Ethiopia’s church forests

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Hey readers! For those of you who don’t already know why I’m starting a blog, in 10 days I’ll be leaving for a three week research trip to Bahir Dar, Ethiopia! Colgate professor Catherine Cardelùs has given me the amazing opportunity to tag-a-long with a team of 5 professors and two other Environmental Studies (ENST) students to study the ecology of the Ethiopian Church Forests (see the pictures from Google Earth below!).

If you’re like me, you probably have never heard of these forests before, so here’s a brief primer. The Church Forests are almost the only forested land left in Ethiopia. If you were to google “Ethiopian Church Forests,” you would find pages with titles like “Church forests: embattled islands of biodiversity” or “Protecting Ethiopia’s Church Forests, green patches in a parched landscape.” As agriculture and human use has eaten away at the forests in this area of the world, these supposed havens of biodiversity have remained, protected by those inhabiting the Christian Orthodox churches. There are an estimated 350,000 of these churches surrounded by anywhere from 5-300 hectares of forest (1 hectare = 2.4 acres).  While Colgate religion professor Eliza Kent works with the clergy to understand their role in conservation, Professor Cardelùs has enlisted a few students to understand just how biologically viable and diverse the forests are. Some of these forests are protected by fences, some by humans and others by eucalyptus (the leaves of which are poisonous to most animals). Over the course of our twenty day trip, we will collect data and samples from forests representing these types of protection, plus some non- actively protected forests to bring back to Colgate’s labs for analysis. We hope to not only determine how various means of protection are working but also to see how biologically diverse and healthy the forests are as well. By collecting tree data, soil and litter samples and transects, Professor Cardelùs will be able to return to Ethiopia in a year and have a better understanding of the ecological patterns of the Church forests.

As for me, this is not only my first foray into Africa but also into the world of ecology! As a chemistry and ENST double major, most of my research so far has been confined to the lab. I’m very excited to try my hand at field work. Most of the words flying around in our first lab meeting to establish protocols were way over my head, but it should be a great on-the-go learning experience!

Quick disclaimer, this my first attempt a blog so there may be some kinks as I figure out how this all works but I’ll be posting about my adventures of the day, pictures and some of what I learn and pretty much anything else I think is worth sharing. I leave for JFK on January 3rd so my next project is figuring out exactly what to pack on this adventure. If anyone has traveled to Africa before(especially the north east), I’m open to suggestions! Stay tuned!

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