Beth Kaplin, PhD
Core Faculty, Environmental Studies
Co-Director, Center for Tropical Ecology, Environmental Studies
As a conservation scientist, Dr. Beth Kaplin is interested in the relationship between biodiversity and the maintenance of ecosystem functioning.
“We humans rely on ecosystems for our life support. One of the greatest challenges facing humans today is the loss of biodiversity, and with it the support system we rely on,” says Dr. Kaplin. “Our current economic systems do not help us to understand the value of these ecological systems in our daily lives. The exceptional loss of biodiversity, occurring at a fast pace across a large scale, is largely caused by human activities. I believe we can solve these problems through a combination of more effective educational approaches, combined with applied research to understand the functioning, limits, and extent of how ecological systems operate and the role of biodiversity.”
Kaplin’s interests have revolved around how species, as elements of biodiversity, maintain ecological processes. Much of her work is focused in the Albertine Rift in east and central Africa, a region of isolated tropical montane forest islands possessing extremely high biodiversity, a rich evolutionary history, very high human population densities, and a history of colonialism which has affected the regions ability to effectively manage its landscapes and biodiversity. Her main study site is the Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda, where she has worked since 1990.
Professionally, teaching and research are both important components of her work, and in many ways she views these interests as complementary and mutually enhancing. “I am interested in the ways that we teach, and the ways people learn best. I believe that an interdisciplinary program in Environmental Studies, such as we have here at Antioch University New England, is one of the best ways to educate students effectively in the effort to maintain biodiversity at all levels,” says Kaplin. “Our program teaches students that there are different ways of knowing, and they learn the different languages of the disciplines that are involved in environmental studies and conservation science.”
- PhD, Zoology, University of Wisconsin Madison
- MS, Zoology, University of Wisconsin
- BS, Wildlife and Fishery Ecology, Colorado State University
Gross-Camp, N.D., F. Mulindahabi, and B.A. Kaplin. 2009. Comparing the Dispersal of Large-seeded Tree Species by Frugivore Assemblages in Tropical Montane Forest in Africa. Biotropica 41(4): 442;451
Gross-Camp, N.D., M. Masozera, and B.A. Kaplin. 2009. Chimpanzee Seed Dispersal Quantity in a Tropical Montane Forest of Rwanda American Journal of Primatology 71:901;911
Nsabimana, D., L. Klemedtson, B.A. Kaplin, G. Wallin. 2009. Soil CO2 flux in six monospecific forest plantations in Southern Rwanda. Soil Biologhy & Chemistry 41:396;402
Margles, S., R. Peterson, J. Ervin, and B.A. Kaplin. in press. Conservation without Borders: Building Communication and Action across Disciplinary Boundaries for Effective Conservation. Environmental Management
Kaplin, B.A., Munanura, I., J.-B. Baptiste, and M. Masozera. in prep. Regeneration of burned tropical forest: arrival and survival of large seeds. To be submitted to Biotropica.
Research and Projects
My research interests fall into three main areas: plant-animal interactions and ecological processes, primate ecology and conservation and park-people interactions. I have a deep commitment to developing ways to share knowledge for conservation efforts, to build infrastructure and capacity in tropical nations so that our tropical colleagues may realize the same level of support we do in the western world.
Plant-animal interactions and ecological processes
Plant-animal interactions and ecological processes, including regeneration dynamics, seed dispersal ecology, fragmentation, and edge and matrix effects. I am interested in the interactions of species and ecological processes, especially in fragmented landscapes. My focus has been in tropical forests: primate seed dispersal processes, forest fragmentation, and restoration of degraded forest. Most of my research has been in Nyungwe National Park, although I have also worked in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
Primate ecology and conservation
The guenons, or forest monkeys (Cercopithecus species) are my main focus, although I am also working with chimpanzee ecology and seed dispersal. Guenon evolutionary history and conservation captures my attention – as players in seed dispersal processes they remain ever fascinating to me in my research endeavors. Cercopithecus lhoesti and Cercopithecus mitis doggetti have been my main study species, although with one of my graduate students and a Rwandan colleague we are looking at Cercopithecus hamlyni and chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes. Along with my graduate students, I have also worked with neotropical fruit-eating and seed dispersing primates.
