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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI students plan research trip to Costa Rica in June to study mammals living on coffee farms

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Group raising funds for equipment, travel expenses

KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 21, 2005 -- When eight undergraduate students from the University of Rhode Island travel to Costa Rica in June, they’ll enter a world of wildlife unknown to them. It’s also relatively unknown to most biologists.

The students, along with professors Tom Husband and David Abedon from URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences, will spend more than three weeks studying the mammals that live on the many coffee farms in the country. While a great deal of research has been done on the effects of coffee farming on bird life in the region, no one has examined the impact the farms have on mammals.

“Coffee is the second largest traded commodity in the world,” said Husband, “but no one has looked at whether mammals use the habitat on coffee farms, or whether the shade-grown farms are used any differently by the animals than on the sun-grown coffee farms.”

The student researchers – Jeff Backer of East Greenwich, Katheryn Zuromski of Foster, Jessica Redinger of Hope Valley, Michael Feely of Saunderstown, Erin Baxter of Enid, Okla., Amy Gottfried of Stratford, Conn., Kelly Hanks of Aurora, Colo. And Victoria Potucek of Boonton, N.J. -- will wake up early each morning from June 1 to June 26 to check traps and motion-sensing cameras, set new traps, and record and analyze data to determine what mammals live on the farms and surrounding forests. They hope to get hands-on experience with sloths, monkeys, squirrels, mouse opossums, and many others, perhaps even a jaguar or jaguarundi.

“We’re looking at not only what animals are there, but also how they use the farms,” said Gottfried, a 20-year-old wildlife biology major. “Are they using the farms as corridors to get from one place to another? Are the farms an obstruction they face when getting from one habitat to another? There’s lots of questions we hope to answer.”

The URI research team will stay at the La Hilda Farm operated by the Three Generations Coffee Co. in the Costa Rican town of San Pedro de Poas, near the famous Poas Volcano. Since it will be the off-season for farming, they will sleep in the living quarters of the seasonal coffee farmers.

“I wanted to be part of the research team because we will be researching something that hasn’t really been studied before, and our findings will be important in implementing mammal conservation practices in Costa Rica,” Gottfried said. “The project is also very appealing because I will have the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience I could never get in the classroom. The techniques and skills I learn, and working as part of a research team, will be valuable when it comes time to find a job after college.”

The students are responsible for raising funds for their travel expenses, as well as for their share of expenses for research equipment and transportation in Costa Rica. Those interested in supporting the project and contributing toward the cost of this expedition should contact Husband at 401-874-2912.