Specialty Coffee in Costa Rica: Effect of Environmental Factors and Management Options on Soil Chemistry and Microbial Composition
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In the Central Valley of Costa Rica in the Department of Heredia, I investigated the soil chemical properties and microbial communities under four native shade tree species in a coffee agroforestry system. In the second year of the study, Effective Microorganisms, a microbial inoculant, was applied to examine its effect on soil chemistry. The shade tree species included in this study were Anonna muricata L., Diphysa americana Mill., Persea americana Mill., and Quercus spp. L. Plots measured 20 by 30 meters and were replicated three times for each shade tree species except for Quercus spp., which only had two replications. Twelve composite soil samples were collected from each plot in 2008 and again in 2009, and twelve composite foliar samples were taken from the coffee plants in each plot in 2008. The results of this study indicated that the species of native shade tree had a significant effect on soil ammonium-N, nitrate-N, total dissolved nitrogen and magnesium. Sun or shade position had a significant effect on dissolved organic nitrogen and dissolved organic carbon. The species of native shade tree also had a significant effect on the composition of soil microbial communities. PLFA analysis revealed a significant difference in soil fungi abundance in soil samples from Annona plots relative to those from Persea plots. Effective microorganisms in combination with the tree species, as well as in combination with species and sun or shade position, had a significant interaction effect on soil ammonium-N, with the EM-treated plots showing higher concentrations of soil ammonium-N. There was a significant positive correlation between soil pH and foliar calcium, as well as soil dissolved organic nitrogen and foliar %N, at p< 0.01. This study suggests that Quercus spp. is a tree species that may help to regulate the cycling of nitrogen in the coffee agroecosystem. Annona muricata appears to inhibit the action of some fungal species and may reduce the occurrence of fungal pathogens in the soil, although the present study did not explore this issue. Although Diphysa americana is a legume, it does not appear to increase the amount of soil nitrogen in the vicinity of the coffee plants themselves. All four tree species in this study improve coffee soils by increasing soil concentrations of dissolved organic nitrogen and dissolved organic carbon. Coffee yield data and long term observations on the health of the coffee plants would clarify whether one of these species is particularly beneficial, from an agronomic perspective, for the productivity of this coffee agroecosystem.
microbial community composition
native tree species
Sturm-Flores, Linda (2012). Specialty Coffee in Costa Rica: Effect of Environmental Factors and Management Options on Soil Chemistry and Microbial Composition. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from