Understanding Multifunctional Landscapes Within The Model Forest Of Puerto Rico
In this project we are researching multiple ecosystem services on coffee farms in Puerto Rico -- food provisioning (including coffee), pollination, pest control, carbon storage and biodiversity. Our goal is to determine how agricultural intensification, and in particular the local and landscape transformations inherent therein, affects these services. We are investigating how interactions result in potential tradeoffs and synergies among these crucial ecosystem services. The research focuses on coffee agroecosystems embedded within the Model Forest of Puerto Rico, a multi-land use area in the central mountains. We are sampling coffee farms along an agricultural intensification gradient and within a variety of landscape structures. We will examine how local environmental variables associated with management and landscape variables affect these services and their tradeoffs and synergies. We hope to generate knowledge that can guide land use management at the local and landscape levels among coffee farmers in the region. A secondary objective of the research is to engage farmers with the research output through a series of workshops where groups of farmers will play ecological board games that incorporate research results. We are also interested in assesing the economic contributions of these ecosystem services to farmers and are working with the Office of the Model Forest of Puerto Rico and the University of Puerto Rico, Utuado campus, to develop a coffee certification program that will incorporate bundles of ecosystem services.
Evaluating Hurricane Damage/Resilience In Coffee Agroecosystems In Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is regularly battered by hurricanes. The recent impact of hurricane Maria, while devastating for farmers, offers an opportunity to study the impact of such strong climatic events on agriculture on the island. Coffee is one of the most important crops in Puerto Rico and offers an ideal vehicle for the study of disturbance and resilience on agroecosystems and their biodiversity. We are beginning to study the resilience of coffee farms under various management and its ecological recuperation over the next few years. We seek to evaluate the degree of damage done to the coffee sector in the central mountainous region by the hurricane and follow the initial stages of recovery of the coffee and its biodiversity. For this study, we are focusing on the taxon for which we have some pre-hurricane data: birds, frogs, lizards, ants, parasitoid wasps, and bees, all of which are important ecosystem services providers. We are also quantifying the impact of the hurricane on coffee yield and therefore farmer’s livelihoods and income. In addition, we are quantifying biomass loss due to the impact of the hurricane as well as the number of landslides and will relate these to the type of management before the hurricane.
Azteca Chess: Using a Game to Learn Ecological Complexity
Capturing the inherent complexity of ecological systems has long been a perplexing problem for pedagogy. Massive networks of interactions, so commonly displayed in nature centers and power point presentations, do not really convey what most professional ecologists understand about ecological complexity. The reality is that ecology is complex and therefore is difficult to teach, learn and apply. One pedagogical tradition that has seen many science classroom applications is gaming, where students play either board or computer games designed to represent various natural phenomena, most frequently physical principles or human behavior (e.g., classical economics). Indeed, board-games have recently emerged as participatory education tools that facilitate communication and reflection among those involve in resource management, and promote a common knowledge ground from where to built effective management and governance. To this end we have taken a particular ecological system with which we are intimately familiar, developed a set of rules that capture the central essence of the interactions involved, and cast it as a two-person board game called “Azteca Chess.” We have organized workshops with farmers in Mexico and Puerto Rico to play Azteca Chess. We developed some tools to evaluate the impact of the games on farmers ability to learn about the ecological complexity of their system.
For the last 20 years, we have been studying the ecology of coffee agroecosystems in Mexico. The main goal of this project is to understand how biodiversity is affected by the intensification of coffee farms and how that biodiversity contributes to the sustainability and productivity of the farms. A major focus of this research is in what we call “autonomous pest control.” This is the reduction in pests (insects and diseases) that results from the complex ecological interactions among the organisms that are found on the farms. We have established two large plots (one of 45 hectares in a shaded organic farm, and one of 30 hectares low-shade conventional farm) in the Soconusco region of Chiapas Mexico.
Through our research, we have uncovered a complex web of interactions that influence the populations of four of the major pests in coffee and has a keystone ant species at the center. This web includes predator/prey interactions, disease transmission, mutualisms and trait-mediated interactions among other ecological interactions.