School of Geography

Environmental scientists learn about ecological interactions in Croatia

5 May 2017

Environmental science students at QMUL have the option to take the Ecological Interactions module –offered by QMUL's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences–, which includes a residential field trip to Croatia. The purpose of the trip is to apply and consolidate the theory learnt in lectures in a variety of real field settings. Here, second-year students Jason Lynch, Will Flynn and Freddie Ward report back on their experiences.

The field trip

Location of field station. Source: Google Maps

We spent a week in Croatia with the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and in partnership with Zagreb University studying Ecological Interactions. We learnt first-hand a variety of important field techniques. This included: Phytoplankton and zooplankton sampling from Lake Visovac, setting up drift traps and kick sampling in the Krčić and Cetina Springs, assessing behaviour of birds in Lake Vrana, Vransko Jezero National Park, capturing and looking at community structure of Astacidae, examining niche segregation by electric fishing and capturing of frogs, toads and other amphibians, vegetation succession using large quadrats and characterisation of ecotones using pitfall traps.

Crayfish (left) and terrapin (right).

Group presentations took place every evening and an individual field notebook was completed throughout the trip. Our group presented findings on the species abundance of phytoplankton found in the Lake Visovac in Krka National Park. We spent an amazing morning taking a short boat ride out into the centre of the lake, where we took water samples to analyse back in the field centre. We identified species under the microscope and counted the species abundance. We then presented the findings including a brief summary on the geomorphology of the area to lecturers from Zagreb University and QMUL along with the rest of the group, bringing in knowledge we gained on the trip along with our own understanding of physical geography.

Drift sampling.

After presenting our findings to the group, the rest of the week was spent observing and involving ourselves in other group’s work and producing detailed field notebooks.

Our experiences

BBQ and party, final evening.

Overall, this trip was a perfect balance of work and personal. The three of us had explored Montenegro and Bosnia, which provided memorable experiences including immersing ourselves in the local cultures and eating local delicacies such as “rolled and folded meat filled with cheese” and “ćevapčići”. This trip gave us an opportunity to integrate further with our biology peers, which is what we love most about our degree; the chance to make so many friends!

During our time at the field station in groups we cooked for the rest of our peers, putting our culinary talents to the test. We held a couple of fantastic BBQs and had a party on our final evening to cap off one of favourite memories during our time at QMUL.

Our favourite moments

Boat back from Lake Visovac (left) and sampling in the Cetina Spring (right).

The travelling and independence during our time in Montenegro and Bosnia was great. However, we particularly enjoyed meeting up with the rest of the cohort in a completely foreign setting and experiencing the local culture that Split offers. During our time carrying out fieldwork we enjoyed the plankton exercises as we were involved in the sampling processes and enjoyed the boat ride! We have a lot of praise for the course convenor, Dr Pavel Kratina (and his PhD student) who went out of their ways to ensure every one of us got the most out of this experience.

What did we learn?

Will and Jason taking a 'time-out' in Cetina Spring.

We learnt many new useful field skills and a wide range of information about the Balkan ecology and how the local Karstic geology influences ecosystems. Skills such as water sampling and depth testing, and pitfall trapping can be translated into our individual dissertations. Learning in the field made the semester B theory make more sense. As we can refer to our personal experiences it makes everything easier to recall, particularly for exams and future fieldwork. We learnt a lot of problem solving in the field as not everything ran to plan. For example, we adapted our plankton sampling locations due to boat availability and there were no suitable birds initially at Lake Vrana so we manipulated old data for the presentations.

How will we use this knowledge in the future?

Group photo taken on the final morning before departure outside the field station.

The field techniques are useful for dissertations and for future careers as we all wish to pursue postgraduate degrees. Such as with all geography degrees we've learnt to work and communicate in groups whilst under pressure. We had to process information more quickly than previous field trips and were responsible for supplementing the basic knowledge we were given by engaging with the demonstrators and lecturers from Zagreb University. Our adaptability may be required especially as we now appreciate fieldwork does not always go to plan.

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