Tropical Program

In Belize, BRI researchers work in region surrounding the Bladen Nature Reserve, above, in collaboration with the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education. Photo © David Buck.
In Belize, BRI researchers work in the region surrounding the Bladen Nature Reserve, above,
in collaboration with the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education. Photo © David Buck.

BRI’s Tropical Program is engaged in a wide variety of research and conservation initiatives that will expand our understanding of how environmental contaminants impact ecosystems and human health in tropical regions. These interdisciplinary studies include collaborators from national agencies within tropical countries as well as local and international conservation organizations.

Current projects range from studying the biomagnification and bioaccumulation of mercury in aquatic ecosystems and how mercury-contaminated fish potentially pose human health threats, to identifying species that indicate contamination in terrestrial ecosystems, to assisting with the establishment of a region-wide tropical bat monitoring network.

Program Goals

Understanding the potential impact of climate change on mercury biogeochemistry in the tropics

Climate change, environmental contaminants, and ecosystem health in the Maya Forest region of Mesoamerica—This region contains the most extensive track of continuous tropical forest in the Americas outside of Amazonia and is considered a biodiversity hotspot. A pronounced rainfall gradient across the region allows us to examine potential relationships between rainfall and the bioavailability of mercury in select indicator species sampled across that gradient.

Promoting tropical bat conservation through research, local capacity building, and long-term monitoring

Bats as indicators of metal contamination in tropical ecosystems—Bats represent a significant component of mammalian diversity in the tropics, with approximately 1200 species currently known. BRI coordinates a region-wide network of bat researchers with the goal of investigating mercury exposure in bats and identifying superior indicator species for heavy metal contamination in tropical ecosystems.

Bats of the Maya Mountains, Belize - The Maya Mountains of Belize are considered a core conservation area within the Maya Forest region of northern Mesoamerica. Much of the area’s rugged terrain is inaccessible and little is known about the abundance and diversity of bat species in the region. BRI has initiated a series of studies that examine the migration patterns of apparent disjunct bat populations, as well as their roosting and foraging behavior.

Studying mercury biomagnification in aquatic ecosystems

Mercury bioaccumulation in fishes of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and its adjacent watersheds—The Mesoamerican Reef is the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere and extends more than 1000 km along the coastlines of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. In previous research, BRI and collaborating scientists documented high mercury concentrations in marine fishes. Current research focuses on measuring fish mercury concentrations sampled from the region’s major watersheds in an effort to identify potential terrestrial sources of mercury that are delivered to the coastal zone and out onto the reef.

Trophic transfer of mercury in the food web of Lago Yojoa, Honduras—Lago Yojoa is a large, natural lake located in northeastern Honduras. BRI is collaborating with researchers at Dartmouth College to investigate the movement of mercury through the aquatic food web and to identify potential human health risks associated with fish consumption.

Global Fish and Community Mercury Monitoring Project—BRI’s Tropical Program and Center for Mercury Studies are collaborating with the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) to help raise awareness about global mercury pollution and to identify biological mercury hotspots in remote and understudied regions of the world.

Identifying indicator species of heavy metal contamination within tropical terrestrial ecosystems

Heavy metal cycling within a lowland tropical forest—There is a lack of information about how mercury accumulates and biomagnifies in tropical food web ecosystems. BRI biologists have been conducting research at our tropical field station in Belize to examine the linkages between lower trophic level organisms such as snails and spiders and to learn how they mediate the transfer of heavy metals up the food chain to higher trophic level organisms such as birds and bats.

Tropical River Scene

Geographic Focus

Program Director

David Buck
207-839-7600 ext. 245

Tropical Bat Project Leader
Tim Divoll
207-839-7600 ext. 244

Laboratory Technician
Sofia de la Sota
207-839-7600 ext. 122

Recent Publications