Ecology and Evolution in
Tropical Coastal Ecosystems
Type of course: In person Field Course to be held in Kenya.
Places: The course is held at the research station Mwamba on the coast of Watamu and belonging to the organization A Rocha Kenya. The National Parks of Tsavo Oriental and Amboseli are also visited.
Rocío Jiménez Ramos
Luis Gonzalo Egea Tinoco
Coordinator: Iñaki Abella Gutiérrez
Duration: 11 days of course.
Dates: Christmas 2019/2020
Amount: 1600€ without flights or travel insurance (200€ more for non-students; estimated price, subject to variations).
The coastal zone represents a limited area of the planet but is of great importance given that it is enormously productive and harbors a large part of the Earth's biodiversity.
In addition, it concentrates most of the population and human activities that are expected to continue to increase in the future. The international community is increasingly concerned about the conservation of coasts and oceans, being a priority objective in the Agenda 2030 of the United Nations for sustainable development.
This indicates that the training of professionals in the field of coastal-marine ecosystems will be increasingly necessary in the coming years. Nature conservation during the twentieth century was focused on terrestrial ecosystems since it was the period in which most of the natural parks we have today were created. However, in the 21st century the main battleground for conservation is undoubtedly the coasts and oceans.
Kenya is known for its vast plains and is one of the few places on the planet where to observe herds of large wild mammals. However, its coastline, still little altered by human activities, also concentrates some of the most important and interesting coastal-marine habitats. Few places in the world give us the opportunity, in a very reduced space, to go from a jungle in good state of conservation to a reef equally well conserved, and even less if between both spaces we have the whole series of intermediate ecosystems: mangroves, beaches with dune systems, intertidal pools and meadows of marine phanerogams.
Watamu National Marine Park has one of the most extensive, biodiverse and best-preserved coral reefs in the world. Coral sharks, parrot fish, clown fish, angel fish, lion fish, sea turtles, manta rays, and a long etcetera, are easily visible in this delicate ecosystem.
In addition, Watamu has UNESCO Biosphere Reserves of Mida Creek or Arabuko-Sokoke.
Mida Creek, a bird sanctuary of international importance, is a 3200-hectare intertidal system that hosts different types of tidal-influenced habitats, such as mud and sand plains, as far as the eye can see, shallow open waters and a mangrove forest with 9 species of mangroves, considered one of the most productive in the world.
For its part, Arabuko-Sokoke, with 42,000 hectares, is the largest dry coastal forest in eastern and southern Africa.
Underwater, this coast has up to 11 species of seagrass meadows, one of the most productive and threatened ecosystems in the world.
This natural wealth has attracted human populations for thousands of years, the ruins of Gedi being an excellent example of Swahili settlement more than 1000 years old.
Therefore, there is no better place to study the ecology and evolution of tropical coastal ecosystems than the Watamu coast in Kenya, where almost all types of tropical coastal habitats are concentrated in a relatively small space.
In addition, Kenya is establishing itself as a locomotive of research, education and innovation in Africa. Thus, we can count on diverse facilities for the development of research practices thanks to the Watamu scientific-marine centre managed by A Rocha Kenya.
Going from sea to land, we will see all the marine ecosystems and we will enter some terrestrial ecosystems to be able to compare the ecology of both means, for which we will visit, the National Parks of Tsavo and Amboseli, both in Masai territory that present a great variety of habitats (from deserts to great plains or flooded zones) and considered of the best in Africa to approach wildlife without being surrounded by tourists.
Amboseli also has spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa. Thus, in the course, a global vision is obtained of how life has evolved from sea to land and from land to sea and how organisms evolve to occupy the niches of the different ecosystems.
The course is designed for students and professionals involved in the conservation of coasts and oceans, especially for those who want to improve their training in habitats of seagrass meadows, mangroves and coral reefs. However, registration is open to anyone interested in knowing or acquiring a better understanding of the ecosystems studied throughout the course, regardless of previous experience in the field of biology or marine sciences.
Traveling from coastal-marine habitats to terrestrial, the course begins at the A Rocha Kenya Mwamba Field Study Centre, a reference centre for ecological and biological studies in Watamu National Marine Park.
We will stay for most of the duration of the course at this centre studying the biology, ecology and conservation of the most important ecosystems of tropical coasts, especially seagrass beds, mangrove forests and coral reefs. We will analyze the great biodiversity and the type of relationship between the populations that make up the coral reefs with several snorkeling sessions, and we will observe marine diversity from plankton to organisms belonging to the highest level in the trophic chain, such as dolphins. You will learn and participate in the annual monitoring of seagrass meadows. Practices will be carried out to determine the state of conservation of coastal-rocky systems and the degree of contamination of beaches by plastics from the open sea will be analyzed. Mangrove repopulation programs will be studied and carried out with the participation of the local population.
