Ten Lakeland College students recently returned from Belize, Central America, where they traveled for the bi-annual BIO 400 Tropical Biology course.
“When you encounter such rich biodiversity in person, you really can’t describe how incredible it is,” said Paul Pickhardt, Lakeland associate professor of biology.
The students who took on the 15-day excursion were: Brook Bignell, Nicole Cox, Jamie Gundlach, Brandy Hahn, Madison Hull, Chad Larson, Abbie Mason, Natasha Robinson, Emily Thomas and Andrew Wagner.
For more on this incredible trip, check out the feature article recently published in the Sheboygan Press.
This was the fifth time since 2008 Pickhardt has led a May term trip to Belize. Greg Smith, professor of biology, co-led the group, which spent about 10 days in a lowland tropical rainforest and three days on a barrier island. In the rainforest and throughout the course, the students saw howler monkeys, kinkajous, coatimundis, dozens of species of bird (including toucans), a tapir, a crocodile and many snakes and lizards.
Snorkeling and boating off the island, the Lakeland group spotted loggerhead turtles, dolphins, eagle rays, barracudas, squid, jelly fish, giant rock lobsters and more.
The students spent two days in a Mayan village, where they stayed with host families, and enjoyed the crystal clear, spring-fed Golden Stream.
“When you’re standing in water that’s over your head, you can look down and see your toenails,” Pickhardt said.
As thrilling as those and other discoveries were, the trip was, at times, grueling. Pickhardt said it only rained once while they stayed in the rainforest, and temperatures were stifling – in the mid-90s with high humidity. The group walked 10-15 miles some days.
Upon their return to Wisconsin, the students presented on their hours of extensive research.
Robinson, Thomas and Wagner researched the effect that Neem plant extract has on animals eating native limes, local bananas and tropical apples.
Hahn and Larson studied the decomposition rates of cohune palm nut clusters that fall to the ground, comparing and contrasting the decomposition rate near the river, near a swamp and in the forest’s interior.
Bignell, Gundlach and Mason studied sapling cohune palm leaves, and whether the amount of sunlight they receive affects the size of the leaves.
And Cox and Hull studied insect and animal consumption of cacao (the tree that produces chocolate) leaves in an under-canopy cacao farm in the rainforest.
“When you see it, taste it, smell it, walk through the amazing amount of life forms these tropics offer, it’s all so in your face, there’s so much that’s new and different,” Pickhardt said.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to see the students experience that. It’s life changing for them.”