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K-State Today

August 8, 2022

K-State students learn field ecology techniques in African savanna

Submitted by Jesse Nippert

Eleven Kansas State University students participated in a study abroad course to South Africa from May 15-29.

The field course facilitated the development, execution, analysis and presentation of research projects focused on concepts in savanna ecology. Student-led projects included changes in soil characteristics around termite mounds, habitat preference by antelope of varying body size, predator-avoidance strategies by small mammals, and within-canopy variability in tree physiology. Accommodation and research projects were conducted at the Wits Rural Facility, a field station owned by University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

"Working with the professors to create our own projects helped us to become more independent scientists and understand the benefit of collaboration," said Dawson Christensen, senior in fisheries, wildlife, conservation and environmental biology. "The tools we used in the field are the same as professional ecologists, giving us the essential skills needed to become fully-fledged ecologists."  

In the second week of the course, the students visited a rainforest in nearby Blyde River Canyon, had an immersion experience in a local village and stayed in the world-renowned Kruger National Park. In Kruger Park, students received field instruction on ecology concepts including savanna biogeography, tree-grass interactions, grazer dynamics and fire ecology, from instructors at the Organization for Tropical Studies, K-State and the University of Georgia.

"The diversity of life, including unique animals, plants and the landscape was a breathtaking aspect of the trip that I was not expecting," said Thomas Leihsing, senior in fisheries, wildlife, conservation and environmental biology. "Being immersed in these ecosystems is something that I will not soon forget."

The course instructors were Jesse Nippert and Emily Wedel from the Division of Biology. The opportunity was made possible by the K-State Education Abroad office with support from the National Science Foundation.

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