This award funds a focused international undergraduate/graduate research project in southern Africa that will examine the distribution of aboveground and belowground carbon in both human-influenced and undisturbed savanna ecosystems in South Africa and Mozambique. Southern Africa savannas have evolved over time along with humans, herbivores and fire. However, recent unprecedented changes in dynamic human land use strategies may now be impacting their structure, composition and function. Processes that influence savanna fuel load ultimately impact the nature and composition of the regional atmosphere through the role of biomass burning. There are outstanding questions as to how different disturbances impact the above- and below-ground structure and composition of vegetation in savannas. The field-based research conducted by the students in this project will help clarify the effects of ecological disturbance on the interactions between fire regime and carbon balance as they shape the structure and function of savanna ecosystems.

The PI and his collaborators from the U.S. and southern Africa will supervise yearly research teams composed of five students from the United States and two from southern Africa. A primary goal of the project is the production of student-generated, peer-reviewed manuscripts that involve both the U.S. and southern African participants. Results relevant to the sustainable management of these ecosystems will be presented to local and regional scientists and interpreted for policy makers. Students will be educated not only in the development and implementation of international ecological research, but on ethical conduct, cultural context and best practices. The experiential learning and cross-fertilization of ideas and approaches that the U.S. students gain from their interactions with southern African colleagues are likely to have a lasting influence in their development as scientists.

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University of Virginia
United States
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