My international experience involved travelling to the Chimanimani Mountains in Western Mozambique to take part in the 2nd annual meeting of the SEOSAW network. SEOSAW (A Socio-Ecological Observatory for Southern African Woodlands) works to understand the effects of global environmental change on the Miombo woodlands of southern Africa. The network consists of around 40 researchers from institutions around Africa, Europe, and North America, about 20 of whom made it to the meeting. The SEOSAW network administrates around 2000 woodland plots across southern Africa, so it is important to make sure that the methodologies used to measure these plots are consistent, and to ensure that as a group we make the most of the available data and resources.
The meeting took the form of a workshop in two parts. During the first part we worked in a woodland plot to refine current methodologies and test new methods for measuring trees and grasses. During the second part we worked in small groups to explore the various research questions that could be answered with the SEOSAW data, and develop ideas for academic papers.
While working in the woodland plots I learnt a lot about identifying tree species and the methods used to inventory the species in a plot. In the past I’ve always employed somebody else to do this part of the data collection, so learning how to do it myself was interesting and empowering. Spending time working in these woodlands also helped me to think critically about the methods I will use in my own research, particularly their feasibility and labour intensiveness. The flora in the Chimanimani mountains was very different to what I had experienced in Angola during earlier fieldwork, more like a montane forest; it was fascinating to see how variable southern African woodlands can be.
Working in groups on the research papers gave me loads of opportunities to network with other people in my field. This came at an ideal point in my PhD programme, when I am trying to get a feel for what is going on in my field and identify potential collaborators. As a result of this part of the workshop I’m now involved with writing a paper on the effects of human usage of savannas and its effect on tree species composition. Socio-ecological research is a new direction for my research and I am finding the experience of exploring a new set of literature valuable.
As part of the workshop, I had to give a presentation about my PhD work to the group. Initially I was anxious about this, as I would be presenting to many people who I hadn’t met before and were experts in the field I was presenting about. Additionally, with all the other things going on at the meeting I had less time to prepare than I normally give myself. However, a big positive of having doing the presentation was all the feedback I received from my colleagues, which helped to inform my future plans, and was much more specific than the feedback I would have received from a more general audience.