Project Overview

Church Forest Conservation

Faculty Sponsor

Catherine Cardelus (


Environmental Studies


OVERVIEW: Sacred forests are seats of religious ritual that anchor and sustain a community's cultural identity, and if managed properly also conserve biological diversity. Remarkably, in an era of pervasive land-use change, many sacred forests have persisted around the world. The proposed study will examine the mechanisms of sacred forest conservation, namely the effectiveness of religious management on forest ecological status and, in turn, the importance of forest status on a community's social cohesion. This will be studied in the last remaining forests of northern Ethiopia, which are sacred forests, by: 1) measuring the changes in sacred forest size, shape and crown closure over the last 50 years as well as the present ecological status of sacred forests; 2) determining the elements of social cohesion that impact forest use and valuation; 3) determining how forest ecological status effects social cohesion and religious practice; and 4) determining the religious management strategies that are most effective at maintaining healthy forest ecological status. This is an international interdisciplinary team of ecologists, humanists, and social scientists whose approach is multi-scaled, cross-disciplinary, and uses the kinds of mixed quantitative and qualitative methods essential to understanding forest patterns, use, and conservation. In the summer of 2017, students will work with Dr. Cardelús on the present ecological status of church forests (1). These data contribute to answering questions on the social cohesion of forest communities. We will do this by going to Ethiopia and using ecological techniques to establish plot and determine disturbance in 8-10 church forests. We will also process soils in the lab at Bahir Dar University and bring the samples back to the US for analysis in the Cardelús lab.

Student Qualifications

The most important qualifications are enthusiasm and flexibility. Field work and lab work require that one have an open-mind, a collaborative outlook and ability to work with people in uncomfortable situations (bugs, long car rides, hotels with no internet, non-american food), and a go-getter attitude.

Number of Student Researchers

3 students

Project Length

8 weeks

Applications open on 01/15/2017 and close on 02/07/2017

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (