Like a love of bats and frogs because a wildlife ecology career for a Nicaraguan native – The NAU Review


for years, Jose Martinez-Fonseca considered himself an amateur biologist.

He always had bigger plans, catching frogs and snakes to study as a child, but wildlife jobs were scarce in Nicaragua. However, he loved biology and spent summers working as a guide on rare species mammal-watching tours, he helped found herpetology and bat-related conservation groups, he co-authored a biology publication when he was 21, and during his undergraduate studies, he worked as a field assistant for other biologists conducting studies on the biodiversity of amphibians and reptiles.

One of these biologists was a NAU wildlife ecologist Carol Chambers, who went to Nicaragua for a sabbatical in 2011. Martinez-Fonseca worked for them on this project, then there were other projects over the years. As it turned out, it was much more than just a hobby.

Lose yourself and stare into the eye of this bespectacled caiman. Copyright: Jose Martinez Fonseca

When Martinez-Fonseca was ready to graduate, he turned his attention to wildlife ecology. And he turned to NAU – seven years after he met Chambers. He graduates in a week with a PhD from the School of Forestry, a string of publications and enough photos to easily spend hours with

Western screech owl
A western screen owl. Copyright: José Martinez-Fonseca

Instagram page.

“I think everything worked out very well in the end,” he said. “Photography was a huge interest and played a big part in my transition from engineering to biology, and fieldwork for biology research provided many opportunities for photography and helped me reach more people.”

Discover his nature photography Instagram and flickr and his work as Astrophotographer on Instagram. He was also a co-author Sea Turtles to Sidewinders: A Guide to the West’s Most Fascinating Reptiles and Amphibianswhich contains his photos.

His dissertation research focused on improving the understanding of human disturbances in the landscape, particularly habitat and forest fragmentation that affect various bat species. He used a variety of techniques, from literature reviews that included research around the world to conducting a nationwide analysis of thousands of bat records he, Chambers, and other colleagues collected during nearly a decade of fieldwork in Nicaragua. He also used genetics to shed light on the diet of the spectral bat, which is the largest carnivorous bat, to understand how their diet correlates with specific habitat requirements.

“Bats are important to ecosystems and provide many economic benefits to humans. So the better we understand how our actions affect bats, the better we can conserve the landscape conditions that encourage their persistence and therefore benefit us all,” he said.

Chambers, who has continued to work with Martinez-Fonseca during his time here, said she was impressed by his passion for working with wildlife. When she met him in 2011, he was 21 and already very knowledgeable. He also showed deep respect for any species they encountered in the field.

Somoto Gorge in Nicaragua
Cañón de Somoto/Somoto Canyon, Departamento de Madriz, Nicaragua; Copyright: José Martinez-Fonseca

“That really struck me,” she said. “When we first worked together in the field, he caught and showed me snakes, frogs and toads (he was very fond of working with herpetofauna), gave me their scientific names, told me about the species and where it was distributed in the country ( and occasionally let me know it was a range addition for the country), take pictures of them and then post them.

From day one, Martinez-Fonseca stood out in the field. He quickly got down to work – learning how to use and check acoustic bat detectors and identifying some of the 111 bat species in Nicaragua. The team has identified three new bat species in Nicaragua and updated Martinez-Fonseca the country’s species list and helped build one nationwide bat conservation program in Nicaragua. That Programs for the Conservation of Murcielagos are now established in most countries in Central and South America, working together to help conserve bats and educate others about bats. Martinez-Fonseca has helped create new reserves in Nicaragua based on the work he and others have done to identify important ecological sites for biodiversity.

But, Chambers said, he didn’t stop there. During his dissertation work, he took the data set we had collected during our collaboration in Nicaragua (about 3,500 people from about 60 sites) and worked with others across the country to aggregate data into a database that now has 750 sites and 18,000 people includes. He used this for part of his dissertation.

Plus, she said, he’s a great colleague – positive, hardworking and funny, although language has been the hardest part of his job at NAU.

Pale spear-nosed bat flies
Pale spear-nosed bat (phyllostomus discolour), Escameca Grande, Rivas, Nicaragua. Copyright: José Martinez-Fonseca

Martinez-Fonseca studied English informally in Nicaragua and improved his language skills during his 4.5 years in Flagstaff, but he’s still working on it, and even in an area full of jargon, he’s never had a problem communicating.

After graduation, Martinez-Fonseca hopes to continue working on data from his dissertation and on new projects in Nicaragua and the Southwest United States. In addition to his biological research, he would like to help researchers in the United States and Latin America collaborate on projects that benefit the conservation of the region’s biodiversity.

“NAU provided me with a great environment to learn a variety of techniques and work with all types of experts,” he said. “I truly believe that diversity of people and skills prepared me to enjoy working in this field and I look forward to the questions I will answer in the future.”

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Heidi Toth | NAU communication
(928) 523-8737 | [email protected]


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