2013 Student-Faculty Fellows: University Of Wisconsin, Eau Claire
The Monk’s Community Forest:
Biodiversity and Ethnobotany in a Cambodian REDD Project
Mentor: Deborah Freund, Department of Biology
Students: Breana Meyer ’14, Kelsey Pischke ’13, Joel Smith ’13, Joseph Weirich ‘13
Our research group spent a total of four weeks living in and working with activist monks in a monk’s forest located in the northern province of Oddar Meanchey, Cambodia, in order to document the biodiversity of the forest. We worked in steamy tropical conditions with pretty minimal amenities and collected a huge amount of photographic and sound information that will enable us, now back in the United States, to thoroughly assess the wildlife currently living in the area. The time and effort now required to identify birds and mammals properly, organize the information, and prepare meaningful and useful vehicles to disseminate this information seems daunting but manageable. The mentor will work with student researchers to identify the species discovered, prepare a documentary on the project, and write an article on what has been discovered for publication in the Cambodian Journal of Natural History. The mentor is also cooperating on preparing an international grant application to further fund this type of work in other Oddar Meanchey forests.
Our team of four students conducted research in Oddar Meanchey, a northern province in Cambodia. Our work was done in four community forests to see what species of mammals and birds were there. We are now analyzing the photos and audio recordings that we collected to create a species presence and absence list for each forest. These lists will become a part of our report which we will present to PACT-Cambodia. We also plan to write journal articles and give presentations at the ASIANetwork conference and elsewhere to share our discoveries.
To accomplish our work in Cambodia, we faced numerous obstacles that one expects will accompany research in forested areas of any developing country. We were fortunate to work alongside two remarkable students from Pannasastra University of Cambodia. They acted as translators and cultural guides. My work focused upon preparing a documentary of this project and required collecting hours of footage of our work along with filming conversations with local forestry experts. The documentary will show how the people of rural Oddar Meanchey live and in what ways they rely on the community forests. It will also highlight the efforts being made to protect the forests, including how community members confront illegal loggers and poachers.
Our research group’s experience provided us with a keen appreciation of the need to protect and conserve natural resources, and reinforced my interest in pursuing a resource management and conservation-based career in the future. The four forests we surveyed are all applying to receive UN-REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) certification. We collected photos and audio recordings to document species in the area with an emphasis on discovering IUCN “Red List” high-priority threatened and endangered species. We are collaborating with the NGO, PACT Cambodia and the Venerable Bun Saluth of the Samraong pagoda to compare data samples and create high resolution and up-to-date maps of these regions. Finally, we will produce practical grid-based field maps and field guides to facilitate the work of forest patrollers in each community that can be used without expensive GPS devices.
This research experience proved invaluable to me as I prepare to become a conservation biologist. Over a four-week period, we documented mammal and bird presence in four locally managed community forests using hidden trail cameras, manual cameras, and audio recorders. Our team captured nearly 3000 images of birds and also almost three gigabytes of bird song recordings. These will be sorted and identified in order to develop a species presence/absence list for each forest and issue reports to the parties concerned, including PACT-Cambodia, various journals, and those who manage the community forests.