Park-people interactions, specifically the intersection of human social systems and ecological systems and the maintenance of biological diversity, particularly in protected areas. This interest encompasses indigenous knowledge systems, protected area management structures, human use of resources/NFTPs, and human-wildlife interactions. I am especially interested in how we as scientists can link our research to local government and citizen needs for conservation (citizen science models). I have graduate students looking at human-wildlife interactions around the borders of protected areas, and buffer zones as effective tools in protected area conservation. I am developing a project to explore matrix and edge effects on protected areas.
Specific Research Topics
I have ongoing projects in the Albertine Rift ecoregion examining altitudinal gradients and forest phenological patterns, tropical forest regeneration dynamics, and primate seed dispersal. Below is a list of the main research topics I am and have been involved in. Much of this work is done in collaboration with my graduate students and colleagues in the host countries.
- Seed dispersal ecology – the role of primates and animal behavior
- Matrix and edge effects and the maintenance of ecological processes in tropical forest – focus on seed dispersal processes -
- Forest phenology patterns and climate change, altitudinal gradients and fruit resources
- Capacity building for biodiversity conservation in developing countries
- Human-Wildlife interactions
- Science and policy in developing countries for biodiversity conservation
- Women in Science
MacArthur Foundation Grant: Conservation Biology Education Project at National University of Rwanda – Capacity Building for Biodiversity Conservation
In April 2005 I was asked to write a proposal to the MacArthur Foundation on behalf of the National University of Rwanda (NUR), requesting support for a project to revise the Biology Department curriculum at NUR, infuse natural history and conservation biology into it, and develop a MSc degree program in Conservation Biology. The project was funded and began in January 2006 for a 3 year period. I was asked to serve as Technical Advisor to this project. I took a leave from my ANE faculty position and moved to Rwanda for 20 months from 2006-2007, and then served the project from ANE starting in the fall of 2007 when I resumed my full time position with the ES Dept at ANE. This work has been a culmination of many things I have been thinking about in recent years, including conservation education and capacity building for biodiversity conservation in the Albertine Rift. Since then, we have written and received two subsequent grants from MacArthur to continue this work, including funding to create a Network of educational and research institutions in the Albertine Rift working on conservation and environmental issues. We also launched the new MSc program in Biodiversity Conservation at National University of Rwanda in January 2011.
Rwanda is located in the Albertine Rift, a biodiversity hotspot known for endemism, threatened species, and high human population densities. The Rwandan Government identified nature tourism as its economic focus and adopted new laws and policies for biodiversity and environment. However, little capacity exists in the region for the study and management of biodiversity and natural resources. In 2006, the Conservation Biology Education Project was launched in the Biology Department at National University of Rwanda. The Project had three goals over three years: 1) revise the undergraduate curriculum and introduce natural history and conservation biology; 2) build capacity to teach using active teaching methods; and 3) develop a Masters program in Biodiversity Conservation. We developed activities to generate change and increase capacity to teach and sustain a conservation biology program, conduct research, and link to policy. To introduce active teaching methods and help instructors embrace new methods of teaching, we invited instructors for training sessions and created incentive programs. We found networking and involvement of stakeholders to be integral to the success of this project. The Regional Network for Conservation Educators in the Albertine Rift (RNCEAR) was also born from this initiative, and received three-years of funding to launch. Today the Biology Department at National University of Rwanda has moved from isolation and obscurity to a front seat in conservation research and policy in Rwanda. Links to Conservation Biology Education Project reports.
Matrix and Edge Effects in Nyungwe National Park
Recent studies indicate that edge effects on forest may be reduced when the surrounding landscape matrix, or buffer zone, is similar to the adjacent forest. I, along with my graduate students, Rwandan collagues, and students from Rwanda, are exploring the role of the matrix in mediating edge effects in Nyungwe National Park, a montane tropical forest in Rwanda. Socio-economic studies suggest a matrix of tea offers economic benefits to local communities and thus represents a valuable buffer zone. However, we predict that tea also represents a high contrast, harsh matrix type which alters ecosystem processes in the forest. We are comparing pine plantation and tea plantation buffer zone matrix types, representing low and high contrast matrix types, respectively. We are sampling several indicators of ecological functioning, including dung beetle abundance and diversity, dead tree frequency, and seedling abundance and distribution. Our findings will have implications for the development and management of buffer zones around tropical forests that sustain ecological processes, and these factors can be taken into consideration along with socio-economic considerations in buffer zone management.
Primate Seed Dispersal Ecology
Along with my graduate students, I have been looking at seed dispersal ecology in Nyungwe National Park. Our focus has been on the role of primates as seed dispersers, and the unique ways that seeds are handled and dispersed by these species that enhances recruitment of forest tree species. We have focused on large-seeded primary forest tree species, which typically have a more limited suite of dispersers. We have found that seed wadging by chimpanzees, and seed pouching and spitting by Cercopithecus monkeys, play an important and apparently unique role in establishment and recruitment dynamics.
