For Black History Month 2023, the British Ecological Society (BES) journals are celebrating the work of Black ecologists from around the world and sharing their stories. In this blog, Florent shares his story and journey in academia.
Name : Florent Anguilles Dehogbe Noulekoun
Affiliation : Korea University / Seoul, Korea
Ecology interests: Biodiversity and Ecosystem functioning, Land restoration, Global environmental changes
Your story – How did you get into ecology?
I grew up in a black family headed by a dedicated farmer who has spent his life producing tree seedlings. Through this upbringing, I developed a strong passion for nature and in particular tree plantations. I was very keen to learn how various tree species co-exist in nature since my early childhood. This childhood eagerness led me to study agricultural sciences during my undergraduate and postgraduate years.
At 18, I joined the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Abomey-Calavi, for the undergraduate program “Agronomic Engineering”. In the last year of my undergraduate studies, I chose to pursue an academic and professional career in the field of ecology and management of natural resources. This choice was guided by the realization that ecology offers an array of (sub-) disciplines which can be used to improve our understanding of the natural processes sustaining life on earth. My foremost goal was to capitalize on these various disciplines to provide relevant options for farmers like my father and policy makers, and address multiple environmental issues including land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change.
After my first degree, I completed a 2-year Masters (MSc) program in “Agroecology and Sustainable Development” at Mekelle University in Mekelle, Ethiopia. This was followed by a PhD in ecology and natural resources management from Center for Development Research (ZEF) of the University of Bonn in Bonn, Germany.
I am currently a research professor at Korea University where I am engaged in research and graduate course instruction. My research has so far covered cross-cutting issues related to the sustainable conservation and management of tree-based systems (e.g. agroforestry and forest plantations), combining several ecological and/or related disciplines such as species and community ecology, biogeography, physiology, and ethnobotany. In addition, at the graduate level, I teach forest ecology and ecophysiology of woody plants as well as mentor a number of graduate students.
What are you currently researching?
My current research aims to explore the role of tree-based systems (including forests, savannas and agroforestry parklands) in fostering agroecosystem resilience to adverse climate change impacts in the drylands of Africa using functional trait-based approaches.
I’m focused on several ecological aspects, including biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships, effect of land use change on ecosystem processes and multifunctionality, and nutrient cycling in agroecosystems. I am also involved in collaborative projects focused on the study of the ecology of riparian corridors and endangered multipurpose tree species.
In my research, I use integrative frameworks to unravel the multiple and complex interactions between abiotic, biotic and ecosystem functions. I utilize state of the art measurement methodologies for data collection and use up-to-date ecological indicators in my analysis frameworks. I have enjoyed my journey as an ecologist so far and my contribution to the field can be surmised by my publication record. I am also an Associate Editor for Ecological Solutions and Evidence.
I hope to make more significant contributions to the science of Ecology in the years to come.
What do you enjoy most about working in ecology?
On a professional level, I enjoy networking and publishing academic papers. On a more personal level, I enjoy being out in forests for field data collection as this gives me the opportunity to connect to nature and see abstract concepts of science in its most real form. It also allows me to communicate and interact with local people, reminding me of my childhood.
Beyond this, I love the constant brainstorming that comes with my quest to (dis-) prove existing ecological theories or even discover new ones. I believe that looking for ways to better understand how living organisms interact with their environment is very fascinating and I take great fulfilment from this work.
Are there any aspects of your journey that you wish to share?
I think persistence and hard work are key factors to achieving success. As a black ecologist who conducts most of his field works in developing African countries, I face many challenges which I believe a colleague working in Europe may not experience.
Often, I have encountered a lack of cutting-edge equipment and appropriate infrastructure, limited funding, and insecurity, as well as many other hindrances. These challenges may act as significant setbacks in career development for black ecologists in developing countries. Therefore, I encourage all black ecologists who might face any of these challenges to never give up and look for various solutions to overcome them.
Luckily, there are several regional and international bodies that provide numerous opportunities for black scientists from developing countries. Capitalizing on these opportunities may make our journey as black ecologists; one that is focused on fulfilment rather than on obstacles.
If you could see one change in academia to positively impact Black ecologists, what would that be?
I would suggest the provision of more research funding opportunities for back scientists in developing countries.
Shout out your peers! Are there any black ecologists whose work you admire?
First, I would like to give a big shout out to all the black ecologists who, without a doubt, significantly contributed to the evolution of ecology as a field of study. Second, a massive shout out go to Dr Sylvanus Mensah, a current post-doc at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, whose work has significantly enhanced our understanding of the ecological mechanisms underlying biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships in Africa.
I would also like to acknowledge Professor Romain Glèlè Kakaï and Dr Kolawolé V. Salako, who head the “Laboratoire de Biomathématiques et d’Estimations Forestières, Université d’Abomey-Calavi, Bénin”, for their remarkable contributions to the field of ecology. Their work involves the combined application of biostatistics and cutting-age analytical tools such as artificial intelligence in ecology to explore various environmental issues.
Of course, I must acknowledge the works of the black ecologists Professor Belarmin Fandohan, Dr Gérard Gouwakinnou and Dr Thierry Houehanou for their various works on biodiversity conservation in the face of on-going global warming. Aside from black ecologists, many other ecologists have inspired me a lot. In this regard, my admiration goes out to the following distinguished scientists, Professor Peter Reich (University of Minnesota), Professor Meine van Noordwijk, Professor Asia Khamzina (Koea University) and Dr John Lamers (University of Bonn), who have always inspired me and helped to foster my love and enthusiasm for ecology through their outstanding scientific achievements.
Discover more black ecologists like Florent on our Black History Month page on the British Ecological Society website.