A Team Approach to Global Conservation
Last year, six students from UI spent their summer in southern Ecuador. Through a grant funded by the National Science Foundation, undergraduate and graduate students spent eight weeks conducting field research in and around the city of Loja. Their work was focused on monitoring terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity of plant and animal species and the attitudes of local citizens about environmental concerns.
A new team of students will continue this project during the summer of 2017. Interested parties will apply to participate in the fall of 2016 and faculty will make their selections based upon a range of criteria including Spanish-speaking skills, their potential to continue research projects and their area of academic study. The selection team will also be careful to select students who appear to be flexible and resilient; living and working in a developing country can be challenging.
This project is in collaboration with students and faculty from the Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL). CNR faculty members Lisette Waits, David Roon and Frank Wilhelm, as well as UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences professor Nilsa Bosque-Perez, have been helping the UTPL faculty develop their graduate program in Tropical Ecology and Biodiversity and have spent time teaching in Loja.
“One of our goals is to build research capacity for our partners in Ecuador,” said Roon. “The Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja is establishing itself as a regional powerhouse in natural resource conservation and they are working hard to increase their research publication rate. These collaborations really help.”
Sarah Olsen was one of two graduate students on the UI team last summer. She is a social scientist and her focus during her stay in Loja was surveying community members regarding their access to services such as water and sewer and how they feel about environmental issues. With assistance from undergraduate student Amaya Amigo, she found that all those surveyed were concerned about the availability of water. Community members who don’t have access to basic services were less likely to be worried about what was happening in areas that they don’t feel affect them personally.
“People in Loja have many concerns, with water being just one,” said Olsen. “Improving roads and sewer systems were more important than water quality on average. This may mean that residents have less incentive to improve stream water quality unless it is directly used for consumption.” Olsen will use her work in Loja as the basis of her master’s thesis in Water Resources. Leontina Hormel, an associate professor of Sociology in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, will act as her advisor. Hormel also spent time in Loja last summer.
In addition to the community surveys, many other aspects of this research were captured.
• Graduate student Laura Waksman worked nights inventorying the amphibian population of streams.
• Undergraduate student Taylor Rogers performed Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping of the research area.
• Undergraduate Laura Young spent her time in Loja categorizing plant species and is currently in the process of building an online species library for future researchers to use.
• Undergraduate Savannah Kollasch was the team’s scientific modeling specialist.
All shared a common goal of weaving together a story of how to promote conservation and sustainability in an area with some of the world’s highest biological diversity.
“Through this project, we are producing a generation of student scholars who can go on to represent the University of Idaho as leaders in international research and integrated conservation,” said Roon. “We are creating a model for the future.”