Once we have seen and analyzed the coastal-marine ecosystems, we will begin to visit the terrestrial ecosystems to compare their ecology and conservation. Thus, in the last few days in Watamu there will be a visit to the nearby dry tropical coastal forest of Arabuko-Sokoke, which stands out for housing up to 260 species of birds and being a key site for the global survival of highly threatened species such as the elephant shrew.
Additionally, the sea turtle recovery center will be visited to learn the techniques used to protect these endangered animals.
Finally, we will take advantage of their proximity to visit the ruins of Gedi, a Swahili settlement between large baobabs and blue cercopiteco monkeys. These ruins are an example of how human populations have harnessed the resources of coastal-marine ecosystems in a sustainable manner for thousands of years. December and January are the ideal months to visit the Kenyan coast as it is the mildest climate with calmer waters and greater visibility.
After our stay in Mwamba we will leave Watamu and travel to Tsavo National Park to continue comparing the ecology of coastal-marine and terrestrial ecosystems. This is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Kenya, with large expanses of thorny bush savannah. It is an example of a park that has recovered much of its splendor after decades of enormous disturbances by poaching and human activities. We will go on morning and afternoon safaris to observe the abundant biodiversity of this park with more than 500 species of birds or those known as "big five": lion, rhinoceros, buffalo, elephant and leopard, in addition to hosting one of the last populations of the most endangered antelope in the world and endemic to Kenya, the hirola.
In Tsavo we will spend two nights.
On our way back to Nairobi, we will spend another night in Amboseli National Park, very popular in Kenya thanks to the breathtaking views of nearby Mount Kilimanjaro. Groundwater flowing from the icy peaks of Kilimanjaro creates swamps that attract and give life to a great diversity of birds and wild animals. This gives this park the last resource of water in the worst droughts.
This course prioritizes field sessions with daily morning and afternoon outings to observe ecosystems and their associated fauna, learning in situ basic concepts of ecology and evolution as examples are found in nature.
Throughout the 11 days of the course, more than 100 hours of theoretical-practical classes will also be given, along with morning and afternoon field sessions. These classes seek to strengthen the key concepts of ecology applied to coastal-marine ecosystems, studying how organisms evolve to adapt to different environments.
The classes will be adapted to the previous knowledge of the students, being able to divide the class in several groups to count on at least two qualified teachers and with high experience in the ecology of the coastal ecosystems.
Theoretical classes will be given after lunch and dinner so that the time of observation of the habitats can be used to the maximum both in the morning and in the afternoon.
In the classes, the participation of the student will be encouraged through debates, role-playing, teamwork, etc. Thus, the course introduces innovative teaching techniques that serve to consolidate the knowledge acquired in the field sessions.
The agenda of the course is as follows:
Theme 1. Introduction to ecology
It will explain what ecology is, the approaches in ecology, their importance and future challenges. Basic concepts in ecology will be defined as ecosystem, ecosystem compartments, food chain, population, community and ecological niche.
Theme 2. Structure and dynamics of the tropical benthic system
The characteristics of tropical benthic systems will be explained, especially those dominated by coral reefs, seagrass meadows and mangrove forests. The benefits that these ecosystems bring to nature and humanity and the main threats that place them among the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world will be explored.
Theme 3. Types of interactions between populations
The concepts of mutualism, commensalism, depredation, neutralism, amensalism and competition will be reviewed, with examples of the observations made in the field trips. Special emphasis will be placed on competition relations and the predator-prey system (brief introduction to the Lotka and Volterra model and enrichment paradox).
Theme 4. Community Structure
The concepts of abundance, species diversity, species richness and equitability will be explained. A practical session on the development of techniques for the analysis of the state of conservation of rocky ecosystems will be programmed in this topic, in which the calculation and application of diversity indices will be taught. The difference between the ecological pyramid on land and sea will be explained.
Theme 5. Environmental Monitoring of Vulnerable Ecosystems
The student will learn and carry out environmental monitoring of a vulnerable ecosystem, specifically that of marine angiosperms grasslands.
