry Manual.” Designed to be practical and accessible and provide information to BFREE staff and Belizean farmers and landholders on suitable woody plant species, their uses, benefits, various practices, and adoption guidance.

A second collaboration revolves around the ancient criollo cacao varieties at BFREE. The cacao trees will be studied with the goal of developing distinctive agroforestry systems that combat deforestation and empower local communities. The project will delve into the adaptability of criollo cacao across diverse environments and its potential to preserve biodiversity.

A third project includes the expertise of Penn State, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and international specialists in cacao fermentation. Together, they aim to unravel the mysteries behind the flavors of wild criollo cacao. This research includes sensory evaluations and a comprehensive examination of economically vital attributes like flavor and lipids. The goal is to craft fermentation and roasting guidelines that maximize flavor. Furthermore, genetic information will be connected to important commercial traits of wild criollo cacao, opening new horizons in chocolate production, which can provide insights for BFREE’s up and coming chocolate company, Crioco, as it embarks on its business venture in the near future.  

UTK PhD candidate Holly Brabazon’s research is focused on the genetics of the wild cacao trees found at BFREE. Based on previous sequencing performed by the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund and the
Cocoa Research Center at the University of West Indies in Trinidad, these trees were identified as pure Criollo. Criollo cacao is highly valued for its fine flavor qualities but is extremely rare in cultivation
partly because of susceptibility to modern cacao pathogens, relatively low productivity, and a long history of interbreeding with other varieties. The overall objective of her project is to provide a robust,
sustainable framework for Belizean farmers to grow this high-value, shade-tolerant, locally adapted Criollo cacao variety. 
 
The first step will be to understand the population structure of the Criollo cacao trees at BFREE by partially sequencing the genomes of the 300 standing trees. Analyses of the sequence data will allow us to
answer several important questions regarding mating biology, pollen dispersal, breeding patterns within and among the different phenotypic variants, and recent history of Criollo cacao at BFREE. These data
will provide a foundation for a second planned study analyzing parentage of seeds to determine patterns of pollen flow throughout this population and for future genomic studies aimed at understanding or
improving various Criollo phenotypic traits of interest.

Motus Wildlife Tracking System Background: What is Motus?

Part I in a five-part series

Motus is a relatively recent program in Belize. But what is Motus? What is it used for? Who uses Motus, and how is it beneficial? These are possibly just a few questions which may come to anyone’s mind upon hearing the word for the first time. There is a lot to learn about Motus – how highly beneficial it is to the scientific community, to private landowners and managers, to stewards and caretakers of protected areas, to forest and nature reserve managers, to educators and students, and even to the local populace. It is a tool which provides meaningful data on current and future migratory ecological wildlife studies.  Such data can be utilized by decision makers, especially in government circles, to help prioritize areas for wildlife protection. In general, Motus (the Latin word for movement), is an international collaborative network of researchers that use automated radio telemetry to simultaneously track and study the migratory movements of birds, bats, and large insects at local, regional, and hemispheric scales. Therefore, this article aims to look at Motus in a bit more detail.

Motus was developed by Bird Studies Canada in 2014. Funding and support was provided by Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant, in partnership with Acadia University, (Nova Scotia), Western University (Ontario), the University of Guelph (Ontario), and other collaborating researchers and organizations. 

In March 2023, BFREE became a part of this international network by installing two antennas to the 145′ radio tower at BFREE adjacent to the dining room (Lat. 16.5551o Lon. 88.7065o). Prior to the BFREE installation, only one Motus Tower existed in Belize and this tower was installed at Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society (TREES) on May 2022 in Central Belize (Lat. 17.0526o Lon. 88.5654o). Following the BFREE installation, another Motus Tower was installed at the Lamanai Field Research Station in Northern Belize (Lat. 17.7521o Lon. 88.6538o). The other two closest Motus Towers to Belize are in neighboring Guatemala. The yellow dots indicate where Motus towers have been installed and activated in Belize and Guatemala.  (Figs. 1 & 2).

