Studying in China – At Sichuan University, Ian Haase and His Wonderful World of Animals in Hailuogou
What is it about Sichuan University in southwest China that attracts students worldwide to study here? The outstanding faculty, the encouraging learning environment, and the diverse campus culture make each day of study here so enjoyable for international students.
Today’s story comes from Ian Haase, a postgraduate student in ecology at Sichuan University, who has gained a different kind of excitement from his research in Hailuogou.
My name is Ian Haase, and I am a German student at Sichuan University, currently studying for my Master's degree in Ecology with my supervisor, Associate Professor Yongjie Wu of the College of Life Sciences, researching the ecological and behavioral adaptation of birds.
My research site is located on the eastern slope of Mount Gongga, the highest mountain range in the Hengduan Mountains of China. As one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in the world, the Hengduan Mountains not only show a rich diversity of bird species but is also a major habitat for many endemic birds. The peak of Mount Gongga is 7,556 meters above sea level, the highest peak in Sichuan Province, and is known as the “King of Mountains in Sichuan”. The vertical elevation difference on the eastern slope of Mount Gongga is huge. It is somewhere around 29 kilometers. The elevation rises from 1000 meters by the Dadu River to 7556 meters at the peak altitude. The huge vertical difference creates a diversity of vertical vegetation landscapes and flora and fauna. Preliminary statistics show that there are more than 500 species of birds in Mount Gongga, among which as many as 350 species of birds live on its eastern slope. The rich bird diversity there made the region an ideal location for my research. And our group has been conducting research on the eastern slope of Mount Gongga for more than 10 years. After thorough communication with my supervisor, I decided to research the ecological and behavioral adaptation of birds.
I focus on the relationship between seasonal vertical migration behavior patterns of birds and environmental changes in Hailuogou on the eastern slope of Mount Gongga. In spring, various birds migrate from lower to higher altitudes because of the increase in temperature and food resources at higher altitudes. Whereas in autumn, the pattern goes the opposite. The birds migrate from higher to lower altitudes due to the decrease in temperature and food resources at higher altitudes.
To be specific, my study is conducted in the low elevation (1800 meters) and high elevation (3000 meters) areas of the Hailuogou Scenic Area in spring and autumn. My experimental protocol consists of the following parts:
First, I use the bird ringing by netting method (I use different colored foot rings for each season). If I find a bird at a high altitude that has been previously ringed at lower altitudes, then I can prove that the bird has vertical migratory behavior.
Second, by employing the line transect method to record the different birds I see each day at different elevations and their numbers, I can observe which birds migrate to lower or higher elevations at what times.
Third, the line-transect method is adopted to record the gradual changes in plant-based food resources at different elevations. Precisely, I take records of when trees sprout and bloom in spring, and of when they bear fruits and wither in autumn.
Fourth, I trap insects at low and high altitudes using the quadrat method (a quadrat method is a biometric approach, which in my study is specifically deployed by setting cup traps containing alcohol and glycerol to trap insects within an area of 10*10 meters), so that changes to food resources for animals can be explored, such as the gradual increase of insects at high altitudes in spring when the weather is warm.
Fifth, a thermos-hygrometer can be installed at each of the low and high altitudes so that daily changes in temperature and humidity can be recorded. In addition, during summer and winter, I often return to the laboratory and further analyze the data collected.
During my study abroad at Sichuan University, my supervisor has been fully supportive and extremely patient with my research. Moreover, the flora and fauna of Mount Gongga in Hailuogou are particularly fascinating. So I am very satisfied with the master's program I am studying.