TAPACHULA, Mexico—As an undergraduate, Ivan Monagan started out as a pre-med student. But during his first year in college, he was offered a scholarship to study desert lizard ecology in Arizona.

“I fell in love with it,” said the master’s student in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan. “My adviser was the ideal role model for me at the time.”

He’s spending this summer at the Finca Irlanda coffee plantation in southern Mexico, studying small lizards called anoles, or Anole sericeus. He’s one of six graduate students based at a research station on the farm in the mountains of Chiapas state, near the Guatemalan border.

The students are working with John Vandermeer, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Ivette Perfecto, a professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment. They’ve been researching biodiversity in this coffee-growing region of Mexico for nearly 20 years. 

Monagan is interested in figuring out what kind of a role the lizards play in controlling the coffee berry borer — the biggest insect threat to the coffee crop.

Read the full Global Michigan story and watch a video on the student experience in Mexico


Walking with Ivan Monagan through the coffee fields is like attending a master class in catching lizards. Image credit: William Foreman, Michigan News - International.