Motus continues to expand globally. For example, in the USA along the Pacific Coast flyways, Motus towers are being installed along the coasts of Oregon and Washington. The towers in these areas are collecting data on shore-bird movements such as Western Sandpiper, Sanderling, Semipalmated Plover, and Dunlin. Interestingly, all four species except for the Dunlin, are regular winter visitors along Belize’s shoreline and Cayes, while the Dunlin is considered a “transient” species but also uses the coastline and Cayes as stopover sites while migrating to countries further south. Such data continues to provide valuable information on migratory pathways, stopover sites, breeding, and wintering habitats of these birds. Researchers, scientists, and biologists working in this region are also working with partners in Mexico on Birds of Conservation Concern such as the Pacific Red Knot, one of the longest distance flyers of any shorebird. Interestingly, Belize has very few records of this species along the northern coastline.

Western Sandpiper is a shore-bird sometimes spotted in the Bladen River and is one that Motus technology is tracking. Image courtesy of Cornell Lab Photo Library of Birds

Data collected from the Motus Towers detects the different estuaries where the Pacific Red Knot migrates, how they’re using estuaries, and how long they stay there. In 2022, several Motus stations were installed in Puerto Rico in partnership with Birds Caribbean. The Caribbean Motus Collaboration (CMC) was formed to expand the Motus network in the Caribbean as part of the Landbird Monitoring Project. Recently, through the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) grant program, the international collaboration expanded and funded additional Motus station installations and research across the Americas, including the first Motus bird monitoring network in Mexico.

During its first three years, Motus expanded to include more than 120 independent research projects, and comprised over 325 active receiver stations across 11 countries and 3 continents. This rich and comprehensive data set included detections of individuals during all phases of the annual cycle (breeding, migration, and non-breeding).

According to a recent article written by Rosalie Wetzel and published in May 2023, Motus has grown to include more than 1,200 stations across 31 countries. Again, the yellow dots indicate Motus stations throughout the world. Motus is indeed the largest international collaborative research network that brings together organizations and individuals to facilitate research and education on the ecology and conservation of flying migratory species.

Most of the information and graphics used in this article were obtained from the following sources:

  • Birds Canada. 2019. Motus Wildlife Tracking System. Port Rowan, Ontario. Available: http://www.motus.org. Accessed: October 2, 2023.
  • Taylor, et.al. 2017. The Motus Wildlife Tracking System: a collaborative research network to enhance the understanding of wildlife movement. Accessed: October 4, 2023.
  • Rosalie Wetzel. May 31, 2023. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Motus Stations: Tracking Migrations from Coast to Coast. Accessed: October 5, 2023.
  • Michael Rogers summary of BFREE Motus Tower. October 2023.

Stay tuned for Series Article Part II: How does Motus work?

Jaren Serano returns to BFREE as Dermatemys Program Coordinator

By Jaren Serano

During my first stint at BFREE, I had the privilege of witnessing the positive impact that organizations like this have on land conservation, wildlife protection, and the conservation efforts among the local communities in Belize. When I joined as BFREE’s first Science and Education Fellow in 2017, I was immediately drawn to their ongoing Dermatemys mawii (Hicatee) captive breeding program. At the time, this was still a relatively new collaboration between BFREE and the Turtle Survival Alliance, and we were experiencing our second year of hatching success.

My desire to contribute to the conservation efforts and help safeguard this species motivated me to be a part of this program. Through my active engagement and with guidance provided by Thomas Pop, the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center Manager, I acquired priceless firsthand experience working closely with the Hicatee turtles, both in controlled environments and their natural habitats. At the captive breeding facility, my daily responsibilities involved caring for and handling the turtles, which allowed me to develop skills in husbandry and effective management practices.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job was assisting in the care and rearing of hatchlings and juveniles. Being responsible for the well-being of over a hundred critically endangered Hicatee hatchlings instilled in me a profound sense of purpose and pride. Additionally, as a fellow, I had the privilege to gain insights from and work alongside various biologists, including Dr. Donald McKnight, Dr. Day Ligon and Denise Thompson. Together, we conducted population assessments for the Hicatee turtle within river systems in Belize. This not only enabled me to observe wild Hicatees for the first time but also provided a platform to engage with local anglers and raise awareness about the species’ conservation status.

