Kudos to doctoral students Mariana Valencia-Mestre and Senay Yitbarek who have won Rackham International Research Awards.

Valencia-Mestre received $6,500 for her project titled “Cattle ranchers, agricultural regimes and biodiversity in the tropics.” She is working with her advisor, Professor John Vandermeer.

Valencia-Mestre will spend this summer in the Republic of Panama and will explore options in other areas across Mesoamerica. Her interests lie in the syndromes of production in agriculture and specifically in cattle ranching systems across Mesoamerica and how farmers that produce beef and/or milk manage trees within their farms.

“It is well known that cattle ranching across the Neotropics comes at a cost to the forest,” Valencia-Mestre said.  “However, there are different styles of cattle ranching that range from treeless pastures to silvopastoral systems with rich tree canopies. We propose that these different styles of tree management across cattle ranching systems are socioecological regimes."

She will spend the summer searching for different styles of cattle ranching management across Panama, measuring tree cover across farms, and will begin to design farmer perception interviews. Valencia-Mestre’s research seeks to identify the extent of different styles of tree management across Mesoamerica and drivers of the various styles. Her aim is to describe different styles using an index of agricultural intensification based on tree cover.
Senay Yitbarek received $6,000 for his project, “Metastatic invasions of the little fire ant W. auropunctata.” Yitbarek’s advisor is also Vandermeer.

Yitbarek is investigating the invasion dynamics of the little fire ant Wasmannia auropunctata, considered to be one of the world’s top 100 invasive pests. “This species is not considered to be an invasive in its native range, but drastically reduces ant biodiversity outside of its native range,” Yitbarek said. “The question of why this is the case continues to be perplexing to many ecologists. By combining theoretical aspects of spatial competition, empirical analysis of competitive networks, and field observation in both Mexico and Puerto Rico, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the invasion dynamics associated with W. auropunctata.”

The Rackham Graduate School’s Rackham International Research Awards (RIRA) support doctoral and master’s students conducting degree-related research outside the United States and Puerto Rico. Applicants must have a strong academic record and show outstanding scholarly and professional promise.

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