Congratulations to Justin Dohn and Andrew Tredennick, two SFS alumni who have received prestigious research grants to study the ecology of the West African savanna.
“Ever since attending SFS Kenya I had a strong desire to return to Africa for graduate work in ecology,” said Andrew Tredennick Kenya Fall ‘05. He made it happen this summer, when he headed to Mali as a graduate student at Colorado State University and NASA Earth and Space Science Fellow.
“My field work revolves around answering the question, ‘Does fuel wood harvesting play a significant role in structuring savanna ecosystems?’” said Andrew. Previously, scientists have gathered data on how fire, rainfall, and grazing by animals have affected the abundance of grasses and trees. “I am proposing that the harvesting of wood for fuel may also play a role in determining the amount of woody biomass in a savanna system.”
“Some 70-90% of people in Mali depend solely upon wood to meet their energy demands, so this research is not only interesting from a theoretical perspective, but will also add to our understanding of a highly important yet under-studied natural resource,” he said.
“SFS gave me the confidence to pursue research in Africa, but I think the most important thing I gained was a deep appreciation of the linkages between human societies and the environment,” added Andrew. “This is especially so in developing regions where human economies are almost always inextricably linked to the surrounding environment. Along with this appreciation came the insight that ecological systems do not exist in a vacuum and that any detailed analysis of an ecological system must inherently involve the consideration of human use.”
In Mali, Andrew works with fellow SFS alumnus Justin Dohn Australia Spring ’08, who is also a graduate student at Colorado State and has received a grant from the National Science Foundation for his research.
“I will be integrating data obtained from field experiments in Mali into a comprehensive model that aims to explain the competitive and facilitative interactions of savanna trees and grasses, and how these interactions change along a rainfall gradient. My work will ultimately contribute to our understanding of and our ability to predict savanna vegetation dynamics in the face of changing anthropogenic and climatic disturbance regimes,” said Justin.
Justin’s path to Colorado State and Mali began at the 2009 Ecological Society of American meeting in Albuquerque, where he presented his SFS research on invasive lantana vines and interviewed with his current Ph.D. advisor.
“My field experience in Australia is the source of my passion and enthusiasm for ecological research. Our work in Australia demonstrated firsthand how increased knowledge of the processes and functions governing ecological systems can directly impact the livelihoods of surrounding populations as well as the integrity of the ecosystem. Sustainable management of natural systems informed by ecological research continues to be a driving motivation for my professional career, and this motivation has its roots in my experiences in Australia with SFS.”
“If I were to choose a particular event from the SFS program that stands out in my memory,” said Justin, “perhaps the most notable is the grueling all-day hike through dense rainforest that I took near the end of the semester. As I ascended through the forest and into the alpine cloud forest ecosystems, I remember marveling for the first time at my increased awareness of the environment around me. I could name the species of the trees through which I climbed; I could identify a vast array of birds by their early morning calls; I was able to spot deeply camouflaged snakes and reptiles where before they would pass unnoticed; I was able to peel countless leaches from my ankles and legs without a second thought. I felt truly at home in the forest, a feeling one might describe as spiritual and one that I had never experienced before and will never forget again.”