Junior Kerry Snyder spends winter in Nicaragua conducting research

Kerry Snyder
Kerry Snyder

Staff Reporter

Coffee is a big staple in many college kids’ regimen, but for Kerry Snyder, her interest in coffee is less rooted in drinking it.

Snyder, a junior wildlife conversation major, is more interested in the agricultural aspect of coffee. Over the winter, Snyder spent five weeks in Nicaragua identifying trees that supported Neotropical migratory birds in shade coffee farms.

When sun-grown coffee plants are planted, there is a great loss of forests that occurs. The advantage of shade-grown coffee is there is no issue with having to cut down trees, Snyder said, although there are fewer yields with this type of plant.

“We were trying to prove that not all shade coffee is created equal”, Snyder said. “The coffee industry is a very large one, so there is a lot of potential for habitat loss to grow coffee so we thought ‘How can we continue to grow coffee that promotes conservation?’”

Snyder said her interest in agriculture started at a young age by growing up on farms. She is applying her knowledge of agriculture to conservation and working with agroecology, which uses ecological processes in agricultural production systems. Her future goal is to work for a conservation organization that works abroad, Snyder said.

Snyder was able to do her research by being an environmental scholar at Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN). DENIN focuses on interdisciplinary environmental research and education, said Jeanette Miller, associate director of DENIN.

“DENIN brings people from different fields, such as social sciences, natural sciences and physical sciences, to work on important environment problems,” Miller said. “It’s very cool and exciting.”

The DENIN Scholars Program is a paid undergraduate research opportunity open to all majors through an application process. As a DENIN Scholar, the students are mentored by a faculty member interested in the same research from the fall semester through part of spring, culminating in a final project, Miller said.

“Kerry was chosen for the Scholars Program because her research could be high impact and very significant,” Miller said. “We look for people with a balance of articulation and enthusiasm for the problem.”

When it comes to the type of research and location for which it is conducted, Miller said there are no limits so far.

“Most students stay on campus to do their research, so it was unusual that Kerry went abroad,” Miller said. “It just shows how creative you can be with the research and how creative she is.”

Snyder said she approached entomology professor Doug Tallamy as her mentor after Snyder’s father had met Tallamy at a conference.

Photo Courtesy: Kerry Snyder
A coffee plant with beans on it. The seed inside of the cherry is dried and roasted in order to be made into coffee grounds.

When it came time to decide where the research would take place, the choice was a easy, Snyder said. She had connections in Nicaragua, and Tallamy and Desiree Narango, a PhD student of his, had connections to Robert Rice from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in Washington, D.C.

Rice had previously done research in Nicaragua and he, along with Narango, accompanied Snyder on her research trip, Snyder said.

“Dr. Tallamy and I had been discussing ideas in tropical areas, so when we got in contact with Kerry, she fit in as a nice match,” Narango said. “When I first talked to Kerry, I thought ‘She is a perfect fit!'”

During the five weeks in Nicaragua, Snyder said she split her time between being alone living with a host family and with Narango on different farms, with Rice being with them for a few days.

In the preliminary stage of her research trip, Snyder said she had to learn how to identify birds and the trees the avians used. She traveled to different farms which were divided into many plots and observed, she said.

“We took a tree inventory, the trees that were more abundant probably had more birds, and compared the tree use versus availability and if it was in proportion,” Snyder said.

Meeting and interacting with people in Nicaragua were among Snyder’s favorite moments, she said. On one particular trip, the group ended up stumbling upon a different farm where they all became acquainted with a farmer, Snyder said.

“The farmer was hilarious but kind of hard to understand,” Snyder said. “He was very passionate to show us his farm, he let us into his house, gave us coffee and talked for a while. I love how open the people were to us.”

Narango said the local farmers and families were incredibly friendly, very open about information and were happy to give their perspectives.

Snyder said she wishes she had talked to more farmers, but it was hard due to the fact she did not know as much Spanish as she would have liked. She also would have liked to have more time to work on things, she said.

kerry in farm_opt
Photo Courtesy: Kerry Snyder
Kerry Snyder heading through a farm in Nicaraga. Some farms had a wide variety of trees while other farms had no variety at all.

In regards to her future plans with her research, Snyder said she is thinking about going back to do her senior thesis or master’s degree. Snyder said she would be open to going to other countries as well to continue the research.

“It’s rare to meet undergrads interested and engaged in doing such good with and research,” Narango said. “Kerry has a lot of potential and will go places, especially in the agroforestry field and she could really make a name for herself in that arena if she wanted to.”

Agroforestry deals with farms that incorporate both forest and crops, which has a lot of growing interest, Narango says.

Narango said she was very glad to have been with Snyder during the research trip.

“She’s extremely intelligent, very motivated, very caring and you can tell she wants to make a difference,” Narango said. “Some people are very science for the sake of science, but Kerry is science for the sake of change.”

Being in Nicaragua and dealing with shade coffee farms, Snyder found her coffee-drinking habits to be different than when she was at home, drinking it every day because of its better quality, she said.

“Coffee plants are like people,” Snyder said. “You have to take care of them and treat them right.”

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