20 Mar 2012
The Development of Freshwater Bio-Monitoring in Belize
This project will develop sustainable stream bio-assessment through collaborative research with local rangers to facilitate management of threats to Belizean aquatic ecosystems.
Freshwater conservation is of explicit concern in Belize. In response to intensifying pressure from urban, agricultural and infrastructural expansion, watershed management has been highlighted as one of the most active areas of interest in numerous local and national strategies . The ability to monitor and assess stream condition is crucial to effective catchment management, but poses particular challenges in Belize where capacity is restricted by the lack of monitoring and assessment tools, limited knowledge of taxonomy and biological-environmental relationships and scarce training opportunities for freshwater parabiologists. Bio-assessment is integral to catchment management throughout the temperate world and has proven potential in the neotropics . Using the biological structure of macro-invertebrate communities to measure stream condition, bio-assessment is not reliant on expensive equipment or laboratories and thus has the potential to equip the conservation community of Belize with a much needed and realistic tool to manage aquatic natural resources.
In 2010 as a first step towards developing bio-assessment methods for Belize, relationships between macro-invertebrates and environmental conditions prevailing in four watersheds in the south of the country were characterised and preliminary river typologies identified. The current project builds on these findings aiming to biologically classify streams and explore a reference condition against which actual condition can be assessed in the future. Key to short and long-term success of this project is the continued involvement in the development of monitoring and assessment tools of those who are tasked with freshwater conservation. Research is being undertaken collaboratively with the Ya’axché Conservation Trust to experientially share information during tool development. Local freshwater field and taxonomic expertise will be enhanced through continued work with an established team of Freshwater Rangers and graduate students to support local ownership of and capacity for freshwater monitoring and assessment.