International Summer School Tackles Global Issues in Ecology and Evolution

Posted on: 27 August 2009

Ten undergraduate students from around the world joined researchers in the School of Natural Sciences in Trinity College Dublin to research environmental projects with a theme of Integrating Ecology and Evolution in a Changing World.  The summer school (June 22nd – August 28th), supported by Science Foundation Ireland’s UREKA (Undergraduate Research Experience & Knowledge Award) programme, endeavoured to encourage undergraduate students in the biological sciences to consider taking their research to postgraduate level.

During the ten week programme, students were given the opportunity to work on laboratory research projects to gain a better understanding of the complex issues facing the world’s ecosystems.  Focusing on how changes in land use such as pasture to forest, pasture to cereals, and pasture to energy crops effects soil microbial activity, Mary O’Sullivan from UCC examined how seemingly innocuous changes to the microbial content of soil can have profound affects on the retention or release of gases such as nitrous oxide (N2O), a major agriculturally derived green house gas.  Gul Deniz Salali, from Istanbul Technical University, Turkey, analysed the effect urbanisation has on species behaviours.  Using common shore crabs as a model organism, experiments revealed animals must either adapt to urban-like environments or face extinction in an increasingly developed and challenging world.

UREKA summer school students during a field trip to fota island

UREKA summer school students during a field trip to Fota Island

The summer research programme combined specialised workshops, field trips and events designed to expose students to new ways of thinking about the global challenges facing society and how, as scientists, they can pursue research to better understand these complex processes and offer solutions to some of the problems posed.  The students, who hail from Canada, Germany, Ireland, Taiwan, Turkey, the UK, Channel Islands and the USA, worked together using the knowledge of their different backgrounds and experiences to address global challenges such as pollution, urbanisation, food web ecology, biodiversity and evolution of agricultural crops.

Speaking about the summer school, Dr Daniel Kelly, TCD Programme Director, said: “The UREKA programme has provided a wonderful opportunity for gifted students to get hands-on experience of real scientific research.  The benefits have included the excitement of pushing back the limits of current knowledge.  Students have gained an appreciation of the way in which science advances through networking among scientists in different institutions and countries.”  German student, Mr Sven Batke, who is currently studying Wildlife Conservation at the University of Plymouth in the UK said: “I realized that it takes a long time to become a good scientist, however with the experience I gained during the UREKA project I feel more confident and one step closer to living my dream of becoming a scientist.”

TCD’s School of Natural Sciences, comprising the disciplines of Botany, Geography, Geology, Zoology, Centre for Environment and the Centre of Biodiversity and Sustainable Development, has a long research tradition and offers numerous undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications for students.  More information on the courses offered can be found on the School’s webpages.