…how many scientists can say that they have carried (mostly with the aid of a donkey) a 40 lb photosynthesis machine around the mountains of Haiti?

Adventures in Photosynthesis; or Let There Be Light


Donkey carrying the LI 6400XT Portable Photosynthesis and Fluorescence System down the mountain from Bois Jolie. [Photo: Mansell Ambrose] 

As I sat here, pouring over the results of my research from the past several weeks, I realized that I haven’t exactly explained what I am doing here, working with Zanmi Kafe. Everyone here is basically involved in the same work, but we all have our own facets of research as well. For example, my colleagues Scott and Geanina are documenting the biodiversity of the agro ecosystems in which our coffee is being grown. Their project will help to provide an understanding of the complex relationships within these systems, which in turn allows us to develop a holistic understanding of natural pest management among other things. My colleague Peter Davis and I, meanwhile, are engaged in a project designed to determine the effects of coffee rust (Hemileia vastatrix) on the health of our seedlings.

For our study, we are inferring seedling health using photosynthesis rates. In order to determine the photosynthesis rates of healthy seedlings and seedlings with rust, we are using a fascinating instrument called a “LI 6400XT Portable Photosynthesis and Fluorescence System,” or “LI-COR” for short. This rather unprepossessing green box, outfitted with many seemingly outlandish attachments and chords, allows us to observe a plant’s respiration and responses to external stimuli in real time. It is an incredible instrument which has allowed us to make some fascinating discoveries, and its application in our study has been a both fruitful and challenging. After all, how many scientists can say that they have carried (mostly with the aid of a donkey) a 40 lb photosynthesis machine around the mountains of Haiti?

Our hope is that the results of our study may be used to increase our understanding of how disease affects our coffee agro ecosystems, and perhaps to increase the efficacy of our treatments of these diseases. This is one aspect of the scientific side of our time here in Haiti. Not only are we forming invaluable ties of friendship and experiencing Haitian culture, we are making discoveries that may truly change how we, and others, view and treat small coffee agro ecosystems, which may be a very effective method of boosting Haiti’s agricultural economy as well as restoring some of the country’s environmental health (see this article ). This is one of so many reasons that I am so proud to be part of this project, working alongside incredible people, and forming some of the greatest experiences of my life.

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