The first big challenge was the rain. In Haiti, it rains every afternoon around 4 PM. And they are no ordinary rain events, but buckets of rain each time. Our beetle traps had to stay out for 48 hours. We created a tarp to cover the traps but without fail, each time we returned to collect them they were overflowing with water. The next challenge was the bait we were using for both the beetle and butterfly traps. And the next challenge was that animals on the farm would eat our bait. It was challenge after challenge that we had to work through, and at the end of our time here, we did not collect as much data as we had planned.
Last summer taught both Scott and I an important lesson in research: that often the first time around is a trial and error process that is used to inform more adequate methods based on the circumstances. We spent part of our spring semester this year reading more papers and contacting experts in the field about methods. And we came prepared this year.
This year we decided to focus our study primarily on ants as some ants are known to be predators of certain coffee pests while others are known to have a mutualistic relationship with coffee pests. Understanding the ants present on the farms and the interactions is critical in maintaining the health and survival of the coffee. In order to collect a diversity of ants we used different baits such as peanut butter, honey, tuna, and potted meat. To solve the problem with the rain, we purchased small solo cups with lids and punched large enough holes on the sides for the ants to go through. And we had much success! We collected in the high hundreds new ants as well as new ant species. We have perfected our routine at each farm and have gotten our study down to a record-breaking time!
Research takes time, much trial and error, and patience. In Haiti especially, it takes more of all of those. Learning these critical and unavoidable parts of research will continue shaping us as scientists.