Visions from nature

Moose Browsing Effects and Arriving in Norway with Ethiopian Master’s Student Winta Gebreyohanis

By Sam Perrin

NTNU plays host to a large number of international students, and the NTNU University Museum of Natural History is no exception to this rule. Winta Gebreyohanis is a Masters student from Ethiopia, who came to Norway in 2015 and ended up studying the effects of the Norwegian moose population on the world’s largest terrestrial biome – the boreal forest. I spoke to Winta about her project and what it’s like arriving in one of the coldest countries in the world from one of the hottest.

Winta on site in Trøndelag’s boreal forests. Photo: Anders Kolstad, NTNU University Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Winta, tell me about your Master’s project.

I’ve been studying the effect of moose browsing on carbon stock with James Speed, Gunnar Austrheim and Anders Kolstad. We want to see how the moose browsing is affecting the above ground carbon stock. I did some fieldwork last year, and we collected samples from trees from 15 different boreal forests in Trøndelag, which we then used to calculate biomass and from there, the carbon stock.

And what have you found?

So we’ve managed to compare carbon stock from unbrowsed sites and browsed sites, and we’ve found much lower carbon stock in the browsed sites. Getting results that lined up with my expectations was probably my favourite part of writing my thesis.

What are the implications?

Many studies investigate the impact of climate on carbon stock, but few studies investigate the impact of herbivory on above ground carbon stock. Our results indicate that moose browsing significantly decreases above ground carbon stocks, so we know that forest carbon management needs to start considering the effect of herbivory.

Getting to know such a new landscape must have been exciting. Did you manage to see some moose?

In our first round of field work we only saw one moose, but in the second round we saw a lot. Most of the boreal forests that made up our study site were productive and had nice views. The place we stayed during fieldwork was amazing too, it was right next to the sea.

Where did you complete your Bachelors, and what made you choose to come to Norway?

I did a Bachelor of Science in Biology in Ethiopia for three years. I came to Norway because of NTNU. It’s very popular for science, there are some very well-known professors in the Biology department. Also, a friend of mine completed his MSc at NTNU and recommended it. I also knew that there was no teaching fee in Norway.

What was your arrival in Norway like?

I came to Norway in 2015. It was a little difficult to blend in initially, but the University helped. There was an orientation program, and I met lots of different people from different countries. I also met quite a few people from Ethiopia.

Have you managed to maintain contact with home since you’ve been here?

Yes. I was in Ethiopia last Christmas. I’ve had a few friends come from Ethiopia as well. We’d never experienced snow before, so it was a fantasy-like experience. The first winter here was hard though, but by the second I was used to it.

What are the main differences you’ve noticed regarding the education system between here and Norway?

The quality of education is a big difference. The quality of the professors is also much higher here. The education is also a lot more aligned with research centres.

Most Norwegian students already have their thesis mapped out before the semester kicks off. Was it difficult, having to do so on arrival?

It was difficult at first. When I arrived in August, the department asked us to send them a project title in September. I had no idea what to do. So I contacted a few different professors. Some of them had nothing, however one professor recommended that I get in touch with James, and we discussed a few suitable projects. He had one that I was really interested in. We got a two-week extension on the project deadline and were able to come up with a good project.

Field work in Norway can involve some beautiful scenery. Photo: Damari Samuel, NTNU University Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0.

How have you found working with your supervisors James, Gunnar and Anders?.

It’s been really good. They’ve guided me really well, they’ve provided me with so much information, and they’re available to talk almost anytime.

How have you enjoyed student life in Trondheim?

I’ve participated in different cultural events. There are Norwegian events, international events, they were really nice. When I applied to study here, my first aim was of course a good education, but my second was to get some cultural exchange with different people. It’s been a great opportunity.

What sort of courses have you taken?

Because my thesis is plant-related, I’ve taken mostly plant-oriented courses. Like plant ecology, ecosystem services, special syllabus. I really enjoyed plant ecology, it was a huge help for my thesis, and it’s run by James and Gunnar.

Have you learnt anything new that you found exciting?

Learning R was great, I’d never used it before, and I ended up using it for all of my analysis. It helped me understand the effect of herbivory on above ground biomass and carbon stock.

How do you enjoy the learning environment at NTNU.

I spent a lot of time up at the Gløshaugen campus during the first year, while I was doing courses, but since the start of my second year I’ve been using my workspace down here at the museum. We get our own study space down here, and it’s so easy to contact our supervisors. I’ve had the last 7-8 months just to focus on my thesis. I’ll be submitting it on the 22nd of May!

What’s next?

I want to apply for a job. I’ll apply in Ethiopia and different places; I don’t have a specific preference at the moment. It all depends on the job. I’d like to work at a research center.

The NTNU University Museum wishes Winta the best of luck on her upcoming thesis defence. To contact Winta, email her at wintag@stud.ntnu.no.



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