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UNH professors lead research grant in African national parks

Contributing Writer

Published: Thursday, October 6, 2011

Updated: Friday, October 7, 2011 00:10



After receiving the National Science Foundation grant last year, UNH's own professors Joel Hartter and Michael Palace have been working with colleagues across North America to conduct research in Uganda.

Hartter, who is an assistant professor of geography at UNH, is the principal investigator on the project, meaning all decisions must go through him. Working alongside him is Palace, who is a part of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at UNH, Colin Chapman of McGill University, Jeremy Diem of Georgia State University, and Sadie Ryan of the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry. 

As of now, there are no students on the research team, but there are four Ugandan volunteers who attend Makerere University and are kept busy with the project.

The team has one year left and what remains of its $25,000 budget to achieve its overall goal of creating a web application, using Google Maps, which will allow government officials, or anyone with an Internet connection, to see research on how human interaction and climate change affects the land and other surrounding areas, such as national parks. 

More importantly, locals will be able to find out what they can do to help, and it will be clearly mapped out for the government which areas need attention first.

The group has been focusing their study on Kibale National Park, the location of the longest running ecological study in tropical Africa. Since 1970, teams have come and gone, researching the land and gaining more knowledge of biodiversity hotspots.

As expected, the team has concrete evidence proving that conservation of natural habitats is negatively affected by population growth and climate change.

So how have they done it?

"We collect rain samples, talk to locals about their farming habits, measure climate changes, get a feel for how people live in the area, what people do when wild animals wander onto their land, and even collect samples from trees and leaves," Hartter said.  "The list is really never-ending."

With full-time teaching commitments at UNH's Durham campus, Professor Hartter usually travels to Africa during the summers, but is constantly in touch with the research team in Africa via Skype, telephone, and email.

In total, there are seven national parks throughout Uganda being studied, but with so few workers, satellites get the job done at six of them. 

"The experience has really been like nothing else," Hartter said. "We work with mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, and even leopards."

But the process of actually getting to this incredible place of study was no easy feat. After a ten month application process, the National Science Foundation finally confirmed the "Land-Use Intensification and Protected-Area Vulnerability in Africa's Albertine Rift."

Today, the research continues and teammates have a positive outlook on a successful end result: a resulting greater picture of what is really happening right in front of the eyes of Ugandans, and what they can do to better their lives and the environment around them. 

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