A hybrid on-line/field course Biophysical Field Methods was recently conducted as a collaborative effort between several international partners. The course was produced by Prof Scott Turner (SUNY ESF, Syracuse, New York, USA) and Prof Berry Pinshow (Mitrani Centre for Desert Ecology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Midrashat Ben-Gurion, Israel),
and co-taught by Drs Eugene Marais (National Museum, Windhoek, Namibia) and Gillian Maggs-Kölling (Gobabeb).
The purpose of the course was to equip students with the technical skills necessary to characterise the physical environment (temperature, heat, humidity, wind and solar radiation) in ecologically and physically meaningful ways. These skills are essential for understanding adaptation to environments, including the hot and dry environments that prevail in the Namib Desert. The course consisted of six weeks of on-line instruction, with students following video lessons at their home institutions, culminating in an intense 10-day field research experience based at Gobabeb, where they applied the lessons learned in the course’s online component to cutting-edge research questions in biophysical ecology for organisms as varied as the golden mole, lichens, !nara, Welwitschia, ants, spiders and bats.
This inaugural offering of the course brought together students from three countries, multiple institutions and multiple nationalities and cultural backgrounds. Three were from the United States, six from Israel and five from Namibia. The students from the USA were all drawn from SUNY ESF, the Israeli students were drawn from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and The Hebrew University, and the Namibian students were drawn from Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), North West University and UNISA in South Africa, and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. The students included undergraduates, Master’s students, PhD students, resident interns at Gobabeb and practicing professionals. Nationalities included Namibian, American, Israeli, South African, Chinese, Indian and Palestinian. Five students were men and nine were women.
The course was supported by a research grant from the Human Frontiers Science Program, the Sillans Foundation, an American donor to BGU and the President of BGU. In-kind support was provided as salaries and release times as well as logistical support from all the instructors’ home institutions, including Gobabeb and the National Museum.
Given the successful outcome of this course, and the obvious mutual enrichment of all participants, every effort is being made to solicit support to ensure the continuation of this particular course in future, as well as the promotion and rolling-out of this successful training model to other disciplines contributing to the overall understanding of the Namib Desert. Photos: Oliver Halsey