Azwad Iqbal, 2019, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

I was involved in a study to identify the diets of large herbivorous mammals in African national parks in order to investigate the underlying ecological dynamics of the sampling sites. These data could be used refine, adapt and identify large-scale management practices for the preservation of wild areas in Africa. Our techniques involved metabarcoding fecal samples in order to identify the plant species animals consumed in a given location. The sequenced DNA was cross-referenced with a plant database and a network was built to connect the target species with their dietary plants. This information was compared with others species in the same area and similar target species in other parks. We spent a month identifying and collecting fecal samples in Nyika National Park in Malawi and Kafue National Park in Zambia. The samples were processed in the evenings and rated in terms of freshness. This internship was a unique combination of fieldwork and lab work, which taught me important lab skills and illuminated potential avenues for future research. It also helped develop my ambition to go to graduate school.

* This internship is connected to the PEI Development Grand Challenges project, “Ecosystem Spatial Pattern and Development Opportunities in African Rangelands.”