First MSU Ph.D. student to receive Beinecke African Conservation Scholarship will study Albertine Rift

  • Sep 11, 2019
  • Beinecke African Conservation Scholarship, Award, Research, doctoral student, conservation and management policies, quantitative ecology
  • Homepage News, Faculty & Staff, Research, Students, College of Natural Science, Integrative Biology
Image of Sam Ayebare in his office.
Sam Ayebare, a Ph.D. student mentored by MSU quantitative ecologist Elise Zipkin, is the first MSU student to be awarded a Beinecke African Conservation Scholarship. Courtesy photo.

Samuel Ayebare, a Ph.D. student in Michigan State University’s Department of Integrative Biology (IBIO) and the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior (EEBB) program, is the first MSU student to receive a prestigious Beinecke African Conservation Scholarship from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Established in 1996, the Beinecke African Scholarship Program was established in cooperation with the WCS to support African students pursuing graduate studies in conservation or wildlife ecology at a University in the United States. To date, a total of 36 Beinecke African Scholarships have been awarded—only two are chosen each year.

Ayebare plans to conduct his research in the Albertine Rift that straddles the borders of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. It is one of the most biodiverse regions of the African continent, supporting numerous rare plants and animals. The rift, which has high levels of species endemism, is considered irreplaceable, and is designated as one of the 238 most unique ecoregions in the world.

“I am very honored to have been awarded a WCS Beinecke African Conservation Scholarship,” said Ayebare, who arrived in East Lansing this August. “A love for nature and life sciences, coupled with the passion to make a contribution to the conservation of biodiversity, inspired me to aim for a career in conservation.”

Originally from Uganda, Ayebare graduated with a B.S. in wildlife health and management from Makerere University Kampala in 2006 and obtained an M.S. in environmental sciences from the University of Rhode Island in 2011, where he focused on assessing the impacts of oil and gas activities on the spatial distribution of large mammals in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda.

“The Beinecke scholarship will enable me to continue on a conservation journey that began when I was in high school and continues at MSU, where I can explore the links between basic and applied biological research,” said Ayebare, who will study with IBIO quantitative ecologist Elise Zipkin. “At a professional level, I believe that enrolling for a Ph.D. program in integrative biology with a focus on quantitative ecology will improve my capacity to carry out applied biological research.”

“Sam’s extensive research experience and his previous work with conservation organizations made him a top recruit to our program,” said Zipkin, whose lab seeks to understand how species respond to environmental conditions by identifying the climate and habitat factors responsible for observed variations in species distributions and abundances. “I am excited to see how Sam’s research develops at MSU and eager to work with him on important scientific and conservation problems.”

“Conservation of biodiversity in the Albertine Rift faces numerous threats including habitat loss and fragmentation, potential impacts of climate change, invasive species, poaching, poor wildlife management and industrial development impacts, among others,” Ayebare explained. “My research interests are focused on understanding how wildlife population levels change over time and the factors influencing their distribution and persistence. I am excited to develop models that will monitor population change and predict niche dynamics and species abundance.”

For more information about the Beinecke African Conservation Scholarship Program, please visit:


Banner image: The Albertine Rift encompasses the Great Lakes of central Africa, stretching from the northern tip of Lake Albert to the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika. The rift is located within six countries—Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia—and is home to more than 500 species of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet. Artificial computer rendering by Christoph Hormann - Commons.

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