Theme 6. Coastal pelagic system
It will explain how plankton has evolved to adapt to a viscous environment and its dynamics (vertical distribution, horizontal and vertical migration of zooplankton). Visualization and recognition practices will be carried out on animals of the pelagic system from the plankton to those located in the highest part of the trophic chain, such as dolphins.
Theme 7. Community dynamics: succession and stability
Explain how the succession process occurs in a community and what types of successions there are. The concepts of community resistance, resilience and regression will be reviewed.
Theme 8. Models in Ecology
A brief introduction will be given to how models are made in ecology to study community dynamics. Exponential growth, logistic growth, cohort concept, life table and population life strategies (r-strategies and k-strategies) will be explained.
Theme 9. Structure and dynamics of tropical terrestrial ecosystems: savannas and forests
There will be a brief introduction to the structure and dynamics of tropical terrestrial ecosystems, especially in the savannas and forests visited in the field sessions.
Biodiversity of tropical coastal and terrestrial ecosystems
The species seen throughout the course will be reviewed both at sea and on land to strengthen the student's ability to recognize the main species of all ecosystems visited.
Theme 11. Major disturbances and threats to tropical ecosystems. The future of wilderness conservation in developing countries.
The main disturbances and threats to tropical marine and terrestrial ecosystems will be analysed in a context of global change and possible conservation measures will be discussed.
Luis G. Egea
Iñaki Abella Gutiérrez
Rocío has a double degree in Marine Sciences and Environmental Sciences from the University of Cadiz. After completing a master's degree in Oceanography, she completed her doctoral thesis on marine ecology, specifically on herbivory processes in coastal ecosystems and the effects of climate change on benthic coastal communities. She is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cadiz. She is the author of scientific articles all of them published in prestigious international journals, presenting her work in various international congresses across three continents. She has developed part of her work in research centres such as the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), in Holland and the Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste (Cibnor) in Mexico, participating in several research projects. She is currently directing a research project on the dynamics of carbon in the coastal system, in coordination with the Centro de Ciências do Mar in Portugal. In her role as a university lecturer, she has taught and is the director of undergraduate and master's theses, as well as making contributions on teaching innovation.
In addition to her research background, Rocío has experience in scientific dissemination projects, having coordinated an environmental volunteer programme on marine angiosperms for more than 5 years in the EDEA research group, at the University of Cadiz, as well as having collaborated in various dissemination projects, both in Spain and Mexico. Currently, she presides over the Association of Oceanographers of Andalusia.
PhD. in marine sciences and technologies specialized in coastal ecosystems. His professional career has been developed both with the aim of researching and disseminating the care of coastal and marine ecosystems. He studied a double degree in Marine Sciences and Environmental Sciences and later specialized in the Master of Oceanography at the University of Cadiz. He carried out his doctoral thesis on the effect of climate change on marine phanerogams. The results of his work have been submitted to international scientific publications and widely exposed in national and international congresses. He is currently participating in several research projects working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cadiz. Previously he has worked in international centres such as the Centro de Ciências do Mar in Portugal, the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) in Holland and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Marine Sciences in Mexico.
After 10 years working in science and scientific dissemination, Luis has extensive experience in research and transmission of scientific results, as well as in raising awareness of the importance of caring for the oceans and the environment in schoolchildren and the general public. On the other hand, he has experience as a professor at the university as well as experience in the coordination and participation of various programs and scientific volunteers, such as FAMAR. He is currently vice-president of the Association of Oceanographers of Andalusia.
Iñaki is the coordinator of the course in Kenya and teaches part of it, in charge of all logistical aspects in that country, where he has lived since 2010 and from where he directs all Bio+ activities.
With studies in biology, specialising in Zoology and with a Master's Degree in Nature Conservation, he has extensive experience in field work, having developed his career in more than eight countries with very different animals and ecosystems.
Iñaki has worked with primates in Bolivia, with sea turtles in Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador and Mexico, with amphibians in Costa Rica and the Central African Republic, with mammals in Kenya and Spain, with whales and coral reefs in Mexico, with birds in Spain and Costa Rica.
From the marine depths of the reefs of the Sea of Cortez to the highlands of the Galapagos Islands; from the Caribbean beaches of Costa Rica and Panama to the mountains of Spain and Bolivia; from the coastal estuaries of northern Spain to the mountain peat bogs of the Sierra de Guadarrma; from the jungles of Congo to the savannas of the Serengeti-Mara.
This great diversity of experiences makes him a great connoisseur of the world conservation status and an excellent host in Kenya.
In Bio+ he has combined his great passions, nature conservation and environmental education, within the framework of the necessary sustainable development.