This program will partner students from Central Washington University (CWU) with top scientists from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) to explore tropical dry forest ecology in a world-class biological field station in western Mexico. Each year, for three years, cohorts of 5 students will spend 8 weeks at Estación de Biología, Chamela (EBCh) working alongside UNAM and CWU mentors on three general avenues of investigation: 1) interactions in the parasite-host system centered on the agents of Chagas disease (kissing bugs), 2) ecological responses of vertebrates to intense seasonality, and 3) current and future effects of a major coastal highway on ecological connectivity of vertebrates. The world-class facilities and pristine forests of EBCh attract leading scientists from México and throughout the world to conduct cutting-edge research. This setting will provide an exceptional opportunity for students to develop academic relationships with Mexican scientists and their students, laying the foundation for future collaborations. This program will help build the next generation of internationally-literate scientists by guiding bilingual Hispanic-American students to conduct science, facilitating language and cultural literacy with their non-Spanish speaking peers, and developing the skills, connections, and confidence to pursue careers in the sciences. The program will also create opportunities for CWU faculty to develop collaborations with Mexican scientists and encourage Mexican scholars to visit CWU where they can share their insights, discoveries, and culture with our broader community.

The Chamela/Cuitzmala biosphere reserve in western Mexico is surrounded by some of the best examples of seasonally dry tropical forest (SDTF) remaining in the world. SDTF comprise almost half of the world's tropical forests, representing a larger fraction than rain forests. They provide a set of ecosystem services that rival wet forests, and they harbor a remarkable concentration of endemic species, many of which are threatened or endangered. Despite their importance, SDTFs are among the least studied and most threatened of the world's forested ecosystems and, as a result, are at greater risk than are wet forests. Students will work UNAM's Institute of Biology to investigate the relationships among blood-feeding triatomine insects, the parasite they carry, Trypanosoma cruzi, and the mammals the insects feed on. This work will aid in our understanding of which mammals in SDTF serve as reservoirs of Chagas disease. Other students will track reptiles and amphibians in the forest during the extreme transition from dry season to wet season in July. This research will contribute new insights into how vertebrate ectotherms manage strong seasonality, a defining feature of SDTF. Some students may investigate parrot ecology in SDTF, exploring variation in food and nesting resources for parrots and other cavity-nesting birds. Others will use remote cameras and transect surveys to monitor wildlife activity in the forest and along Mexican highway 200, which bisects the biosphere reserve. Results from this project will be used to guide decisions on how best to minimize habitat fragmentation associated with planned expansion of that highway. Students will be members of a cohesive team working together on ongoing research by our Mexican mentors to address relevant and important issues in the structure, functioning and conservation of SDTF.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
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Charles H. Estabrook
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Central Washington University
United States
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