Mexican Mammal Study in Coffee Farms

February 24, 2014 by Amanda Caudill


We have wrapped up the third sampling session this week with shade coffee and Bird Friendly® coffee sites. One of the coffee farms that is in the shade coffee category is in the process of reducing the shade cover over some parts of the coffee farm. This area was hit really hard a couple of years ago with a coffee fungus, commonly known as coffee rust, that wiped out whole crops of coffee. The owner is very environmentally conscious and until 2 years ago had a completely organic farm.

Now they use agrochemicals but are very selective about which ones they use. They have decided to use many of the shade trees for timber products in addition to growing coffee, in part to make up for the loss of revenue. He spoke to us about the balance of enough trees within the farms to stabilize the soil and harvesting them for timber products. Each farm here is divided into sections or "pantes" in Spanish. One of the aims of this coffee farm is to have a conservation easement in each of the sections, while reducing the shade trees in some parts of farm section.

numerous white flowers along branches of coffee shrub
Coffee flowers

It has begun to rain here in the afternoons and the entire mountain side to bloom. The coffee flowers smell similar to jasmine and the scent permeates through the air. The coffee here flowers twice a year. Branches are full of small white flowers that will remain for about three days before drying up and falling off. The first day was pretty quiet in the field, but by the second day of the coffee blooms, the coffee farms were buzzing with bees.

The coffee berries will start to appear in June or July from this flowering. The berries will ripen by September and be harvested in September and October. The "coffee bean" is the seed of the coffee berry. The coffee berries themselves don't taste at all like the coffee that we drink. They taste a little bit like a green bell pepper. The fruit is stripped of the coffee seed which is washed, dried, and roasted to become what we know as a coffee bean.

I was worried the rains coming in would cause us to have wet little mice in the traps (see this article). Luckily since it has mainly rained in the late afternoons/early evenings before most of the mice are active, they have kept dry in the traps. Our sites have not been that slippery either because of the rain, but we all still have our fair amount of bumps and bruises due to the uneven terrain, hidden logs beneath the brush, and the shin-height stumps.

small tawny brown mouse with large eyes and yellow teeth
Reithrodontomys sp. (Harvest mouse)

There are some species of mice that are about 10 grams in weight—which is weight of 2 quarters (I measured with a scale). They are tiny. One way to distinguish Oligoryzomys from Reithrodontomys species is to check to see if they have grooves in their front teeth. We have seen both of these genera this study session—which is really cool.

For the next couple of entries, I will include a brief profile of my field crew for this research trip. The first is Megan Banner. She worked with me on a similar mammal research project in Costa Rica and is from Rhode Island. She has a degree in Microbiology and ultimately is interested in becoming a doctor with a focus on tropical infectious diseases.

Why were you interested in doing this field work?

I love traveling and being outdoors, and I had a really great time doing field work previously. Outside of this work I have limited opportunities to learn about ecology and conservation biology and I think it's interesting and really important.

Favorite thing so far:

Meeting and talking with the different coffee estate owners, to hear stories of people who've been in the area for a long time and have different perspectives on land management.

Special skills:

Feisty mammal wrangling, pothole avoidance, and spot-on soup spicing.

small brown rodent on forest floor
Camera trap photo of Dasyprocta punctata (Agouti)