Description of the project and research questions being asked
The global population continues to climb at an alarming rate. How can we meet the agricultural demands of a growing population without destroying critical wildlife habitat? In many coffee producing regions, like Central American, time is running out. The colorful migratory birds that arrive here in spring, spend their winters from Mexico to the tip of South America. Most migratory species have experienced a continuous decline since the 1960s. While large scale agricultural production often transforms forests teeming with life into sterile monocultures, methods exists to maintain diversity within agricultural landscapes.
My research aims to identify ways that coffee and other agricultural products can be grown while providing suitable habitat for birds, and also benefiting the local community. Specifically I will collect data about the presence, health, and movements of birds across a mosaic of different coffee and forest sites. By combining what we know about the birds with very detailed vegetation and satellite measurements, we can identify the most effective solution for saving wildlife and for growing coffee. There are hundreds of migratory and resident bird species that live within my study site. I collect data on each species I encounter while focusing effort on the Wood Thrush and Golden-winged Warbler, two species of special conservation concern. To collect the data required, I observe birds at random points across the landscape, briefly capture birds to check their health condition, and track their movements with radio telemetry.
This study is being conducted in collaboration with a local coffee cooperative and within the context of an international education and research collaborative that includes universities in Massachusetts, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Through these collaborations, this work will directly promote awareness of conservation issues and sustainable agricultural practices among coffee farmers throughout the region.
Why this matters and should be exciting to backers
What if we could produce coffee in a carbon neutral way while providing more income for local farmers and a high quality habitat for birds and other wildlife? Through my research and a partnership with the Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI) this vision can become reality. Fair trade, organic, and sustainably grown coffees are beginning to claim a larger share of the coffee market. What these certifications mean for local farmers and wildlife can be difficult to determine. The results from this ongoing study will provide a scientific basis for growing coffee that benefits wildlife while enabling farmers to increase yields and the overall value of the coffee they produce.
At my study site in central Honduras, a local coffee cooperative is already on a path to a sustainable future. They focus on producing organically grown coffee, their coffee beans are being dried using solar power, and their entire processing facility will soon be powered entirely with locally produced biofuels. This is a shining example of how a more sustainable future is possible. Through the collaborative efforts of local cooperatives, non-profit groups, and universities, the results from this study have a real potential to create a better future for farmers and wildlife across the globe.
What your money can do
The logistical planning and funds required to successfully implement research in countries like Honduras are significant. I have been very fortunate to have many sources of support in both areas. However, this year my budget is underfunded. I have a devoted team of assistants that have agreed to join me for 3 months of intense field work. Your tax deductible donation will provide essential field equipment, allow us to analyze feathers collected in Honduras, and help fund public outreach events with local schools. While the funding goal of this project will provide the bare minimum for our next field season, any funds received in excess of this amount will significantly increase our ability to maximize our data collection and public outreach efforts.
Specifically funds will first be applied towards:
1. Laboratory analysis of feather samples collected from Wood Thrushes. This data is necessary to determine sex and other indicators of local habitat quality.
2. Basic art supplies and instructional support for an educational program designed to expand local awareness about the importance of birds and other native wildlife.
3. Basic field supplies including rope, supply bags, tools, and additional hardware
Any additional funding will support the purchase of radio transmitters, additional field support, and an extended field season.
With so little known about ecosystems in the tropics, the opportunity for new discoveries is limitless. In fact much of the data we collect will be new to science. Hundreds of bird species occupy the mountains where I work; we have already collected data for 120 species within the study site.
This is the first ornithological study organized in this part of Honduras. We have already observed some interesting patterns of bird community composition and behavior. We are also beginning to understand the important role that vegetation structure and diversity have on the health of birds and other wildlife. Our ultimate goal is to describe the influence that local vegetation and forests have on the health of both migratory and resident birds within agricultural landscapes. This critical data will allow farmers to incorporate those features into their practices.
Currently I am pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. For the past five years I have dedicated my life to promoting sustainable living and development in both West Africa and Central America through service and research. During that period I organized various projects through the Peace Corps in Niger and participated in 6 ecological field studies throughout the Americas. I am entering my third year of independent research in the mountains of Northern Honduras. I also have a background in engineering and information technology; I am well positioned to harness the power of technology to produce more robust and manageable results from my research. Click on "About Me" below to read more about my background and passions. Thank you!
A special thanks to everyone who has made a pledge so far! We have passed the half way mark and with 25 days remaining we are well on our way to reaching our goal! Right now my busy semester of classes is winding down and in a couple weeks I will start packing my bags for Honduras. Again, thanks so much for your support!