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Campus News Update – September 16, 2020

This week, the news from The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is all about plants. 

Sourcing and propagating of plants continues at the Campus nursery, where we currently have more than 54,000 plants for landscape usage.

With all of these native plants close at hand, we are making the most of this opportunity to monitor plant growth and carbon storage capacity. Using native plants for landscaping is not yet common in Rwanda—we’re leading the way in figuring out how best to grow native trees in nurseries, an effort which should eventually benefit reforestation efforts and other projects beyond our Campus.

Using native plants is important because they help sustain the larger biodiversity of the region, including insects, birds and even the soil, which fares better without the introduction of exotic species of plants. Additionally, native plants are usually better for carbon storage and sequestration—important tools in efforts to reduce climate change.

Researchers at work in the Campus plant nursery.

One particular plant we’ve focused on is the hygenia tree—an important and iconic species found in the gorilla habitat, and one that we have suspected is struggling to regenerate. This became a perfect research question for one of the undergraduate students, Laban, working on his senior thesis with us through the University of Rwanda. Laban did indeed find that the trees were not regenerating properly and, armed with this knowledge, we turned to the nature clubs that we helped create in local secondary schools. With our support, these students grew hygenia seedlings in their school nurseries. Just a few weeks ago, 300 of these seedlings were delivered to the Campus to be used in our reforestation work. It is wonderful to see the synergy that exists between our Ellen Campus, college students who turn to us for research opportunities, and the people from nearby communities—all this before we’ve even finished the building foundations!

At the same time, our team of research assistants and interns is going through our entire collection of plant specimens as a first step toward creating a digital catalog of the collection. This will create opportunities for increased collaborative research, as our digital records can be shared with other researchers, allowing us to advance our scientific knowledge despite the restrictions on travel and in-person meetings that we face due to COVID-19.

A team member measures the first batch of Hagenia abyssinica, an important native tree species found in Volcanoes National Park, home of the mountain gorilla.

Check back for more updates as our new Ellen Campus becomes a reality—we plan to keep sharing our progress as we move forward.

Fossey fund staff working to digitize our native plant records.

About the Campus:

The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund will be the permanent headquarters of the Fossey Fund’s activities. The multi-acre, eco-friendly facility adjacent to the Volcanoes National Park will include laboratories, a computer lab and library, flexible office and meeting space, classrooms, an interactive educational exhibit and on-site residences for visiting students and scientists. Built with locally-sourced materials and supplies, the campus will embody the Fossey Fund’s mission to conserve and limit its impact on the environment, through rainwater harvesting, green roofs, the planting of over 250,000 native plant species and a constructed wetland to treat wastewater and promote biodiversity.