It’s ‘sportlov’ week in Stockholm, which is essentially winter break for the school kids and is traditionally the sports holidays where most families head-off for their annual ski trip. Although the Masters students don’t officially have a winter holiday to look forward to, I can’t help but share in the excitement of the kids as I to prepare for my own winter holiday of sorts. In less than a week I will be trading in the homogenous urban landscape of Stockholm for the mountainous Puna grasslands of Peru. Here I will be ‘going back to school’ for a bit as I take a break from thesis writing and get my hands dirty as we go out into the field to collect data and conduct mini research projects. Aside from getting to play in the mountains (all in the name of science), I’m also excited to meet the students and instructors from different countries and scientific backgrounds.
An ecologist by training I love seeing how everything fits together – the thing that gets me most excited though? Understanding how the microclimate affects the performance of plants. And if you really want to get me excited throw some biotic interactions into the mix! Both of these elements have followed me through my Honours project in South Africa, a stint in the Sub-Antarctic and presently my Masters thesis in Sweden. Although this course isn’t specifically dealing with microclimates and biotic interactions, it does promise to deal with the plant performance side of things by using functional traits. Along with learning how to go out and record these functional traits (some of which I have never worked with before) we will also be working on data management (something my scatter-brained self does not do well) and writing up small research projects (oh and a shopping list of auxiliary activities). I will count this trip as a ‘success’ if I can confidently measure traits other than SLA and LDMC and link them to bigger ecosystem processes i.e. I would be confident in applying them to my own research. Publishing a data paper will give me the satisfaction of having played some part in wrangling data into a publishable/usable format.
An interesting element in this course is the traits-based application to climate change research. Climate change is a hot topic (although playing second fiddle to COVID19 at present) and it will be interesting to gauge the public perception of it in Peru. Having grown up in South Africa and now living in Sweden it’s interesting to see how both government and public views differ. Sweden is very ‘climate conscious’ and the general public has really bought into the idea of ‘green living’. It’s even part of political campaigns and debates! Back home the picture is sadly different. Policies reflect a need for the reduction of carbon emissions, but they are not yet effectively implemented. Most people would agree that the climate is changing (I mean we have had serious droughts and heatwaves the last few years) but people have not yet realised that they should start taking responsibility and start implementing lifestyle changes.
I think if I had to put Peru on the same continuum, they would be closer to South Africa. As both countries are still developing the issue of climate change may be deprioritised to address bigger social/economic issues. Peru may not share the strong dependence on agriculture (and thus ‘good’ weather) as South Africa, but I’m sure they still feel the impact of temperature/rainfall changes on crop production or tourism. Much like in South Africa I believe the public probably doesn’t doubt that climate change is happening, but I do wonder how much they link it to human actions/activities or see themselves as ‘culprits’ when compared to countries like the USA or China.
All in all, I’m excited for these next two weeks and look forward to putting some of these questions to bed during my stay and leaving Peru with a whole new set of tools in my toolbox and hopefully some new friends! And if all else fails at least I got to have my own ‘sportlov’ playing in the mountains.