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Internship at the Samoan Ministry of Natural Resources

Gabriel Brownell, a student at the University of Bayreuth, from the graduate program "Global Change Ecology", completed his internship at the Samoan Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, from April 14 to July 15, 2018.

The internship with the MNRE of Samoa was driven by a research proposal integrated into the workings of the conservation and natural mechanisms of the island nation. Located just below the equator some 3000 kilometers away from the nearest continental landmass Samoa features a unique endemic ecosystem threatened by invasive species. To assess the vulnerability of such an ecosystem it is important to know the rates of succession of the local vegetation after a "reset" event. Due to low human development on the island natural disturbances were required to assess the vulnerability. Using lava flows of various ages to substitute a spatial resolution for a temporal resolution I investigated species present on these disturbed areas.

Duties for the internship were to construct a survey plan to be approved by village leaders as well as the Women's council and report preliminary findings. In addition to the scientific aspect, I was to train a ministry employee for these duties as well. This the survey team a group of four people; myself as lead investigator, a Ministry translator/trainee/ministry representative, an intern/trainee from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), and a local guide from each site accessed. Once the survey was completed I then compiled data to present to the division heads at the MNRE. The bulk of this internship was planning the field expedition as well as learning species for efficient identification. Several locations featured the invasive vine Micrantha or "mile a minute", a particularly potent invader.

My personal experience is one of navigating administrative barriers and putting together my first entirely self-propelled field research. From obtaining my own funding grant to arranging collection permissions I conducted a survey from start to finish. Though I spent 3 months in Samoa planning and executing this survey I have learned that some places need more time to "get the ball rolling". The greatest challenge had been building new networks of communication to obtain permissions to access the sites.

Text and Foto: Gabriel Brownell

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