Field methods on plant ecology

This course has been postponed due to Covid-19. New dates will be announced as soon as possible

Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative Campus, Skukuza, South Africa

Coordination university:
University of Bayreuth, Germany

SPACES project: EMSAfrica

Target group:
We will be targeting 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.

Additional Information:
The following criteria will be used to select South African participants:

  • Personal motivation letter that articulates how the course will benefit the participant’s development
  • Academic record
  • A supporting letter from an academic mentor
  • South African National Research Foundation’s diversity and gender criteria

South African participants travel, accommodation and basic catering will funded.

Teaching concept and aims:
The course teaches basic field methods for plant ecology. The course provides a series of structured field data collection and data analysis exercises. These exercises expose students to basic methods, however these 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 latter series of exercises expose students to modern workshop methods.

Expected 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

Learning methods:
Field data collection and data analysis exercises, guest lectures, student-led projects.

Course coordinator:
Prof. Dr. Steven Higgins (University of Bayreuth)

Course lead:
Prof. Dr Steven Higgins (University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth), Dr Laurence Kruger (Nsasansi Trust, Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative)