Mexican Mammal Study in Coffee Farms

February 4, 2014 by Amanda Caudill

One of the fun parts of field ecology is that natural systems do not always behave in the way that you would expect. My doctorate advisor liked to say that wildlife does not always read the instruction manual. This has been the case in our study so far. We started off with forest plots and had really low capture rates where theoretically there is supposed to be the highest abundance and diversity of mammals. For this sampling session, we are sampling 2 habitats at once: sun coffee and Bird Friendly® shade coffee. Our capture rates have skyrocketed!

I have several working theories as to why this could be case, but we will have to wait and see how the rest of the study unfolds. We will be sampling forest habitats for the last session and it will be interesting to see which theories hold true.

One of our habits that we are sampling this session is sun coffee. It is mainly a swath of coffee plants with sparsely planted trees in the farm for shade. Our camera trap records temperature and one photo during the day said it was about 110 degrees F! The farm that we are working on does have some areas of more shaded coffee as well as some natural areas within the site. This farm is the most representative of a typical coffee farm in terms of the agrochemical use and shade management.

Study site is a coffee farm in Mexico near the border with Guatemala.

The other habitat is Bird Friendly® shade coffee. This label requires that the farm be organic and have a diverse shade tree structure. The farm we are working on seems like it is almost forest habitat but with coffee planted as the understory. This is the first time in doing coffee research that I have had to ensure that there are enough coffee plants within our site to qualify as a coffee plot.

When we were measuring one of the mice that we captured the other day, we heard something jumping through the vegetation on the hillside above us. We couldn’t see what it was then, but later when we checked the camera traps, we got a picture of this red brocket deer (Mazama americana).

small brown deer in dense forest
Red brocket deer (Mazama americana) from camera trap.

While doing the research, we are living in a house in the mountains on a coffee farm in the area. There are a lot of little towns around here in the mountains but the closest grocery store is an hour away. We have been doing really well with planning our meals and making weekly trips into town to buy groceries. All of the sites require a lot of hiking.

colorful sky over a jungle canopy
Sunset from our house in the mountains.

For one of them this session, we are hiking about 6 miles a day. So our grocery cart is definitely filled to the top with enough food to feed five hungry field researchers for the week.

We have one more week at the Bird Friendly® and sun coffee sites then we are onto another farm that has shade grown coffee but is not completely organic. I am excited to see how the diversity of the mammals compares across these habitat types!