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Doyle's Delight Expedition 2007

Expedition to the Belize's Highest Point - Botany

Training opportunity

Colin Young, Galen University
PO Box 177, San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize

Colin Young Colin Young    

Trainee Report

In July of 2007, Sharon Matola suggested that I participate in the upcoming Doyle’s Delight 2007 (DD07) Expedition in my capacity as an ecologist/botanist but as a trainee to a well known tropical botanist, Bruce Holst of Selby Botanical Gardens. Sharon Matola opined the need for a training component in the DD07 expedition so that the capacity of Belizean scientists can be improved as they worked alongside various experts. I agreed with Sharon about the importance of capacity building among Belizean scientists and jumped at the opportunity to participate because I had not collected in nor explored forests over 700 meters in elevation in Belize, despite having extensive experience collecting plants in lowland forests. After researching who Bruce Holst was, I was even more ecstatic about participating in the expedition. His knowledge of tropical plants and experience collecting in Neotropical forests was enviable; I knew that I would learn much from Bruce. In addition, Bruce had a particular interest in collecting epiphytic bromeliads, a group in which my taxonomic knowledge was very poor.

Thus, after Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) agreed to sponsor my participation in the DD07 expedition, I prepared myself for the expedition to the highest point in Belize. I was delighted to arrive on Doyle’s Delight via transportation coordinated by the British Forces. Upon arriving at DD, I immediately realized that the vegetation type was very different from what I am used to seeing in lower parts of Belize. The beautiful Colpotrinax Palm (Colpothrinax cookii) , so abundant and dominating at DD, was the first of what would become many ‘new’ species for me.

The time spent at DD was both professionally rewarding and educational for me. Bruce Holst’s taxonomic knowledge of plants was superb; I was literally a ‘sponge’ and made every effort to learn the characteristics of the species collected. Besides being great field botanists, Bruce was also a patient and wonderul teacher who never got tired (at least not noticeably) of my many questions while collecting during the day or pressing the days collections at night. Every day on DD was like going into a candy store because we collected species new to me every time we went out. In many instances, the entire familiies were new to me because these Families normally occur at higher elevations. The following families were all new for me in Belize: Chloranthaceae; Aquifoliacae, Celastraceae, Cyclanthaceae, Dichapetalaceae, Icacinaceae, Cyrillaceae, Elaeocarpaceae, Magnoliaceae and Gesneriaceae. In addition, the following genera within the Bromeliaceae were also new to me: Catopsis, Guzmania, Werauhia. Other new genera included Maripa (Convulvulaceae), Guarania (Cucurbitaceae), Cyrilla (Cyrillaceae) Purdiaea (Cyrillaceae), Sphyrospermum (Ericaceae).

In addition to working closely with Bruce, Jan Meerman often accompanies us on collecting trips. Not only was he very helpful in bringing back species and families new to me but he also willingly shared his taxonomic knowledge of both flora and fauna with me and was very helpful in answering questions.

In addition to collecting plants, I had the opportunity to practice using Bruce’s 25 meter collecting pole. Though I have collected many species before, I never used such a pole; this it was valuable field experience. After seeing Bruce expert use of the pole, I was committed to getting a pole of my own. Similarly, I gained valuable experience using alcohol to preserve the collections – a technique also new to me despite reading about it in the literature.

Besides collecting plants, I had the wonderful opportunity to collect and learn many species of fungi that were all new to me. Collecting interesting fungi during our daily plant collecting trips for the mycology team (Tim Baroni, Cathie Aime, and Jean Lodge) was very educational because every species I collected was new for me partly because my taxonomic knowledge of fungi was poor.

Being a part of the research team that was comprised of specialists in other taxa other than the ones mentioned above (e.g., Lepidoptera and other invertebrates, birds etc.,) was extremely beneficial and rewarding. I returned knowing a lot more about the flora and fauna of this beautiful country. I can’t wait to be a part of the next expedition. Based on discussions with Bruce Holst and Jan Meerman, I promised that I will try to secure funding to mount a similar expedition to the Outlier in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in 2008. I’m sure it will equally productive and rewarding.

Link: Read interview on Mongobay with Colin Young


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