Learning field methods in plant ecology at the Kruger National Park

Our “Field methods in plant ecology” course took place 17-28 February 2020 at the Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative Campus in Skukuza, Kruger National Park. Course leaders were Steve Higgins (University of Bayreuth, EMSAfrica PI) and Laurence Kruger (Nsasani Trust), and they were assisted by the EMSAfrica/DAAD PhD student Amy Schroeder.

A total of 15 students from South Africa and Germany attended the course, that comprised a series of structured field data collection and analysis exercises, addressing fundamental questions in savanna ecology. The Kruger National Park offers unique opportunities for a hands-on course on field research: data was collected using herbivore exclosures, long-term fire experiments, and environmental gradients. The field exercises were embedded in the strategic adaptive management philosophy that SANParks uses to manage its national parks. Guest lectures by SANParks scientists provided concrete examples of strategic adaptive management in practice, and how this approach simulates an effective dialogue between science and management.

The course employs a ‘slow science’ philosophy where students analyse their data without computers. This allows them to be mindful of the data lifecycle, and promotes creativity and teamwork in summarising and visualising results. After several days of structured field data collection and analysis, the students used their experience to conduct their own field ecological project. This process started with workshopping project ideas, organically forming project groups and then planning and executing the projects and reporting on their findings.

This course is scheduled to take place again in 2021 - follow our course page, or subscribe to the SPACES II courses newsletter at https://www.spaces-training.org/.