Dr. Tara Massad
OTS Resident Lecturer
African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa – Spring 2018
The last ten days of the course have been packed with new skills and challenges. The students spent acouple productive days in the classroom to learn basic statistics and become familiar with the statistical analysis program most used by ecologists. They then moved to the field and the lab for the (much more fun) challenge of doing their first research projects. These are called ‘long-term research projects’ because they contribute valuable data to research SANParks scientists at Kruger may use.
This year students worked on a wide variety of topics which included studying the use of acoustic recording technology to quantify bird diversity, understanding how tourist infrastructure affects reptile communities, looking at the effects of soil and big trees on the recruitment of other plants, understanding how plants defend themselves from insect herbivores via plant chemistry, and surveying ectoparasites on small mammals in cooperation with the park’s disease ecologist.
All this work got the students out into the field and into the lab, and the students’ enthusiasm and dedication to their work was impressive. The bird crew tirelessly rose before dawn for their surveys but was rewarded by early morning sightings of leopard, wild dog, lion, and even an elusive otter. The plant ecologists found themselves held up by an elephant induced traffic jam as a huge herd crossed the road on the way to their field site, and all the groups learned from each other as students shared stories of their favorite parasites and skinks.
Students then turned to analyzing their data and writing up their work, and their collaborative research skills were laudable. They worked late into the night to produce great reports that will help promote SANParks research.