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Over 11 field seasons, between 1999 and 2010, ornithologist Cagan Sekercioglu trekked through the forests and coffee fields of Costa Rica to study how tropical birds were faring in a changing agricultural landscape. Through painstaking banding of individual birds, Sekercioglu asked whether the expansion of coffee plantations is reducing tropical bird biodiversity.
The answer, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is no. And yes. Sun coffee plantations are able to host a surprising number of bird species, even more if the plantation has some tree cover. But the plantations are not enough to maintain bird biodiversity.
Sides - Coin - Sekercioglu - Agricultural - Habitats
"It's two sides of a coin," Sekercioglu says. "These tropical agricultural habitats that are mostly deforested still maintain large numbers of tropical species. Even small patches of trees can make a difference and help some species. But the flip side of the coin is, in the long term, most of these species are still declining."
The seeds of this project were planted in 1996 when Sekercioglu, then an undergraduate at Harvard University, was studying the effects of logging on tropical bird communities in Uganda. "I wanted to continue that research in grad school," he says, "but I wanted something long term. Not just a quick snapshot, but a multiyear study where I could look at long-term population change."
Studies - Research - Timeline - Graduate - Student
Such long-term studies are rare, partially because of the research timeline of a typical graduate student. Doctoral students in biology may be able to collect four years of data before compiling their research into a dissertation to complete their degree. But Sekercioglu wanted more than four years. To get the long-term trends he wanted, he needed at least six years. Ten would be even better.
With the blessing of his doctoral advisory committee at Stanford University, Sekercioglu set out for Costa Rica in 1999 for the...
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