For Black History Month, the British Ecological Society (BES) journals are celebrating the work of Black ecologists from around the world and sharing their stories. The theme for UK Black History Month this year is Time for Change: Action Not Words. Dr. Estelle Raveloaritiana—a postdoctoral researcher at Sustainable Agricultural Systems and Engineering (SASE) lab, Westlake University, Hangzhou, China—shares her story below.
It’s been two years already since I wrote my first blog post as part of the British Ecological Society’s BHM 2020 blog series and a lot has happened since then—more than I could ever imagine. Just to give you a glimpse: I published my first paper as the first author, defended my PhD and I started my first Postdoc position. Now, when I look further back, I realised that my journey to becoming an ecologist has been driven by many things. First of all, it’s probably due to my love of adventure combined with my passion for knowledge that I can apply to finding solutions to challenges. As I am from a country with exceptional biodiversity but highly threatened, Madagascar, growing up I witnessed environmental degradation such as forest loss, land degradation and air pollution caused by deforestation, frequent fire incidences, etc… So since my undergraduate studies, I ambitiously wanted to contribute as a conservation scientist to preserve our unique Malagasy flora and fauna. Later on, especially while I did my PhD, I discovered that there are many issues linked to conservation and I wanted to focus more on the application-specific part of ecology. I especially wanted to find out how people, especially farmers, can improve or maintain their livelihoods with little to no impact on the natural environment.
My change of interests from purely conservation research to more applied ones has brought me to my current position. Currently, I am working on identifying the long-term effects of agricultural diversification on yields and the natural environment. Furthermore, I am working on determining the applicability of agricultural technologies on diversified farming systems or vice-versa. The cherries on the top are finding ways for how we can best transfer agricultural diversification knowledge so that the research can be easily applied by the farmers to mitigate climate change impacts and improve their livelihoods.
I enjoy almost everything about my work as a researcher and ecologist, especially in applied ecological research. I always find it exciting when new ideas arise and shaping them in a way to make an impact. I enjoy learning new things, starting a new paper, thinking of a storyline, and seeing the manuscript take shape with all the interesting and possible implications. I also like the fact that in ecology, I can think about the real situation where my research could be of great importance and what changes it could bring. Besides my work as a researcher, I also enjoy sharing my skills with other people and trying to share my passion for the field to inspire students in Madagascar.
Building on this, I recently created a capacity-building program for Malagasy students in the field of ecology and sustainability within the association URCD. The hope is that this program will help the participants to adopt more skills related to their research by sharing things I have learned from my journey so far. This program was mainly motivated by 2 things: 1) I realized that during my PhD and research stay in Germany I learned so many things! I wanted to share these experiences to help other students who do not have the same opportunities available to them. 2) This program is a very long shot for me to tackle issues of diversity and equity in the field of tropical ecology but I need to start somewhere. For my inspiration, I kept in mind the Hummingbird story of Wangarĩ Maathai, one of my role models. Whether in research or other aspects of life that concern us, we all need to take action, not just words, in order to make change possible.
Enjoyed the blogpost and want to reach out to Estelle? Contact her via Twitter or email!