May 26, 2022

Mary Hodgson – RTSG Top Up Award


In April of 2022, I was fortunate enough to gain the top-up RTSG money which funded an essential research trip to my PhD field sites in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Due to COVID delaying fieldwork, a lot of my RTSG budget that had been allocated to field trips had been used to ensure the international shipping of samples and payment to local researchers to undertake the sampling. Therefore, I applied for the additionally funding to enable me to go see my field sites and experiments in person and meet the collaborators I was working with in person! The process was very quick and I booked my flights to South Africa. The extra funding also allowed me to travel with a field assistant (another Envision PhD student!), which was critical to the success of the fieldwork, due to the large amount of sampling that needed to happen in a short period of time.

Alongside international collaborators, I worked on several projects in Kruger National Park. I have set up a fire-herbivory manipulation experiment to quantify the effects of fire, herbivory and their interactions on soil carbon, nutrient concentrations and microbial communities. In the first few days, we went to check the exclosures were still standing and had not been squished by elephants or rhinos, and began sampling. We had some long, hot days in the field collecting all the soil I needed, but the landscape and animals made up for it.

I also had the opportunity to sample on a large-scale herbivory project, working with Organization for Tropical Studies and the University of Florida. This involved collecting soil inside and outside large exclosures, to allow us to understand the impact of different herbivore types on soil biogeochemical properties. Highlights of sampling at these amazing plots were definitely trying to open the gates without getting electrocuted, a golden orb spider sighting and local intern Theo’s British accent attempts.



Finally, I had the chance to sample on Kruger’s infamous Experimental Burn Plots; a long-term experiment that has been the subject of a wide range of fire-ecology research for the past 70 years, collecting soil cores from a variety of treatments. Highlights of this sampling was trying not to get eaten alive by ticks and getting the car stuck in sand on various occasions (thanks for saving us Isaac!). After we had finished the final batch of sampling, we had a couple of days for some much-needed R&R, filled with lots of game drives (and a cheetah sighting!), before starting the long journey home.


This field work trip was vital to the completion of my project but also enhanced my skills, expertise and career prospects. It facilitated the development of specific research and transferable skills, including; project management, team working, advanced independent learning, people and time management, networking and collaboration, international research, sampling and experimental design.

Lots of people made this trip happen and I am very thankful for all their help. Thank you to my supervisors for all the advice and providing support over Whatsapp all the way back in the UK. Thank you to my field assistant Sam for all the hard work and hauling home 60kg of soil. Huge thanks go out to our game guard, Isaac, who kept us safe, helped keep my transects in a straight line and always getting the car out of the mud or sand! Big thanks also go to Tercia, for helping out with the experimental burn plot sampling and making us feel like we were at home in the bush. Thanks go to Theo for helping us out on the OTS exclosure plots and being the best source of entertainment. Final thank you to ENVISION for making this trip a possibility and providing support in the most stress-free way possible!