After graduating from the fellowship program at BFREE, I traveled to the states to complete my bachelor’s degree in Sustainability at Jacksonville University (JU) under the advisement of Dr. John Enz. Being part of this program gave me a deeper understanding of the requirements needed to make a significant impact in today’s conservation field. Additionally, it offered me the opportunity to connect with a diverse group of like-minded individuals, some of whom have since become lifelong friends.

Following my accomplishments at JU, I then applied to and was accepted at the University of Florida (UF) for my master’s degree program. Throughout this period, I collaborated closely with Dr. Ray Carthy, Dr. Nichole Bishop, and Dr. Todd Osborne. My main focus was directed towards researching aspects of the reproductive ecology of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). While at UF, I worked as a graduate research assistant at the Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, which allowed me to further develop as a student of nature and has provided me with a solid scientific foundation. This dynamic environment has sharpened my analytical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and aptitude for effectively communicating scientific information and wildlife management programs to my peers in the sciences as well as the general public.

Now, as the Dermatemys Program Coordinator, I am incredibly enthusiastic about my new role. I am confident that my educational background, ever-expanding knowledge of the Hicatee turtle, and experience in wildlife conservation management will allow me to make immediate contributions to the ongoing efforts to prevent further decline of this critically endangered species.

Amidst a world challenged by increasing anthropogenic pressures, Belize is blessed to still possess approximately 55 percent of forest cover and a vibrant array of wildlife. As a proud Belizean, I derive immense satisfaction from actively participating in conservation initiatives within our country, striving to maintain the integrity of our diverse ecosystems. Over time, I have developed a profound respect for the ecological and cultural importance of D. mawii in Belize. This has fueled my determination to assist in implementing effective management practices that can strengthen this unique relationship and collaborate towards the restoration of declining and extirpated populations of D. mawii throughout its entire range.

My goal is to help promote governmental recognition of the Hicatee, with the hope that existing regulations can better align with the long-term sustainability of the species. Additionally, I aim to actively engage the community and foster a nationwide appreciation for D. mawii as a crucial member of Belize’s riparian ecosystems, rather than solely viewing it as a food resource. I firmly believe that by working together and actively collaborating, we can save the Hicatee from the brink of extinction.

With Thanks

Special Thanks to the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) for their continuous support of the BFREE Science and Education Fellowship Program. Also, thanks to TSA and the Disney Conservation Fund for their financial support to launch the position of Dermatemys Program Coordinator.

BFREE staff at Jaguar Lanes Bowling Alley in Maya Beach. This was for our 2018 Staff Retreat.

The Fascinating Characteristics of Sundew

By Mark Canti

The astonishing characteristics of sundews are unbelievable to me. During two research trips with Dr. Rob Naczi of NY Botanical Garden, I learned a lot about plants, especially sedges. I was introduced to carnivorous plants and found them fascinating. I was shocked to learn that while walking around, we have been stepping on a lot of different species of exciting plants!

The Sundew was one of the common plants I saw in the field and it caught my attention because of the uniqueness of its survival skills. It is a variable perennial plant (meaning the plant can adapt to any environment and that the plant will grow, die out and grow again). I learned a lot of the basics of this plant in the field and, because of my interest, I continued my research after returning from my most recent research trip.

According to the International Carnivorous Plant Society, Sundews are generally about 4 cm in diameter. An individual leaf is about 5 mm long and 4 mm wide with erected scapes from the center of the plant about 8 cm long. The sepals have hairy glands that secrete sundew glue and the plant colouration ranges from pale green to deep red. It has approximately six pink or white small flowers that are constantly self-pollinating. Sundews have almost 200 different species making it one of the most diverse of all carnivorous plants.

Sundews capture their prey from glistening drops of dew at the tips of the hairy-like tentacles on their leaves. A healthy plant can have a hundred dew drops which makes it look gorgeously dainty and beautiful, but it is a sticky death trap for small insects. They have the ability to move or bend their tentacles in contact to respond to their edible prey. When an insect is trapped, it either succumbs to death through exhaustion or through suffocation as the fluid from the plant releases encloses, and blocks the opening of the insect exoskeletons. Death usually occurs within 15 minutes. (Photo credit left: internet image)

Meanwhile, the plant has trapped its prey, the plant secretes enzymes that will dissolve the insects which will free the nutrients that are trapped within its body. Eventually, the nutrient mixture is then absorbed through the leaf surfaces to be used by the rest of the plant.

