My first semester of the Tropical Ecology master

Just before Christmas, I finished my first semester of my master in ‘Tropical Ecology and Management of Natural Resources’. The first 4.5 months of lectures and exams giving me a total of 25 credits. Even though this semester was different than a normal one in every possible way, I enjoyed it. I learned a lot of new things, things I wouldn’t ever imagine I would be studying. I have been following 4 different courses and all of them were interesting in a different way. While writing this blog post I am about to finish my short January semester where I am following a course about R, I will tell something about this course as well!

Conservation Biology

I started my master with the course ‘conservation biology’, it was a nice way to get back into the lecture mode and have a quick recap of things I have been focusing on during my bachelor. During this course, we used the book ‘A Primer of Conservation Biology’ written by Richard. D. Primack. following the chapters during the lectures, we looked at what biodiversity is, the value of it and which threats it is facing. What extinction means when the problems of small populations became too big to overcome.

But also the more practical side, different ways we can conserve the populations and species, how protected areas play a role in this. But also how conservation can be done outside protected areas. And the last chapter ‘the challenge of sustainable development’…

Besides the lectures that followed the outline of the book, we also had guest lectures from other professors. We discussed many scientific papers that related to the subjects we were learning about. And we worked from theoretical explanation to practical examples.

Restoration Ecology

In this course, we looked at the increasing global problem of the degradation of ecosystems. Looking at a flora level but also at several different animal species that are affected by this. And the main topic is how we can restore these ecosystems to their pre-disturbance state.

During this course, the main focus was on the writing of a term paper. This report was group work and our area was a non-forest peatland that is severely damaged due to the conversion to commercial forestry. The conversion of the peatland was done by the former landowner in the 1950s. Making the forest 70 years old. Currently, the trees are ready for harvest which makes it the perfect time to hand the landowner a report for restoration. In the report we fully explained why this area needs restoration and how this can be done.

If he is really going to restore the area is up to himself, but we did all we could. We have visited the area before we wrote the report and it can be so beautiful again.

Tropical Rainforest Ecology and Conservation

This course was an introduction into the tropical rainforest, its ecology and how to conserve it. Looking into the origin and evolution of tropical rainforests and provide a biogeographical comparison of all the major tropical rainforest regions. Important ecological concepts in evolution and speciation, and theories about how this species diversity is being maintained. As well as key aspects of community and landscape ecology and dynamics.

Besides these introduction lectures, we had several guest lectures addressing tropical rainforest conservation in a global and regional perspective. Current and future threats to biodiversity through human impacts such as forest conversion, fires and fragmentation.

As I have a bachelor in Tropical Forestry, this class had some repetition in it. But this was also welcome as the last lectures about the tropics I had were several years ago. And it of course very interesting to hear from professors all over the world how they are working in the field you hope to make a career as well.

Population Genetics and Molecular Evolution

This course was a hard one to follow from me, I started it fully motivated but quickly I realised I was missing basic information. Which made sense as I never had a class in genetics before. But as I really wanted to have this knowledge for my later career I spend many extra hours to understand the subject.

The lectures were structured according to the book ‘Genetics of populations’ written by Philip W. Hedrick. Tackling each chapter in one or two lectures at a time. We looked, for example, at; how selection, mutation, genetic drift, gene flow and inbreeding alter the genetic variation within a population. What the Hardy-Weinberg principle is, linkage disequilibrium, molecular evolution and phylogenetics.

What was really helpful in understanding the processes of change in genetic variation was the simulations we were following. Seeing what happens right before your eyes is easier than understanding a calculation. In the end, it felt really good that I was able to understand and explain all the processes and I cannot wait to use this knowledge during my further career.

Statistical Programming in R

Currently, I am following a course about the program R. I already have experience with working in R. But as this was all self-taught I thought it would be a good idea to follow a proper course. I am halfway through the modules at the moment and most of it is repetition so far. But there are always some things that you learn that makes the coding a little bit easier or quicker!

In this course we focus on the packages ‘ggplot2’ and ‘dplyr’, which are used to make plots and easy visualizing, structuring and manipulation of data. As well as many other subjects. For example control structure loops, this part is new for me. So, this part definitely needs some more attention.

Currently, I am mostly focusing on the writing and coding of the final assignment. Where we have to show what we have learned by analyzing a self-chosen dataset. I am using the data set from my bachelor thesis and even now I am learning new things! Things that will come in handy for when I am working on my thesis for this master; tropical ecology!

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