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Postdoctoral Fellow Profile: Duncan Kimuyu visits ForestGEO’s Headquarters for Three Week Residency

Today marks the last day of Duncan Kimuyu’s three-week residency at ForestGEO’s HQ in Washington, DC.  During his time here, Duncan has refined ideas and analysis into a manuscript draft on browsing patterns of elephants and giraffes and the subsequent impacts on Acacia mellifera.  This broader theme – understanding the processes influencing vegetation dynamics– is one that permeates much of Duncan’s scholarship.

Duncan Kimuyu
Smithsonian-Mpala Postdoctoral Fellow, Duncan Kimuyu, standing next to a giraffe in the National Museum of Natural History.  Photo credit: Caly McCarthy

In 2014 Duncan received a ForestGEO Research Grant.  Those funds allowed him to study the role of foliar nutritional quality as a predictor of elephant browsing damage on Acacia drepanolobium at the Mpala ForestGEO research site while he was a PhD student.  In 2018 Duncan continued his work at the Mpala field station as a Smithsonian Mpala Postdoctoral Fellow.  For the past two years he has explored the impact of herbivory on vegetation by studying the relationship between the distribution of wildlife and their browsing patterns.  Specifically, he has studied the impacts that seasonality, topography, and density (of both flora and fauna) have on this dynamic relationship.  Acacia mellifera, for example, is a very palatable plant to the wildlife of Mpala, and it is also widely distributed there.  Browsing intensity by elephants and giraffes, however, vary by location.  In an area where the dominant species is well-protected by ants, the low-density A. mellifera suffers from disproportionately-high rates of herbivory.  Steep slopes, in contrast, deter elephants and giraffes, and have provided a high-diversity area of refugia habitat, including a healthy population of A. mellifera

Reflecting upon his time in DC, Duncan noted that the three weeks provided a helpful deadline to stay focused and make the most of this residency, an experience that he characterized as extremely rewarding.  Duncan departs with a fully-drafted manuscript and said, “I enjoyed being here at the Smithsonian; it’s every ecologist’s dream to visit.”  He noted the invaluable nature of collaborating in-person, rather than by email or phone. Duncan noted that by virtue of sharing office space, he was able to casually discuss ideas, focus his objectives, and gain feedback from David Kenfack, ForestGEO’s Africa Program Coordinator, and Gabriel Arellano, a former ForestGEO fellow. In addition to the mentorship that Duncan enjoyed in DC, he also highlighted the value of having like-minded peers equally excited by his research. 

Duncan Kimuyu
Duncan Kimuyu, standing in front of the iconic Smithsonian Castle.  Photo credit: Caly McCarthy

We’ve all enjoyed having Duncan join our office, and we wish him well as he returns to lecturing at Karatina University and to his fieldwork at Mpala Research Center!