This week The unBalanced ecoLOGist features its first guest blog. Written by Ahmed Siddig and edited only lightly for posting, it re-caps themes of the short-course on the science of biodiversity that Ahmed and I taught in Khartoum, Sudan, earlier this month and sketches a proposal for establishing a long-term ecological research (LTER) program in Sudan.
I just wrapped up an 11-day visit to Khartoum, Sudan, where I co-taught, with my colleague Ahmed Siddig, a six-day intensive short course intended to cover designing reliable biodiversity monitoring studies, basic analysis of the resulting data, and the fundamentals of the R programming language. With approximately six hours available each of the six days (nearly equivalent to the amount of lecture time in an average semester-long course), our initial syllabus included: introductory lectures on data needs about biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa; using biodiversity data to inform environmental policies; sampling design; a morning field exercise to collect biodiversity data on the Shambat campus of the University of Khartoum, in and around the grounds of the Faculty (i.e., Department) of Forestry; a discussion of best practices for data management; basic R (interface, syntax, data entry, manipulations, and exploratory data analysis); and using R for standard ecological statistics applied to biodiversity data (rarefaction and extrapolation, occupancy and detection probability, ordination and classification, and hypothesis testing using regression and analysis of variance). There were also a few skills-building lectures tucked in after hours: success in research and teaching; science communication; and open discussion of how to apply for overseas opportunities.
This seemed like a reasonable schedule and a reasonable goal for a workshop attended by an expected 20 or so M.Sc. and Ph.D. students, junior and senior faculty, and established forestry and wildlife researchers at government agencies. Files would be shared using Dropbox and we would be building scientific capacity among the current generation of young Sudanese researchers and conservationists. Success was assured.
And then our expectations met reality.
It’s been just over a week since I published my World View, “It’s time to get real about conservation” in Nature. The response to this op-ed has been, at least to me, nothing short of astonishing and a bit overwhelming. Individuals have actually commented on it on Nature’s web page, it’s ricocheted around the Twitterverse, and I’ve gotten a handful of new followers and dozens of direct messages and emails thanking me for the catharsis (really!) of writing what others have thought about but haven’t been willing to say aloud, looking for advice on moving into conservation careers, and probing for ways to support conservation activism and activists. A few asked for additional background data, examples of biodiversity triage, and more suggestions for what to do next. So I thought I’d use some plane time between Kunming (China) and Tokyo (Japan) to provide a bit of background on the op-ed, give credit where credit is more than due, and to expand on some of the key points.