Antique botany illustration: Drosera rotundifolia, round-leaved sundew

This is a plant that is common throughout the country of Belize and can be found in wet pine savannas. Discovering Sundews made me realize that many of us in Belize have no idea how extraordinary nature can be. This experience made me curious to learn about the multiple thousands of plant species that exist in this country.

As the Cacao Fellow for BFREE’s agroforestry program, I have gained a deep appreciation and understanding of nature. As someone who loves Belize, I’m dedicated to protecting our beautiful environment by understanding and appreciating the natural world around us. This research has taught me about the significance of each organism’s existence and its essential role in maintaining the environment.

Brittnacher, J. (2017, July). Drosera spatulata Species Complex. International Carnivorous Plant Society. https://www.carnivorousplants.org/cp/taxonomy/Droseraspatulata

Collaborative Cacao Research Project

By Roxanna Chen

BFREE in collaboration with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) facilitated a cacao research project at the BFREE’s Field Station in May 2023. The primary objective of the collaboration was to co-design and enhance post-harvest practices and methods for Criollo Cacao which is intercropped and shade-grown in several experimental plots within the property. Criollo is a Spanish term that means “of local origin” or native. Criollo beans are usually white to pale pink in color, and it is a pure cacao variety.

The four-day project was made feasible by several participants including the Crioco staff, myself as BFREE’s Advanced Cacao Fellow, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville student researchers and professors. The project involved a variety of activities that ranged from harvesting ripe criollo pods to pod-cracking and bean extraction, to fermenting and data collection. The collaboration commenced with the Crioco staff playing an instrumental role in the cacao field specifically in teaching the students how to appropriately harvest pods. This activity is considered a crucial first step for good quality and fermentation because the pod must be mature, healthy, and not damaged. Good quality also means good chocolate!

Thereafter, I taught the students our recommended methods for pod cracking and bean extraction, as well as fermentation set-up and preparation. The students were very hands-on and did not hesitate to share useful ideas and information regarding data collection during fermentation and the application and usage of instruments. The exchange between both partners was mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

The student researchers received many first-hand experiences; these include the ability to differentiate the four criollo phenotypes grown at BFREE, harvesting and extraction of cacao beans from pods and most importantly getting practical during fermentation. Additionally, as the advanced cacao fellow, I became more knowledgeable about fermentation chemistry and terminologies and was exposed to multiple lectures on basic food components relating to Food Science and its applications to cacao. 

Special Thanks

Thank you to everyone from UTK who participated in making the project a success. Professors: Dr. DeWayne Shoemaker, Dr. Denita Hadziabdic-Guerry, and Dr. Kevin Moulton Student Researchers: Holly Brabazon, Celeste Chadwick, Amber Gunter, Laura Whaley, and Madison Fomich.

Cacao Fellow Assists in Country-wide Sedge Survey

by Mark Canti

Last month, I participated in a research expedition to understand biogeography and documentation of sedges in Belize and to fill in gaps that previous botanists have left unexplored and unidentified. My role throughout this research was to help navigate, locate, and identify existing, new, or unusual sedges, but most importantly to learn and acquire knowledge and experience. Dr. Robert Naczi of the New York Botanical Garden led the research project and I traveled as his assistant. Together, we visited multiple savannah ecosystems from the mid to the northern, western, and eastern parts of the country.

Sedges are perennial plants that are commonly found in shallow waters or moist soils. People confuse them with grasses because they resemble grasses and often grow along with grasses. Much of the vegetation in lagoons and savannas are sedges and they provide food and shelter for wildlife. Studies on pastures in Canada where sedges and grasses are both present have shown that cattle prefer to graze on sedges more than grasses. Analysis has shown that sedges are more nutritious than grasses.

Rob has been traveling to Belize for the past 18 years. His first visit to Belize was in 2005 to prepare for a course that he anticipated teaching. He visited various parts of the country and realized that it would be a wonderful place to study sedges due to the countries’ rich biodiversity, especially for plants. Eventually, when he started teaching the Belize course, he brought his students to do research projects that focused on sedges in the savanna near BFREE.

