Guest blogger Alex Cole from Swansea University talks about receiving the Society of Biology Travel Grant to attend a field course in Madagascar
Madagascar’s dry deciduous forests are highly threatened and unfortunately Kirindy forest qualifies as one of these endangered forests. In previous years logging has taken place in Kirindy, threatening many of its species, including endemic inhabitants. Baobab trees are keystone mutualists of dry forests, providing important food sources for numerous animal species yet; little work has been carried out on the dispersal of their seeds.
After completing my BSc zoology degree at Swansea University, I wanted to build on my academic background and gain field experience for a career in conservation biology. The Tropical Biology Association field course in tropical ecology and conservation was an ideal opportunity. I was thrilled be to accepted on a course held in Kirindy, Madagascar.
Students from Europe and Africa attended the course and were taught by lecturers from across the globe. We had lively discussions, inspiring debates and interesting questions about science and culture.
Being in Kirindy enabled me to gain valuable field experience. One of the most enjoyable was radio tracking sifaka. With practice, I was able to hone my skills and track down a group of sifaka before following one individual for a behavioural analysis exercise. The sifaka in the picture is one I’d tracked. I also helped assemble harp traps and mist nets as part of bat and bird trapping demonstrations.
In an independent field project a student from Mauritius and I aimed to determine the fate of seeds from the endemic Fony baobab (Adansonia rubrostipa). Using specialised UV equipment and a motion detector camera we found an interaction between the Malagasy giant rat (Hypogeomys antimena), the bastard big-footed mouse (Macrotarsomys bastardi) and the experimental Fony baobab seeds. These observations raised questions about secondary dispersers and the distances baobab seeds can be dispersed. Topics for further investigations.
The broad spectrum of topics have given me a great insight into conservation and supporting field techniques. Receiving a Society of Biology Travel Grant covered some of my costs making it possible to take up this fantastic opportunity.
I am now studying for an MSc in environmental biology: conservation & resource management at Swansea University. I am passionate about fieldwork and really looking forward to starting my research project in June with the hope of pursuing a career in conservation after completing my master’s degree.
The deadline for the next round of grants is 29th March 2013.