So, last week I got a call on Thursday afternoon from a new research partner asking if I’d like to take their place on an upcoming trip to Africa. Kenya and South Africa specifically. He didn’t even get to finish his sentence before I said yes. I feel a little guilty because it (a) throws the plant work off schedule and (b) I’m replacing the ecological ethicist who threw out his back. However, it puts me in a position to do some pilot research for a new project that could lead to something else in the conservation/climate research nexus. This new research project, Saving Africa’s Vultures, synthesizes what is known about why vulture populations are declining in eastern and southern Africa to develop tools to improve vulture protection through societal/behavioral and legal means.
I hadn’t intended to instigate a whole new project this summer but that is exactly what is happening. This afternoon I drafted questions for a semi-structured interview with social network questions. My next step is to get feedback from my research partners and write my IRB application. Based on the overarching research goals, my interviews will be aimed at (1) building/strengthening the current vulture conservation network; (2) identifying/ranking known vulture species stressors; and (3) identifying tools for vulture conservation education. This last one will be interesting as vultures are definitely not the first thing people think of in terms of conservation despite their important ecosystem role as scavengers/decomposers. They are not pretty or cute or cuddly. My work will also focus on interviewing conservation experts; learning about their environmental knowledge and networks for sharing knowledge and resources.
I expect the next month or so to be a mad scramble as I read up on vultures and prepare for new interviews with experts. I don’t want to sound like an idiot. At the same time I will forge ahead with my plant data. In all it completes the circle of life – from primary producers to consumers to decomposers.
In foraging online, I’ve discovered a number on links to plant identification and information sites. In the effort to share I have posted these links below. As you can see, it isn’t an exhaustive list. These are materials that I and my student research assistants use regularly to check spellings of scientific names, determine if native or not, and verify growth form. Some of the sites give additional information about range, habitat, and use value to humans and other species.
World Collections Websites
- Kew Gardens – Plants of the World online – robust use section, particularly for medicines. Not a big focus on common names.
- Global Plants on JSTOR – digitized global collections, historic materials, specimens, herbaria
- iDigBio – Integrated Digitized Biocollections Homepage – more than just plants, although plants dominate the media records
- iDigBio Portal – online specimen record access
- Pl@ntUse – online wiki with over 50,000 plant species
- Botanic Garden Meise – BR Herbarium Catalogue – the herbarium has three main geographical divisions, the African (Central Africa focus), Belgian and General Collections
- Missouri Botanical Gardens
Southern Africa Focused Websites
- South African National Biodiversity Institute
- Flora of Mozambique
- Flora of Zimbabwe
- Flora of Botswana
- Plants of Namibia (Oxford)
- Flora of Zambia
- Swaziland’s Flora Database
- Dressler, S., Schmidt, M. & Zizka, G. 2014 + [continously updated]. African Plants – A Photo Guide
If you know of or regularly use other related websites, please send along. I would be happy to add to our list.
by Maria Sharova
As the end of the semester draws to a close, I am once again sitting down to try to map out my progress and figure out next steps. Over the course of the semester I have had meetings with a variety of amazing faculty who have told me about their research, I have selected my own methods for comparison, and I have selected my photos.
My methods for comparison include change in land use, change in sea level, erosion, and industry development. These speak to visual changes in environmental processes. Additionally, many pictures in the African photo database I accessed have descriptive metadata that provides, specific dates, photographers, and locations that could be further researched to locate a more specific modern photographic example.
I will compare the 8 historic images to pictures taken within the last 5 years to assess environmental change. My project will explore the applicability of using images collected from social media sites like Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram for citizen science of environmental change. Pictures posted online could be used in a variety of manners in future research endeavors. For example, there is potential to link social media to remotely sensed images or ground truthing. If changes in sea level could be tracked in pictures taken by tourists and supplemented with remotely sensed images taken over time, this could provide a more accurate and holistic view of change occurred. The potential to use photographs as a dataset in citizen science research projects is realistic, cost effective, and could provide valuable information.
Before the start of Spring Semester I will also need to finalize a list of committee members that will proof read my thesis, be present at my thesis defense, and finally provide final suggestions for edits that I will make to my paper.
I’m feeling really excited (and nervous) about my project! It’s coming together nicely, and I have to credit Dr. Shaffer with being the most amazing advisor ever! She’s been so patient with me and I definitely would not have gotten as far as I have without her expertise. I still have a lot of work to get through. I have to finish selecting my modern photographs, complete my background research on each photograph, actually write up my findings, and start thinking about future directions for the research (is there potential to use Landsat images of erosion and coastlines to study visual change in the environment over time?) Here’s to health, happiness, and getting this project done in the New Year!
Maria submitted this on 15 December 2015. My apologies for the late posting. ~J.Shaffer
by Maria Sharova
These first few weeks of school have been crazy—between family issues, the GRE, and my amazing new internship at the U.S. Global Change Research Program, I am finding it difficult to sit down and flush out ideas for longer than an hour at a time. But I have made some progress!
When I left off my Independent Project last semester, I had compiled a series of 10 photos from Angola and Mozambique depicting visual change over time—whether it be environmental, political, or economic. This semester, I am working on my honors thesis, which involves the same set of images, but with a different set of questions in mind. I will still be doing a comparison of old pictures to modern images, but I will be focusing on landscape photographs rather than portraits. The main idea I hope to address in my research is that of pictures being a legitimate source of information (in the way that quantitative measurements are). Can images created for non-research purposes be used as scientific evidence for identifying and quantifying environmental change? What changes can be measured based on images we have?
With this set of questions in mind, there are already several aspects of my research that I would like to identify more thoroughly. I would like to solidify my methods for comparing the images I select. What exactly will I be looking for between the old photograph and the new photograph? Erosion? Change in water? Change in crop yield? Change in crop type? This will of course depend on the images I select. Furthermore I would like to identify methods of quantifying that change. Will I be literally taking a ruler to the picture? Most likely not, but how will I quantify change in the photographs? Unlike last year, I am not confining myself to a specific country—instead I am working with the full range of images I have.
I have a few meetings set up with other faculty members who have done some visual anthropology, and I am excited to discuss their methods and projects with them. My project, I feel will be significantly different, since I am viewing my analysis as a form of citizen science, without the citizens knowing that they are participating in research. Social networks and social media can be regarded as an untapped data source. People are constantly taking pictures of the places they visit, so developing a methodology for using those photographs to analyze changing climates could be very interesting and useful to scientists. Here’s to hoping the next few weeks go well!
by Bryan Gerard
As the summer ended and the fall semester began, it was time to begin our research with Dr. Shaffer. The research team began to meet to discuss the direction of the study and learn what would be expected in this lab. During the first two weeks we were provided the opportunity to practice both inductive and deductive coding. However, this past Friday, 9/26, we decided to break up the research into several projects (Wildlife Conflict, Health, Indicators of Change, and Agency — also Local Mapping of the Social-Ecological System and GIS). Dr. Shaffer differentiated these projects to enable the research assistants to gain experience in fields that interest us. More importantly, the various projects, while seemingly diverse, also exemplify the interconnectedness of the challenges in an area experiencing a plethora of social and environmental changes.
However, before we focus on the varied projects, we are all coding interviews about wildlife conflict. This has become a major issue for the local population and Mozambican government as elephants from the neighboring reserve have wreaked havoc on the local community, destroying crops, homes, and in several cases killing humans. This work will then be used to write a report for the Mozambican government – which will ideally highlight where and how to make changes.