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Students Experience Tropical Biology in Belize

June 17, 2015

Laura Lemire
Communications and Marketing
(603) 641-7242

Saint Anselm students participating in a field studies course in Belize

Eleven Saint Anselm College students and two faculty members spent May 18-29 studying the complex biological ecosystems of Belize through the global seminar course: Field Studies in Tropical Biology.

Snorkeling the coral reef to observe territorial fish and hiking the rainforest at night are only two of the many learning moments students experienced during their 10 days abroad.

As home to an extremely diverse ecosystem, Belize offers opportunities for exploration of the neo-tropical rainforest as well as a coral reef—two of the planet's most species-rich ecosystems.

Dr. Eric Berry and Dr. Lori LaPlante (both Saint Anselm faculty members who are also experts in tropical biology), led students through the Central America country. They spent one day in the savannah at Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, four days in the rainforest at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary/Jaguar Reserve, and six days in the coral reefs of Tobacco Caye.

While hiking through the Belizean zoo at night they got up-close and personal with pumas, jaguars, howler monkeys, and tapirs. In the rainforest, students collected data on leaf cutter ants and took a zipline tour to see the diversity in the canopy. At the coral reef, students snorkeled both during the day and at night observing and recording data on fish behavior.

"What made this most memorable was the size of the coral and fish that we saw. The organisms in the Fore Reef were all magnified in size; I was able to swim up to a school of about a dozen tarpon that were up to 5-6 feet long," says biology major Gregory Spicer '16.

The course, which was four credits and had two sequences, combined hands-on exploration and field exercises with lectures and presentations.

The spring on-campus course introduced students to fundamental theories and scientific concepts including the natural history of tropical biota, patterns of species diversity, rainforest ecology and conservation, coral reef ecology, and Belizean history and culture. The field studies course during the summer reinforced the classroom knowledge with hands-on field experiences.

"In the Savanna and Rainforest, we took field data and compared the tree height and densities to that of the temperate deciduous forests back home," says biology major Jake Stokes '16. "In doing so, we could understand what environments were able to sustain what species and why."

This biology adventure was one of many study abroad opportunities that the college offers. It was Professors Berry and LaPlante's sixth trip to Belize with Saint Anselm students.

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