This past February and March, SEFS doctoral student Lisa Hannon took advantage of a rare opportunity to combine a research visit to Costa Rica with an intensive field course in Argentina studying hymenopterans, the third largest order of insects, including wasps, bees and ants.
An NSF Graduate Fellow, Hannon works with SEFS Professor Sharon Doty in the Plant Microbiology Lab, and some of her research involves studying agriculturally important microbes associated with sustainable Coffea arabica production. She also is researching how landscape and farmer practices in coffee plantations impact parasitoid wasp communities, which is important for integrated pest management.
Improving the sustainability of coffee production is a huge research area—whether through reducing the reliance on chemical inputs (e.g. fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides or pesticides), or by maintaining natural areas to provide habitat for native pollinators or parasitoid wasps. Globally, more than 100 million people depend on coffee production for subsistence; in Mexico and Central America alone, the production and processing of coffee employs approximately 8.5 million people.
So for the first leg of her trip in Costa Rica, Hannon spent a week meeting with research collaborators and visiting her coffee plantation field sites. “Usually, I am in the Tarrazú Valley during the rainy season, when there is greater biodiversity of bees and wasps,” says Hannon. “My field sites are located in the cloud forests on Costa Rica’s Pacific slope, so we typically receive three meters of rain while I’m there sampling. So traveling this year during the dry season to see the coffee harvest was a nice change of pace for me.”
For the second leg, Hannon then continued south to the highlands of northwest Argentina to participate in a professional hymenopteran course, known as HYM Course, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution. She joined a group of 20 researchers selected to attend; most were from North, Central and South America, but some traveled from as far away as Australia and Angola. Course participants included other graduate students, university professors, laboratory technicians and even two curators from the American Natural History Museum in New York. They received highly specialized training in identifying parasitic and predatory wasps, sawflies, wood wasps, bees and ants—all in a novel and unfamiliar location—and they learned taxonomic identification, advanced field collection methods and specialized preservation techniques.
“This course was a wonderful opportunity not only to receive individualized instruction from expert researchers, but also to meet potential collaborators for future projects,” says Hannon. “I feel very fortunate for being selected to attend.”
Photos © Lisa Hannon.