Colorado State University Scientist Awarded Fulbright Scholarship to Research and Teach in Mali, Africa

Niall Hanan, Colorado State University research scientist from the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, or NREL, has been selected as a Fulbright Scholar to spend a year in Mali working with local universities studying the ecological dynamics of West African savannas.

The Fulbright Program, established in 1946, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The highly prestigious program sends 800 U.S. faculty and professionals abroad each year to lecture and conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.

"Dr. Hanan is an outstanding scientist and an asset to the NREL and CSU," said John Moore, NREL director. "His Fulbright Scholarship is a testament to his research and a significant recognition by his peers in the academic community. It also signifies his commitment to fostering university relationships with international colleagues."

In fall 2007 Hanan, NREL scientist since 1998, will travel to Bamako, Mali located in western Africa where he will work with students and faculty at two teaching and research institutions, the University of Bamako and the Institut Polytechnique Rurale.

The collaboration aims to develop a series of field experiments across the West African rainfall gradient to study the complex interactions between climate, disturbance, and competition between trees and grasses that collectively influence vegetation structure in savannas.

The Sahel-Sudan zone of Africa is crucial for African economies north of the equator and for the livelihoods of the region’s pastoral and agricultural populations. The region is subject to frequent droughts and environmental degradation. A better understanding of how human management practices, notably grazing and fire, impact ecological process will improve opportunities for sound management in the region.

"Our research in Mali will provide opportunities to develop a more objective understanding of the separate and interactive effects of climate, climate variability, herbivores and fires in sustaining and degrading the environment of the West African savanna," said Hanan. "This Fulbright year will be like going home for me. I worked in Mali when I was a student but this is my first opportunity to work there again in almost 20 years."

As part of the Fulbright appointment Hanan will teach an undergraduate course, in French, on the potential impacts of global change on African climate, ecosystems and societies. In addition to the undergraduate course, Hanan and Malian colleagues will collaborate in developing graduate level courses examining the ecology of savanna systems and the role of climate, disturbance and humans in the function of West African ecosystems.

Hanan’s project lays the foundation for future collaborative and scientific ties between Colorado State University and peer institutions in Mali. The University of Bamako and the Institut Polytechnique Rurale recently formed a joint Sahelian Terrestrial Ecosystem Laboratory that fosters Malian faculty and student research in savanna ecology and this project is one of the first activities to be initiated within the partnership.

Hanan received his doctorate from the University of London. His research interests focus on the ecology of semi-arid grassland and savanna systems in Africa and North America. His research contributes to one of NREL’s core research programs – the African Ecosystems Program.