Capstone Projects

Lucia Tilson
Washington State University
African Ecology and Conservation– Fall 2023
Collecting soil samples!

After absorbing every bit of information available to us in Kruger National Park for the last 3 months, we OTS students have quite a few more questions than we have answers. The final capstone projects of the African Ecology & Conservation (AEC) fall 2023 course are all chosen, directed,

On our way to the burn plot to collect soil samples!

and conducted by students in groups of three to four to answer our most burning questions about savanna ecology. Our three final capstone studies examine 1) microplastic presence in soil, 2) soil microfauna, and 3) abiotic characteristics of soil. All three groups decided to study soil in experimental burn plots which meant that our fieldwork essentially employed three completely different, very precise, yet complicated methods to collect and scrutinize dirt.

Heading back to SSLI with our soil samples!
Hard at work in the library!

Each capstone project group first went to the burn plots to inspect and gather their dirt. This occurred over five fieldwork days which were interspersed with leopard-ridden game drives and laughter-filled movie nights. Depending on the premise of the study, the groups were given access to the Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative and Scientific Services lab spaces to further process their samples. Whether we were density-separating soil, centrifuging tubes, or squinting to count particles under a microscope, everyone was quite toasty in Skukuza’s 40°C heat. To avoid the complete toasting of OTS students, our instructors were very kind to drive us to swim at the pool and buy cold refreshments from the park shop each day. Following work in the lab, we statistically analyzed our data to understand the results and implications of the research. Initial reports were drafted and turned

Studying our samples!

in on Thanksgiving Day (we were so grateful), which instructors then gave feedback on for our final draft submissions. Capstone presentations were finally delivered by the students to OTS staff and South African National Parks officials to further undergraduate conservation research within Kruger National Park.

At this point in our semester, the eleven of us have grown very close and I believe we’ll miss each other (and the dirt analysis) immensely when we all return home. It has been incredible to work so closely with such an academically driven group of students and I am forever thankful for the opportunity to study here in South Africa with them. Our outstanding memories of each other and extraordinary encounters with wildlife from this fall are aplenty. This AEC group has participated in some remarkable projects, certainly the coolest science projects I’ve ever engaged with. We endeavor to present our research in this AEC semester’s capstones and highlight how appreciative and fortunate we are to be scholars in this field.

Made some amazing friends!


george stochel
January 7, 2024 0

Nice work.

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