For Release: May 19, 2005
Sarah Taylor (202) 633-3081
National Zoo Scientists Lend Expertise to Puerto Rican Biologists
Smithsonian scientists from the National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va., will travel to Puerto Rico this month to teach Puerto Rican biologists how to use satellite images and Geographic Information Systems to protect and monitor the habitats of endangered or threatened species on the island. From May 28 until June 9 at the Metropolitan University in San Juan, program fellows from various Puerto Rican universities and local and federal natural resources management agencies will learn how to radio track animals and use satellite imagery and mapping techniques, through a specially designed Spanish-language course, developed in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico's Center for Research Excellence in Science and Technology-Center for Tropical Applied Ecology and Conservation.
The program will combine conservation Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and satellite mapping in the laboratory with field work in the Bahia de Jobosa marine nature reserve on Puerto Rico's south coast. Students will conduct vegetation surveys of the reserve; use radio tracking to determine the home ranges of reserve animals; and then use GIS programs to combine information from the field studies with satellite and aerial images to determine the animals' habitat preferences.
Puerto Rico, like many Caribbean islands, is suffering from the environmental consequences of rapidly growing populations. Development is taking its toll on many endangered animals and plants. Many of these changes are not noticeable until serious damage is done. Increased erosion, changing climate, disappearance of once-common animals and plants are among the early warning signs. GIS methods, such as combining satellite maps with radio tracking data, help scientists identify and monitor these habitat changes and develop better management techniques for endangered species.
After the training course, the fellows will apply their newly learned skills in GIS to their own research addressing significant conservation issues. These include conservation of critical mangrove ecosystems that protect the island; studies of how hurricanes affect boa populations; and effects of urbanization on the Puerto Rican Harlequin butterfly.
The GIS training program was developed with the University of Puerto Rico's Center for Research Excellence in Science and Technology-Center for Tropical Applied Ecology and Conservation (CREST-CATEC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's International Institute for Tropical Forestry. Major funding for the course was provided by the Latino Initiatives Pool, which is administered by the Smithsonian's Center for Latino Initiatives.
The GIS course was developed at the Conservation and Research Center by National Zoo scientist Peter Leimgruber. The Center's Catherine Christen and Marcela Suarez-Rubio, along with students from University of Puerto Rico, have adapted the curriculum to address the unique conservation needs and wildlife management in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
The course designed for Puerto Rico is one of many offered by the National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center. The Center will offer scientists low-cost, Spanish-language GIS courses at the Front Royal, Va., facility in August and September this year.