Next stop, China

April 08, 2014

Jennifer Powers returns from sabbatical at U.C. Berkeley later this spring, but she won’t be home for long.

Field research takes CBS researchers and students all over the world from the dry tropical forests of Costa Rica to the savannas of Tanzania and the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea. But lately, you’ll find a small but steady stream of faculty and graduate students making their way to Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) in China for field ecology courses that bring together highly diverse cohorts of instructors and students from China, India, Australia and beyond. This June, Jennifer Powers (Ecology Evolution and Behavior and Plant Biology) will join their ranks as part of a team of instructors of an NSF-funded course on tropical ecology and climate change organized through the Organization for Tropical Studies and XTBG.

“I think these kind of collaborative international efforts are the way of the future,” says Powers, who has led field ecology courses in Costa Rica for U of M undergraduate students, as well as students from other universities through her association with the Organization for Tropical Studies. Her course at Xishuangbanna is a product of building momentum both within China and among researchers who study the tropics to offer field ecology courses that focus on Asian tropical forests and forestry.

Powers and other instructors (including chemists, anthropologists and ecologists) will lead a class of 30 students from Costa Rica, the United States, China and elsewhere. “Working in groups and consortiums is really the way things are moving and it’s beneficial for students to gain the experience of working in cross-cultural groups. I also think it happens to be the best way to tackle big global, transnational issues like climate change.”

Powers’ is clearly energized by the opportunity to teach at Xishuangbanna. “Though it’s largely surrounded by rubber plantations, Xishuangbanna itself is very old and a super interesting place botanically,” says Powers. “One thing I’m really excited about doing in my portion of the course is linking forest ecology with remote sensing data to create a carbon map of the botanical garden.”

For those interested in tropical ecology here at the U of M, Powers recommends connecting with the grad student and postdoc-led group Twin Cities Tropical Environments Network.


Gaurav Kandlikar (B.S. Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, and Plant Biology, '13) describes his experience taking the Advanced Field Course in Ecology and Conservation at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in southern China, and the value of cross-cultural collaborations for tropical ecologists.