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Associate professor to study tropical ecology in Belize

Office of Communications & Marketing | Northeastern State University
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. -- Dr. Erik Terdal, associate professor of biology at Northeastern State University-Broken Arrow, will travel to Belize in July 2013 to study ecosystems in the Maya Mountains.
Terdal has taken several trips to Belize to conduct research and has developed contacts with the Maya people, businesses and government. He will be accompanied by at least one graduate student, and possibly a second.
“First we go to the Cayo district in the interior where students learn about tropical ecology in the rain forest,” said Terdal. “We then follow a watershed down to the sea and explore the world’s second largest coral barrier reef ecosystem along the Caribbean coast of Belize. This itinerary reinforces the connection between land use practices and marine fisheries. Basically, if you like lobster, you must protect the rainforest.”
Terdal said Belize is an ideal location for such research because it has the lowest human population density in the western hemisphere – fewer than a third of a million people – and most of the country is forested. There is also no language barrier because Belize is a former British colony.
“In July 2013, we will focus on the Maya Mountains,” said Terdal. “We will see the highest waterfall in Mesoamerica, Caracol, one of the largest Maya sites, and deep caves. The vegetation ranges from sparse grasslands at the highest elevations through mixed pine-oak woodlands to dense rainforest.”
In addition to the vegetation, Terdal will also study wildlife. Motion-activated cameras will be placed in the forest to photograph the flora and fauna.
“We will bring back to campus tens of thousands of digital images of wildlife we can analyze statistically to evaluate hypotheses about wildlife ecology,” said Terdal. “More broadly, we will develop an appreciation for how wildlife interacts with their habitat and the human alterations to the landscape.”?

Through the study of vegetation and wildlife, Terdal will observe how humans have affected the surroundings in which they live.
“We will also learn about how Native Americans have lived in this environment successfully for thousands of years,” said Terdal. “As we ascend the tallest Maya pyramid in Belize, the sky palace at Caracol, we will look down on the rainforest canopy and reflect on how humans have managed this land for millennia.”
Terdal believes there are some similarities between Belize and the U.S. from which students can learn.
“Belize is another country undergoing the transition from being a British colony to independence, albeit two centuries after the U.S. and through a different mechanism,” he said.
Despite his familiarity with Belize, Terdal still expects to learn each time he visits. He said the Mopan and Yucateca Native Americans of Belize can offer a perspective on relations between ethnic groups.
Any students accompanying Terdal will benefit from his experience in Belize, but they can also expect new situations and information on the trip.
“I will do all of the teaching,” said Terdal. “I will also learn as the students discover new information about little-known ecosystems.”
Between the years 1999-2012, Terdal has taken more than 100 NSU students to Belize. He said he anticipates taking hundreds more in the future.
“A handful of my students have spent a year or more in Belize after matriculating from NSU and then come back to Oklahoma where they share what they have learned,” he said.
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Published: 3/8/2013 1:37:17 PM

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