11/29/2010 – Kaplin, Beth. “Women and the impact of the Global Conservation Act” – Huffington Post
Plant-animal interactions, seed dispersal ecology, tropical forest ecology and restoration, matrix and edge effects. Vertebrate ecology, animal behavioral ecology, foraging behavior. Primate behavioral ecology, primate seed dispersal, primate conservation. Protected areas conservation and management, human-wildlife interactions, capacity building for conservation in developing countries
- ES 702 Comparative Ecological Methods
- ES 776 Dissertation Proposal Seminar
- ESS 563 Conservation Biology
- ES 727 Research Strategy
- Reading Seminar
- Costa Rica Field Study Trip
My approach to teaching has been shaped by my experiences as a researcher and as a student. I find the natural world to be filled with wonder and I try to infuse that wonder into my teaching. I am actively engaged in several research projects, and I strive to bring these experiences into class discussions. Several years ago I received feedback from students in one of my classes indicating they wanted to hear more of my stories, more of my voice. I had been refraining from that, thinking it was too personal and I would be bragging. Their feedback represents a pivotal moment for me: I have taken their comments to heart, and I make the content in my discussions and lectures personal where appropriate now by offering my stories of studying ecological systems or of working in the field. Students can connect more readily to the material when I do this. I want to make sure students carry wonder, discovery and passion for their work as they learn. I believe this is one of the best ways to encourage learning ; by having a passion and care for the material. I love teaching science courses; as an ecologist and conservation biologist, I love thinking about how systems function, how nature works, and how to study it.
In the classroom, I combine textbook readings with recent publications in the primary literature. I like to give students a taste of the kinds of research and essays being published now in the field. I love searching through the databases as I revise my syllabus for a new academic year, searching for recently published articles that will exemplify and apply concepts and theories we cover in class. I believe this gives students an opportunity to apply their knowledge and critical thinking skills to real research problems. I also introduce new approaches or hot topics into my discussions and lectures when I can ; for me this means tying my professional life into my classroom teaching. For instance, when I attend a talk at a conference and learn about a new technique or theoretical approach, I incorporate it into my lectures and tell students this is a hot new topic. I offer them additional resources and contacts if they want to pursue it. I believe this keeps the material fresh for students ; they realize that everything is not known, that there is a place for them to make a difference in their field with their research and projects. I emphasize that ecological systems ; nature ; is not black and white; I consciously work to get students comfortable with shades of grey in science, and with finding their voice and opinion on topics in conservation science.
I strive to create an open, seminar-style classroom setting where students freely ask questions and pose arguments for the class to consider, where we have an opportunity to develop lively discussions. Articulating ideas clearly and succinctly during a discussion or debate, and defending arguments in a give and take discussion are important skills to learn, and I try to make space for this to happen in the classroom.
I enter the classroom with a lot of energy. This is because I love teaching, I love engaging with the students. The act of keeping up with the current literature, translating it for students new to the field, and listening to the stories of more experienced students, energizes me. I infuse a sense of humor into my lecturing, which is just part of how I communicate with people. I also hold very high standards in the classroom, and I demand attention and high quality work from the students. I tell them from the start what I expect and why I think its important. I don’t mince my words, and I have observed that students respond to this and appreciate having high standards placed on them. Then we can get down to the fun work of learning and teaching each other about the natural world.
- Founding Director, Center for Tropical Ecology & Conservation
- Board Member, Albertine Rift Conservation Society (an organization devoted to conservation in East Africa)
- Research Associate, Wildlife Conservation Society, Africa Program (research focus on Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda)
- Before launching into graduate school and tropical ecology research, Kaplin worked as a biologist for several federal and state agencies; here is a sampling:
- Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Bureau Land Mgmt, Fairbanks AK. Large mammal aerial telemetry tracking; vegetation studies to examine wildfire effects on winter range, 1989.
- Seasonal Biologist, U.S. Bureau Land Mgmt. Anchorage, AK. Aerial telemetry cow/calf survival surveys; peregrine falcon banding; salmon spawning surveys; river use survey, 1988.
- Natural resources assistant, Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources, Madison, WI. Lake biomanipulation study: phytoplankton, zooplankton, and water quality sampling and analysis, 1987-1988.