This field course builds on the the ‘Freshwater ecosystem functioning’ course and takes place in the valley of the Biebrza-river in eastern Poland. This is one of the largest national parks in Poland and one of the largest wetlands in Europe. There is a long standing cooperation between the University of Antwerp and the University of Life Sciences Warsaw for doing joint ecohydrological research in this wetland. During the field course, students participate in this long term research project.
The Biebrza wetland is a biodiversity hotspot and one of the most pristine wetlands in Europe, but the area is threatened by changes in land-use and climatic conditions. This is a major challenge for the management of the wetland. The research aims to understand the ecohydrological functioning of the wetland. What is the interaction between river hydrodynamics, ground water and both aquatic and wetland vegetation? The target is to develop integrated models that can predict the impact of ongoing changes, such as changes in precipitation.
During the field course rangers of the park will give lectures about the park and the management issues. Excursions to some parts of the park will introduce students to the exceptional biodiversity of the area.
The course consists mostly of field work. Students work in small groups on a specific research question. Examples of research questions are: ‘how do plant functional traits relate to ecohydrological conditions’; ‘which variables determine the distribution of macrophytes in the river’; ‘how and why do tussocks develop’. Students first have a brainstorming session in which they discuss and refine their working hypothesis and then suggest a methodology to test it. This is then discussed and corrected. During five days, field data are collected and samples are processed at the camp site. All the material and data are brought to Antwerp for further analyses.
After the field work, students analyse their results statistically and write a scientific paper, which is subsequently presented in the class.