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Dr. Jessica Ferner, former PhD Student

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PhD Project
I have been a PhD student in WASCAL (West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use) and finished my PhD in 2018.

Research Interests
As a landscape ecologist I always like to keep in view the “bigger picture” within my research activities. Therefore, I prefer to work on different spatial scales by combining practical field work on the plot and site level with cutting edge technology to analyze and model ecosystem functioning on the landscape level. My main research interest is to analyze the influence of different drivers on the ecosystem service of forage provision provided by tropical savanna vegetation. The drivers I focus on include climate and land use changes which makes my research a valuable contribution in the ongoing discussion about adaptation and mitigation measurements.

During my studies I discovered the field of remote sensing and recognized the potential it has in upscaling ecological knowledge derived from the field. Here, I specialized in the field of hyperspectral remote sensing. This is a promising way to address the challenge of monitoring forage quality and quantity over larger areas and longer time periods. The most exciting part of my research is the linkage between ecological and physiological aspects of living plants in combination with the technical and more methodological aspects of remote sensing approaches.

Fields of Competence

  • Landscape ecology
  • Rangeland/Savanna ecosystem functioning
  • Ecosystem service of forage provision
  • (Hyperspectral) Remote sensing
  • Field spectroscopy
  • GIS applications
  • Land use/Land cover (LULC) change analysis

Regional Research Foci and Fieldwork Experience

  • Vegetation surveys and field spectroscopy in West Africa’s Sudanian savannas
  • Mapping of mangroves, dry forest, dune vegetation and ‘khazan’ ecosystems in Goa, India
  • Bat detection and various other ecological surveys (mainly) in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany 

Abstract of PhD Project
African savannas are characterized by a high inter- and intra-annual variability in precipitation. Climate change will likely alter rainfall patterns as well as the timing and duration of the growth period, which will in turn have severe effects on ecosystem functioning in general and the ecosystem service of forage provision in particular. Grazing systems are among the most important components of land use systems in West Africa and form the foundation for the economically important livestock sector.

Core of this research is to derive spatio-temporal information on the quality and quantity of forage resources provided by West Africa’s grazing lands, particularly of the Sudanian savannas. Forage quality and quantity patterns are then used to identify drivers of forage provision in rangeland systems. Information will be gained using various methods, primarily remote sensing techniques. The specific objectives addressed in this research project are as follows:

  1. Estimating rangeland quality and quantity in West African savanna regions using reflectance data
  2. Identifying drivers of forage provision across different rangeland types in West Africa along a climatic gradient
  3. Detecting large-scale spatial and temporal patterns of rangeland forage provision in West African savannas by remote-sensing.

To reach the described goals, an area of investigation is defined which covers a climatic gradient of increasing aridity going from Northern Ghana to central Burkina Faso. Within this zone several widely distributed sites, corresponding to different types of grazing lands, are investigated to collect data on reflectance properties as well as forage metabolizable energy content, biomass, and the floristic composition. The spectrometric measurements are taken with a full-range spectroradiometer. Spectral data are used to calibrate regression models that describe the relationship between reflectance features and rangeland characteristics (forage quality and quantity). These models will be first applied on reflectance data collected on a variety of different rangeland types along the climatic gradient to identify drivers of the ecosystem service of forage provision. Furthermore, the application of the regression models on remote sensing data enables an investigation of rangeland states on a wide spatial and temporal scale as well as the prospective implementation of an automated monitoring system.

Academic Education and Positions

Since 2018 Employee at Bundesamt für Naturschutz

2017 - 2018 Maternal leave

2016 - 2017 Research Associate at the Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, within WASCAL (West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use).

2013 - 2018 Affiliation to the Center for Remote Sensing of Land Surfaces (ZFL-Bonn) Department of Geography

2012 - 2018 PhD student in WASCAL, Work Package 2.2 “Grazing Land Management”. Working Title of Thesis: “Remote sensing based study of forage characteristics of West African rangelands in the context of climate change”

2011 - 2012 Research Assistant at the Department of Geography, University of Bonn

2011 Diploma in Landscape Ecology at Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany (Institute of Landscape Ecology). Thesis title “Land use change in Goa: Satellite-based study of the environmental consequences of increasing urbanization in Tiswadi”

2007 - 2009 Student Assistant (Working group Climatology) at the Institute of Landscape Ecology

2005 - 2011 Studies of Landscape Ecology at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany. Subjects: Restoration Ecology, Remote sensing, LULC change, Nature conservation (esp. bat protection)