Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rainy season in Tarrazú

I’m back in San Marcos, Costa Rica, leading a few Earthwatch teams this month as we conduct more coffee sustainability research. This is a continuation of the work we started in April; the study is focused on better understanding the conservation value of forest fragments in and around coffee farms in the region in terms of an important ecosystem service: pollination. Building on recent research conducted elsewhere that indicates that having forests nearby coffee yields can enhance pollination, we are comparing pollinator diversity and abundance in both coffee farms that either have adjacent forest stands or are isolated from forest fragments. Coffee is able to self-fertilize, but can produce higher yields if it gets assistance from managed honeybees (imported European honeyebees, the same species commonly used in the U.S.) and other bees – these other bees, especially native stingless bees, are especially likely to be found nesting in forest fragments – hence the link between forest conservation and coffee yields. In April, we collected bees during coffee flowering season; now that the coffee flowering has ceased, we are trying to get a better idea of where the pollinators hang out during times when coffee is not flowering – hence we’re sampling in both coffee farms and nearby forest habitat.
This morning our first team of the month hit the field, helping set up yellow-pan traps to capture bees and wasps in both coffee fields and nearby forest areas. The team (six women from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.) did a great job scrambling up and down the steeply terraced coffee fields…in addition to setting up bee traps, they also recorded timed observations of the number and type of pollinators flying through the fields, and measured ground cover (e.g., live plants, dead plants (mulch), and flowering plants that might serve as alternative resources for pollinators). Tomorrow we’ll go see what our traps have attracted; after we collected specimens from them, we’ll set up traps in another field – and then it’s back to the lab for an afternoon of sorting through specimens so that we can further identify the types of bees /wasps that we have captured.This afternoon, it is pouring rain, as is the norm for this time of year. As we head further into the rainy season, we’ll continue to do our work in the mornings, when we can generally expect at least a few hours of sunny, bee-friendly weather...
Yesterday as part of their orientation, the group was treated to a rare appearance of a male resplendent quetzal, famed trogon of Central America - lots of opportunity for close-up observation as he flitted from tree to tree alongside a dirt road we were descending after a hike through the forest at Fundacion Nubotropical - a terrific and auspicious start to the week!

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