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Field methods for plant ecology

This course focuses on basic field methods for plant ecology. It provides a series of structured field data collection and data analysis exercises. These exercises expose students to basic methods, taught in the context of how they can be used to address fundamental questions in savanna ecology. That is, each field activity is linked to a big question in savanna ecology and we use the unique field infrastructure offered by the Kruger National Park (herbivore exclosures, long term fire experiments) to collect data relevant to these questions.

We further use a slow science philosophy where the students analyse all data without the help of computers. This philosophy forces students to be mindful of the data life cycle and promotes creativity and teamwork in summarising and visualising results. Each field exercise is firmly embedded in the strategic adaptive management philosophy which is used authentically by the Kruger National Park.

Guest lectures by SANParks scientists and managers communicate how strategic adaptive management stimulates positive feedbacks between science and management.

The course terminates in a series of exercises where students plan, execute, and report on their own field ecological project. These series of exercises expose students to modern workshop methods.

Learning outcomes

Students who complete this course

• Gain practical experience in ecological field methods relevant for plant ecologists

• Learn to adapt field methodologies and sampling protocols to the field situation and the scientific question being pursued

• Acquire an overview of our current understanding of the ecology of savanna ecosystems

• Experience how research and management interactions are facilitated by the strategic adaptive management philosophy practiced in the Kruger National Park

• Gain experience working and living with students with from different cultural and educational traditions

Target group

The course is mainly aimed at South African students who are on the pathway to a doctoral program in Earth system science, irrespective of whether these students are in bachelor, honours or masters programs.

The Bayreuth University students participating in this course are advanced bachelor (5th semester) students.

19 February to 2 March, 2022

Registration is open at (



Course leaders

Prof Dr Steven Higgins, University of Bayreuth & Dr Laurence Kruger (Nsasansi Trust, Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative)

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