First Captive Bred Hicatee Turtles Hatch at HCRC; Biodiversity of the Maya Mountains Second Edition Now Available; New Cacao-based Agroforestry Handbook; 2015 Field Courses and more!

First Captive Bred Hicatee Turtles Hatch at HCRC

Six months after a clutch of eight Hicatee eggs was found buried at the waters’ edge at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center (HCRC) in December of 2014, hatchlings began to emerge from their eggs. These are the first hatchlings in the captive breeding program established by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and BFREE at the HCRC located at the BFREE Field Station in southern Belize. Locally known as Hicatee, Dermatemys mawii, is the only living representative of a formerly widespread group of turtles in the family Dermatemydidae. D. mawii is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, which identifies it as “the most endangered species, genus, and family of turtles in Mexico and possibly elsewhere in its limited range.” D. mawii’s range extends only from southern Mexico, into northern Guatemala and Belize.

Of the eight eggs deposited in the nest, seven were determined fertile, and of the seven, all hatched. With an incubation period of over six months, this is an unusually long period for most turtle eggs. This is partially due to the delayed development that occurs during the initial stages of incubation, called embryonic diapause, a term that describes a period of time when virtually no development of the embryo takes place. With Hicatee, this evolutionary trait likely occurs because they deposit their eggs at the rivers’ edge during the rainy season when water levels fluctuate greatly, and nests are often partially or completely submerged from days to weeks at a time, and temperatures are cooler. These environmental factors, as well as others, are being studied at the HCRC.

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Dermatemys mawii is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List  
UF grad student, Nichole Bishop, and HCRC Manager, Tom Pop, collect weight and measurement data on the one-week old turtles

Cacao-based Agroforestry Handbook

The handbook will be filled with simple and clear illustrations to supplement and enhance written material. Illustration by Katherine Weeks.

Now in its 3rd year, the Belize Cacao-based Agroforestry Project (BCARP) is on the path to broadening its reach by producing an illustrated guidebook to be distributed around the country. The BCARP seeks to expand habitat for over-wintering neotropical migratory birds and other wildlife by converting environments such as farmland and secondary growth forest to wildlife-friendly agroforests with cacao as the dominant understory.

To date, this BFREE project has helped farmers in the nearby agricultural community of Trio Village plant over 20,000 trees. Support has been offered in the form of training, labor, materials, and extension services. From the very beginnings of the project, interest in cacao and organic farming far surpassed BFREE’s expectations, in spite of the great desire to continue to expand by adding more farmers to the project, it also exceeded the financial and human resources dedicated to the project.

Always up for a challenge, BFREE decided a handbook illustrating specific methods could be one valuable component of a larger effort to address the ever-growing interest in cacao. Working with Dr. Jamie Rotenberg, BFREE board member and professor, BFREE engaged students at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington to help with the development and design of the handbook.

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2015 Field Courses - Part I

Nebraska Wesleyan students spend time birding with Nelly Cadle.

BFREE was proud to host 147 students and instructors through our field courses this season. Groups came from the United States and from within Belize to engage in topics ranging from Architecture to Agriculture to Protected Areas to Biology. Rainforest experiences lasted anywhere from a day to a week, while the entire time spent in country averaged ten days.

While at BFREE, students were introduced to on-going conservation projects at the field station like the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center and the cacao and coffee agroforest. Many spent an afternoon volunteering with one of the projects. They also participated in hikes and river walks to get a feel for the rainforest. For those who stayed long enough, instructors assigned independent projects in which students were tasked with developing research questions and collecting preliminary data – often presenting results on their last evening at BFREE.

When exploring other parts of Belize, students visited banana plantations, participated in cultural homestays, snorkeled at the Belize Barrier Reef, and saw wildlife up close at the Belize Zoo. Though time moves slowly in Belize, the departure day always seemed to come too soon.

Read More for Individual Field Courses and More Pictures →


Oecologia Article Considers the Winter Ecology of Wood Thrushes

Emily McKinnon spent time at BFREE studying Wood Thrushes in their overwintering grounds.

Emily McKinnon, bird biologist and Research Affiliate in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Manitoba, conducted a significant portion of her doctoral field research at the BFREE field station. In her May 27 blog post, “Jungle life is not always easy for Wood Thrushes,” McKinnon summarized her research and announced the resulting Oecologia article.

McKinnon, E.A., Rotenberg, J. A., and B.J. M. Stutchbury. 2015. Seasonal change in tropical habitat quality and body condition for a declining migratory songbird. Oecologia Early Online. 10.1007/s00442-015-3343-1

Biodiversity of the Maya Mountains Now Available!

Once again we are pleased to announce Biodiversity of the Maya Mountains: a Focus on the Bladen Nature Reserve by Daniel C. Dourson is available for purchase. This edition features new cover artwork by Belizean artist, Grayson Sierra, and includes expanded content and additional photographs.

To purchase your copy in the US, mail a check for $48.00 to US for BFREE, 2602 NW 6th Street, Suite D, Gainesville, FL 32609 or pay online via Paypal by visiting our website here. Enter $48.00 in the amount and specify any special notes for shipment. 

Books are also available for purchase at the BFREE field station in Belize. 

For shipping outside of the US or any other question, please contact Heather Barrett at 

Copyright © 2015 US for BFREE, All rights reserved.
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