Earlier this month Maaike, Katie K. and Katie F., three university students from the United States, arrived at La Hesperia to conduct independent research projects. They have been in Ecuador since August with a total group of 17 students as part of a study abroad program focusing on ecology and conservation. The students come from different universities but all chose this program because of their interests in both the sciences and conservation, and improving their Spanish while experiencing a cultural exchange. Out of their four months traveling around Ecuador, the students will spend one month here at La Hesperia. Already they have visited the Andean mountains, the Amazon, and the Galapagos Islands and have good knowledge of the amazing biodiversity of Ecuador and all its regions. Now Maaike, Katie, and Katie have the opportunity to do their own research in the unique and biologically diverse cloud forest.
A lot of coffee is grown at La Hesperia with plants in all different stages of development. Maaike has been researching this beloved crop. She´s been learning and collecting data in our own coffee fields, as well as visiting other coffee farms in the area. A focus of her study has been evaluating the current state of coffee production at La Hesperia, seeing what the future holds, and how that could relate to international standards and certifications such as USDA Organic, Fair Trade, and UTZ. She says that compared to other South American countries like Peru, Colombia and Bolivia, Ecuador is in the little leagues of coffee production and exportation. Ecuadorian coffee may never be able to rival that of its neighbors, but this could give it a unique opportunity for entering into a more artisanal market where the focus would be centered around quality and craft as opposed to quantity.
Katie K. is studying the white-fronted Capuchin monkeys that are native to the area. She´s working to get as much observation time and general information as possible, specifically concerning their behavior, locations, and eating habits. Down in the town of La Esperie, there is a ´restaurant´ of sorts that feeds bananas to the monkeys. Katie has been visiting this location nearly every day to get good, close-up observations of the monkeys. Many studies have been done on these monkeys, that are classified as an endangered species, in recent years. There are three specific studies that Katie is interested in which were done in the past two years, and she will be able to compare her research with these studies. If she´s lucky enough, she may even find another family of monkeys living at a higher altitude to compare with the current family she´s studying.
An animal even more commonly spotted at La Hesperia is butterflies, and this is what Katie F. is focusing on for her project. So far she´s been observing the butterflies in different parts of the reserve. Her goal is to compare how species, population size, etc. differ depending on the location and habitat such as in pastures, primary forest, and secondary forest. Her research could also show how human activity and manipulation of the land affect butterflies.
It’s fascinating to witness 3 research projects unfolding that are so different from each other. It brings awareness to all the diversity that exists at La Hesperia. Best of luck to Maiike, Katie F. and Katie K. as they finish writing their reports!