19/11/21

Field season re-starts with the Plant Ecology Course in Skukuza

The course ‘Field Methods in Plant Ecology’ focuses on southern African savanna ecosystems. It takes place in the unique setting of the Kruger National Park at the Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative (https://tropicalstudies.org/portfolio/skukuza-research-station/). This was the second time that the course was run under EMSAfrica and the fourth repetition of the course overall.

Course leaders were Steve Higgins and Amy Schroeder from the University of Bayreuth/EMSAfrica and Immanuel Zwane and Laurence Kruger from the Nsasani Trust.

The course provides students unique field-based, experiential learning opportunities and an engagement with peers, academics, and field experts. Half of the 2021 students arrived from the University of Bayreuth, half from South African partner institutes. One of the most important aspects of the programme is the interaction and exchange between the students and between the students and the senior scientists. The students are divided into mixed groups for the fieldwork, ensuring that a great deal of cultural exchange happens during the course. This results in a broadening of perspective, exchange in aspirations and a development of a peer network. In addition, the students work closely with local experts providing a richer academic experience, as well as establishing the potential for future collaborations for continued studies or research.

Given the scarcity of funding for field-based courses, this is the first opportunity for many participants to learn practical field-skills. Students acquire valuable skills in engaging in vegetation ecology:- including determinants of plant distribution, community ecology, fire and herbivore ecology and functional ecology of savanna plants.

Without the distraction of computers and complicated data analyses, students learn about the fundamentals of vegetation ecology from first principles and how to apply these to real world conservation challenges. Students share the responsibilities of the teaching. Each group takes responsibility of the teaching of a theme and, under the guidance of the lecturers, run the module for a day. Each day is capped with a brief analysis and presentation of the data.

As before, the 2021 course was a huge success, in spite of the Covid-restricted circumstances. Big thanks to everyone involved!

 

The best place to learn about ecology is in the field. (© Laurence Kruger)
Introductory lectures into the ecology of savannas. (© Laurence Kruger)
Post-fieldwork laboratory work. (© Laurence Kruger)
(© Laurence Kruger)
(© Laurence Kruger)
Students presenting the findings of their independent research project. A key peer to peer learning mechanism is to have students critique their colleagues work, in so doing learning from each other. (© Laurence Kruger)