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Cycle 9 (2020 Deadline)

Creating knowledge on cocoa pollinators in agroforestry systems of the Dominican Republic for improving plantation management practices

PI: Colmar Serra (, Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra with co-PI Sardis Medrano-Cabral, IDIAF (Instituto Dominicano de Investigaciones Agropecuarias y Forestales)
U.S. Partner: Justin Runyon, U.S. Forest Service
Project Dates: April 2021 - March 2023

Project Overview:
 9-210_Serra group pic
 PEER project team
The Dominican Republic (DR) is a pioneer and leading exporter of organic cocoa, with more than 153,000 hectares cultivated and 85,000 tons produced in 2018. This commodity plays a vital role in the livelihoods of more than 36,000 producers and their families. Little is known about cocoa pollination ecology and services, but insect pollination, which is affected by habitat management, is critical to maximize yields. Cocoa-based agroforestry systems (cocoa AFS) are farmed by intercropping annual and perennial crops with the cocoa trees. In the DR, farmers associate more than 45 plant species with cocoa in heterogeneous patterns, thus creating a variety of habitats for cocoa pollinating insects. However, plant species found in cocoa AFS strongly differ from those found in nearby forest fragments. The main project objective is to understand how both the composition and the efficiency of cocoa pollinators’ communities are affected at the plot level by farmers’ practices and surrounding land uses, in particular forest patches. For this purpose, the project team will sample different cocoa AFS in three main producing areas in the DR, based on a landscape gradient. Identifying the role of each species will allow the researchers to acquire revealing information about their role as pollinating agents, their interactions with other groups, and their habitat requirements in relation with farmers’ practices.

The scientific merit of this project is based on two axes: knowledge generation and dissemination through peer-reviewed publications, to which project partners and researchers are strongly committed. For this purpose, the project is structured in seven work packages that will feed into one another in a chronological and spatial sequence, from landscape to farm, plot, cocoa tree, and finally cocoa flower. Researchers from several leading institutions in the DR (the National Botanical Garden, the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, Center for Agricultural and Forestry Development, the Dominican Institute of Agricultural and Forestry Research, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of the Environment) will collaborate with the U.S. Forest Service to produce high-quality data and reliable knowledge on cocoa pollinating insects. The team will use innovative methodological approaches combining classic laboratory work, field surveys, and field trapping methods with video recording of insects visiting the tiny cocoa flowers. Results will be compared with other studies such as those conducted in Ghana (Adjaloo et al., 2013, 2012).

In terms of local impact, most Dominican cocoa farmers and their families rely only on a few hectares of cocoa fields, and most have to seek additional resources to make ends meet, so increasing yields would be of direct benefit to this population. The project will also promote the preservation and creation of on-farm native habitats. This diversification of farmland will help protect against catastrophic weather events (e.g. flooding by reducing erosion and water run-off) and will conserve native species and ecosystems. The project also includes cocoa farms in the Haiti border region (Bahoruco Province) and will build partnerships, increase economic and climate resilience, and facilitate protection of native habitat in this important area. Because cocoa is grown widely in Latin America, the findings potentially have much broader application.

Summary of Recent Project Activities

During the months of July and August 2022,  two exploratory trips were made to the area of Loma Verde and Castaño, San Cristóbal province, one of the three chosen provinces for the project, with the objective of confirming three forest patches adjacent to the cocoa farms. The team carried out a floristic record on the abundance and diversity of plant species of the vegetation of the patch.  The DBH data of the trees with a diameter greater than 5 cm, were taken and their height was recorded. The georeferenced coordinates of the sampled sites were taken and an estimation of the vegetation cover of the forest was made taking into account the tree and herbaceous stratum. The predominant vegetation of the patches is riparian forest, some of them turning into secondary forests in recovery due to anthropic activities near the patch. A record of the predominant eleven species of nine  families of the sampled forest patches has been established.
During the same period, another project team carried out the final correction of the survey form and sent the survey form to the Executive Director of IDIAF for approval.  In August, field work began in the province of San Cristóbal. In the aforementioned study area, team researchers made a reconnaissance visit to the area and conducted the survey with 5 cocoa producers. In September, two researchers assisted by students working on this project conducted a total of 23 surveys. After the surveys are completed in this area, the team will  begin surveys in the Duarte province.
During the reporting period, four students from the Dominican universities  - PUCMM and UNEV - completed the four main stages of their research protocol in the areas of Loma Verde and Castaño, San Cristóbal province. They assisted the  team by (1) identifying and geolocating three forest patches in the cocoa-producing zone, (2) identified and geolocated nine cocoa plantations along a distance gradient from the three forest patches (3 plantations bordering, 3 plantations at middle distance and 3 plantations far from any forest patch), (3) constructed a grid in the center of each cocoa plantation and mapped each cocoa plant and each species grown in association in that grid, as well as their structural characteristics (total height, canopy shape and size, basal area), (4) took 25 leaf litter samples to complete the .microhabitat characterization in the CENTA laboratory (IDIAF). (5) The students established a digital database to analyze the data in October 2022. Once the identification of microhabitats and their locations are delivered, the SO4 team can start capturing and video-monitoring pollinating insects.
In regards to the goal to evaluate the effects and gains derived from the maintenance of pollinator populations, an exhaustive literature review has been carried out. As a result, the academic frontier on this type of study is focused on the effects between pollinators and productivity. With the first advance of the available data, the possibility of using Data Envelopment Analysis to measure the productivity gains that can be attributable to the presence of pollinators has been identified.
In August, local contacts were re-established for coordination with cocoa producers in Barahona.  A workshop on video monitoring of cocoa pollinating insects was planned to take place during the first week of October.

9-210 Serra interviewing cocoa producers9-210 Serra student sampling
Team of SO2 interviewing a cocoa producer (Emanuel Amarante 2022) Thesis student preparing samples of leaf litter for analysis (Manuel Jiménez 2022)
 9-210_Serra_Cocoa plantation
Cocoa plantation. Photo credit: Colmar Serra

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