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rebeca de jesus-crespo, costa rica, 2012-2013

Fulbright Year: 2012-2013
Country: Costa Rica
Proposal Type: Research
Proposal Title: Exploring the Role of Shade Trees for Steam Ecosystem Protection in Coffee Agro-Forestry Landscapes
UGA Major/Department: Integrative Conservation and Ecology
Degrees: Doctoral Candidate in Odum School of Ecology
Hometown: Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

Whenever someone in the world enjoys a morning cup of coffee from Costa Rica, he or she may one day have Rebeca de Jesús Crespo to thank.

A doctoral candidate in the Odum School of Ecology, Rebeca’s academic interests have long centered on the conservation of freshwater ecosystems in tropical regions, and she’ll spend her Fulbright year studying sustainable practices for stream protection in coffee farms in her chosen country of study.

“I will be collaborating with the Rainforest Alliance to assess how shade tree density relates to stream bio-integrity in Costa Rican coffee farms,” said Rebeca, who in addition to working in Costa Rica is also evaluating similar ecosystems for cocoa farms in Ghana. “By addressing this, I seek to determine whether shade trees can be used as a way to prevent stream degradation in coffee-growing regions, and if so, what density of shade trees would be optimal to achieve this objective.”

Rebeca, who for her master’s degree studied the effect of urbanization on streams in Puerto Rico, said her work in Costa Rica will be most valuable for her long-term goals, which include the refinement of a stream-monitoring implement she’s developed.

“This will be useful for the development of criteria for coffee land-use management and the protection of streams draining highland agro-ecosystems,” she said. “Additionally, I will be assessing the feasibility of a stream-monitoring tool of my authorship for the long-term assessment of water quality within coffee plantations.”

The sharing of stream-assessment instruments and processes with local landowners and coffee growers is chief among Rebeca’s plans in Costa Rica.

“My experience working with Costa Rican farmers has taught me that I learn as much from them about water conservation as they do from me,” she said. “This exchange of information has turned out to be very productive for addressing my research questions and also for the development of management schemes that account for environmental, as well as socio-economic factors.”

Upon her return from Costa Rica, Rebeca will utilize the data she’s collected to complete her dissertation and publish her findings. She said she aspires to direct a stream ecology laboratory with a focus, through sustainable-use practices, on freshwater conservation.

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