Biology students anticipate summer in Kenya

Biology students anticipate summer in Kenya

by Kristina Mast

Biology professor and Tanzania SST leader Ryan Sensenig’s stay in Africa will extend this summer as he continues research in Kenya. In 2004 and 2005, Sensenig traveled to Kenya for the first time to conduct research on the effects of burning grasslands on large grazing animals. His results from this research were published last year in the journal Ecology.

“The goal of the project is to understand how large grazers of varying body size make use of burned areas through time,” said Sensenig. “I varied the sizes of the burns and we’ll be examining whether the spatial scale of the burns is important in how the burned area is grazed through time.”

Six years ago, Sensenig conducted 18 controlled burns in the savanna in order to study how different grazing animals of different sizes interacted with the burn sites. This summer’s follow-up research will look at the long-term effects of burned savanna on the habits of grazing animals.

Four Goshen College students will accompany Sensenig: Laura Schlabach, class of ’10; David Stoesz, a junior; Tori Yoder, a senior and Luke Zehr, a sophomore. They were selected last semester from a group of 15 applicants. They will arrive in Nairobi, Kenya in June and depart in July, working for six weeks.

The group will stay with the Sensenig family at Mpala Research Center in Laikipia, Kenya. The Mpala Research Center is a center for researchers from across the globe to stay while they conduct research.

Sensenig is planning to keep the students busy with field work, collecting grass samples, measuring the growth of new trees and keeping track of what animals are visiting the burn sites.

Keeping track of animal visitation will be messy. “This is done by counting the quantity and species type of dung present in the area and cataloging it for later comparison,” said Stoesz. “Every day we will be hot, tired, and covered in poop.” Despite the messiness of the job, the students are excited for the opportunity.

“This is my first time to Africa and I am really excited for the opportunity. I love to travel and I take every opportunity I get,” Stoesz said. “Not only does this research project give me the opportunity to work in a field I love, but it also allows me to experience an entirely new culture and way of life.”

This trip will be Zehr and Schlabach’s second trip to Africa, and an exciting chance for more in-depth research.

“It’s a great chance to experience what grad school research could be, a more significant time scale than many of the smaller research projects I’ve done in college,” said Schlabach.

“I am very excited to visit the extremely diverse highland savanna of central Kenya,” said Zehr.  “It is an amazing opportunity. For Goshen to be offering this to undergraduates is absolutely wonderful.”

The students will receive a small stipend as well as housing and food at the Mpala Research Center, not to mention an interesting experience for their resumés.

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Written by Kristina Mast

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