Mexican Mammal Study in Coffee Farms

January 16, 2014 by Amanda Caudill

Coffee is an important cash crop worldwide. It is the second highest traded commodity next only to oil. The lives of millions of people are intertwined in this cash crop. Additionally, many studies have shown that coffee farms can serve as refuges for wildlife. The way that coffee is grown varies drastically from highly managed sun coffee to coffee that is basically grown in the understory of forested areas. However, most of the research for coffee as habitat has focused on birds and insects with few studies that seek to understand if coffee can also provide a refuge for mammals. My research aims to understand how mammals use coffee landscapes and what habitats parameters within coffee farms are important to enhance mammal habitats.

We just wrapped up our first week in the field here in Chiapas, Mexico. We will be studying mammal diversity in 3 different types of coffee farms:

  1. Smithsonian Bird Friendly certified shade grown coffee (which is also organic);
  2. Shade grown coffee that would not meet the Bird Friendly certification standards; and
  3. Coffee grown with little or no shade, also known as sun coffee.

Forested areas will also be sampled for mammal diversity and act as our baseline.

My 4 field assistants and I hiked about 4-5 hours a day this week to see the sites, mark locations for trap grids in the GPS, and flag that pathways so we can hopefully find our way back there when it is time for trapping. The hikes can be exhausting in this tropical mountainous region—but the views once you get to the top of the mountains are breathtaking. We have met so many great people already. We have spoken with a couple coffee estate owners in the area and have learned about the challenges of growing coffee. Most of the farmers told us they recently started diversifying their crops because coffee rust hit this area hard 2 years ago destroying acres of coffee plants. Some farmers have started growing and selling ornamental flowers in addition to coffee, while others have begun to sell timber products from the trees on their coffee farms.

Tomorrow marks the first day of mammal trapping. The first sampling session will be in the forest near the coffee sites. We will set up three 50x50 meter trap grids with 50 Sherman traps for the small mammals (mice, rats, and maybe some shrews) and one camera trap activated by heat and motion for the medium and large mammals. There are rumors of a puma that comes through here every year around this time…it would be amazing to get a photo of it with the camera trap!

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