Old Master’s

Flowers in Weissenstein

Master in Environmental Sciences at the University of Zurich

At the University of Zurich there are several Master’s programmes to choose from. We used to teach in the Environmental Sciences Master and have had several students doing projects over the last few years. John Shekeine are still current and have their own pages.

Katherine Horgen

Katherine continued Sarah’s project on the trap-nesting bees and wasps. She brought in all the nests and identified all the occupants. She then constructed food webs and related these to the characteristics of the gardens.

Sarah Pellkofer

Sarah worked in family gardens in the city of Zurich. She set up trap nests for solitary bees and wasps in 16 different gardens throughout the city that differed in their size and surroundings. We were interested to compare the insect diversity in such gardens to that found in agricultural settings, where such studies are normally conducted. We also wanted to know whether the size or greenness of the surroundings affected the insect community. This work is still ongoing as it’s only possible to properly identify the insects once the adults have emerged – work that Katherine Horgan has been carrying out this year. Nevertheless, it’s clear that these gardens play host to a great deal of diversity, and that small gardens are just as valuable as large ones. Sarah is now doing a PhD.

Nathalie S├ęchaud

Nathalie is committed to the environment, and wanted to do a project with some real practical application. In Switzerland, peat extraction is now prohibited by law, but large amounts are imported each year to supply the garden industry. We wanted to see whether peat really is ‘black gold’ or whether the Geraniums and Petunias much loved by Swiss gardeners would be equally happy growing in alternative types of compost. We showed that they were; what’s really important if you want a great display is to remember to add fertiliser regularly. Her work was profiled in a popular consumer magazine, Saldo, and we hope it helps to persuade more gardeners to turn away from peat.

Flavia Mota

Flavia had a high profile job with the Brazilian Government when she decided to study for her Master’s in Zurich. She carried out an ambitious meta-analysis of the effects of conventional vs organic farming on biodiversity. This work is currently being extended by Camilla Winqvist and we hope to eventually publish this study. Flavia is newly-married and back in Switzerland after returning to Brazil for one year on completion of her Master’s.

Sandi Ruiz

Sandi came from Columbia to study in Zurich. Her project looked at negative soil feedbacks in the Jena Biodiversity Experiment. Negative soil feedbacks occur when specific pathogens such as soil nematodes build up on the roots of host plants over time. When the plant dies, the space it once occupied is now unsuitable for another individual of the same species because of the heavy pathogen load. This helps to promote diversity by ensuring that species cannot continue to occupy the same sites for very long periods of time. Sandi dug up different plant species from the monoculture plots at Jena and used their roots to innoculate new soil. We then tested whether each species grew better when growing on soil innoculated with roots of a different species rather than with roots of the same species.

Nuru Kitara

Nuru won a prestigious Government award to come from Tanzania to study for his Master’s. He was particularly interested in land-use change and the possible effects of woodland conversion on soil carbon. He carried out his fieldwork in Tanzania, digging soil pits and measuring soil carbon at different depths in both woodland and agricultural settings. Nuru has now returned to Tanzania and is studying for a PhD looking at forest lichens on Mount Kilimanjaro.