Ecologists take the classroom outdoors

22 February 2010

Botany studentsDigging for information: Students Brittany Arendse, Steve Ingram, Isabelle Giddy and Jason Donaldson excavate roots and examine the soil profile to determine the causes of plant death.

Well before the academic year kicked off officially, students on the third-year ecosystem ecology course were hard at work collecting data and attending lectures in De Hoop nature reserve outside Bredasdorp.

The course, which is run jointly by the Departments of Botany and Zoology, covers the ecology of both marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Students are involved in a wide range of practical activities on topics such as the assembly of intertidal algal and animal communities.

While conducting practicals, lecturers continually supplied students with relevant information about the environments they were in.

"There is something intricate and amazing going on with every organism, that without the lecturer's guidance, you might otherwise overlook," remarked student Jason Donaldson.

In the final few days students worked on their own projects, and were given licence to study almost anything pertaining to the local flora and fauna. This introduction to the challenges of experimental design, data collection and analysis often results in innovative and creative project ideas.

The course continues to be a key part of the ecology undergraduate syllabus.

"Going into the field to do practicals really brings the ecology alive," said student Rogan Fouries. "You can see in front of you the patterns and processes you have just heard about in lectures."

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