Over the years, Rob has noticed increased deforestation in Belize. Previously wild areas are now becoming urbanized: we are seeing an increase in human occupancy and agriculture, also more dangerously, with the expansion of international drug trafficking. You’ll also note in the picture at the top of the article, Mark is shown in a savanna recently cleared for sand mining, an increasing threat to savanna vegetation.

On each trip he makes, he finds additional sedge species. Most have previously been discovered elsewhere and named but have not been recorded in places he explored and are therefore range extensions for the species. The newly identified locations allow him to better understand and gain knowledge about different types of savannas.

Mark and Rob’s explorations included many wetlands such as this shallow pond.

Usually, Rob travels to Belize during a part of the dry season – March, April, and May. Obviously, there are sedges that flower and fruit during the rainy season, which his schedule causes him to miss. In the future, he hopes to explore during the rainy season.

Interestingly, many sedges are fire-dependent plants, which means they require fire to flower and fruit. When there is no fire, the competing vegetation tends to grow high enough that it will shade the sedges. Therefore, sedges will go dormant for a few years but will eventually die if they receive shade for too long. Also, fire suppression for too long will cause the fuel load to build up, which can lead to a much more intense and catastrophic fire. 

For me, this trip was a remarkable experience. I have learned to exercise and improve research and important observational skills. Last year, I also assisted Rob in his research. We focused on the southern coast of Monkey River Village, which is the northern part of the Toledo District. We had an easygoing trip whereby we easily accessed the targeted locations via boat.

This year it was a much longer and more intense, but exciting, experience. We drove miles and miles into savannas through rough roads but almost every location was successful. Everything was new to me. I learned so much and got to explore amazing parts of my country. I saw a vast amount of wildlife and added bird species to my birding list that I have never seen before. Lastly, I learned more about sedges and other plant species than I could have imagined. Overall, this experience has been a highlight of my Fellowship Program.

Thank you to Dr. Robert Naczi

The staff of BFREE would like to extend their gratitude to Dr. Rob Naczi. We are grateful that he has faithfully returned to Belize and to BFREE over the past 18 years to continue his important research. Dr. Naczi has always been willing to teach motivated staff members to assist him in the field and has created opportunities for many of us to participate, even if only for an afternoon.

All photos by Dr. Rob Naczi and Mark Canti

Header Photo Caption: Mark in a savanna recently cleared for sand mining, an increasing threat to savanna vegetation.

Naming Opportunity for a New Species of Beaksedge

By Dr. Robert Naczi and Heather Barrett

Through his research to document the diversity and conservation status of Belizean sedges, Dr. Robert Naczi of New York Botanical Garden recently discovered a species of beaksedge previously unknown to science. In Belize, the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae) is one of the five largest (most species-rich) plant families. Beaksedges (genus Rhynchospora) are a diverse and ecologically important group of flowering plants, especially in the tropics. Beaksedges constitute the largest genus of plants in Belize, with 53 species.

When a scientist formally publishes a new species in order to make it known to the world, the new scientific name is one of the most exciting parts of the publication. This name becomes the means of communicating about the species throughout the world. Because this name will be permanent and must be unique, its formation is very important and provides an opportunity to be creative.

The fact the new species of beaksedge is unnamed presents an opportunity. Dr. Naczi has generously offered to donate the naming rights to BFREE to support our spring fundraising. Therefore, from Earth Day until Arbor Day (donations made in response to this eNews will also be included), any donation of $100.00 or more will be entered into a raffle to win the opportunity to name the beaksedge. The minimum value of this naming opportunity has been set by Dr. Naczi at $15,000.00 with all proceeds going towards BFREE’s conservation programs. For every $100.00 you donate, your name is entered into the raffle one time. The more you donate, the more chances you have to win! To donate today, click here.

Note: The fundraiser must reach its minimum goal of $15,000 for the raffle to occur.    

The new species is remarkable in several ways. It is known only from Belize, and increases the number of known plant species restricted to Belize to 42, highlighting the importance of Belize as a biodiversity hotspot. Also, this new species belongs to a group of species most diverse in the eastern U.S.A. In fact, this new species is the only member of this group that is restricted to the tropics. Its occurrence in Belize is completely unexpected, but Belize is full of surprises!

Botanical drawing of the newly identified Beaksedge – Copyright Bobbi Angell