Notes from the Field

From Mongolia: Endowed Ecology Chair Improves Environmental Research

December 16, 2009

With the signing of a landmark investment agreement in October, Mongolia is about to undergo a mining boom. The country has several world-class mineral deposits that remain undeveloped today. As the Mongolian government prepares to sign more deals to begin developing these deposits, protecting the country’s environment and water resources is critically important. Climate change is also becoming an increasingly significant issue facing Mongolian herders and the nation’s fragile ecosystems.

To increase the research capacity of academia in the environment, The Asia Foundation’s affiliate Give2Asia helped to establish an Endowed Chair in the Ecology Department of the National University of Mongolia (NUM) with funding support from Missie Rennie, trustee of The Asia Foundation and Give2Asia, and her husband, Zach Taylor. Now in its second year, the Endowed Chair has allowed the University to purchase much-needed lab equipment, furniture, and most importantly, fund the preparation of ecology and biology textbooks. For the first time, students in the Ecology Department are now conducting soil and water sampling and analysis at a scientific level.

J. Oyunbileg, a Master's student in the Ecology Department, is the first grantee of the Endowed Chair Program in Mongolia.

J. Oyunbileg, a Master's student in the Ecology Department, is the first grantee of the Endowed Chair Program in Mongolia.

J. Oyunbileg, a master’s student in the Ecology Department, is the first grantee of the Endowed Chair Program. The program will cover the first two years of her tuition. Back in 2007, Oyunbileg participated as an intern in The Asia Foundation’s Water Quality Monitoring (WQM) component of the Foundation’s Securing Our Future (SOF) Program, which focused on environmental conservation and responsible mining. During her internship she spent time with the Foundation’s science team, conducting water quality monitoring at 131 sites on 120 rivers throughout Mongolia. The WQM protocols use aquatic insects as bio-indicators to measure the water quality of rivers. Oyunbileg is now concentrating on her master’s course work in a new, and little-known area of study on Water Striders (Gerridae Family).

Collecting aquatic insects as bio-indicators to measure the water quality of rivers.

Collecting aquatic insects as bio-indicators to measure the water quality of rivers.

As a result of the WQM sampling over a three-year period, the Ecology Department of NUM now boasts the biggest collection of fresh water aquatic insects in its history. The department houses carefully-collected, sorted, tagged, and preserved aquatic insects, which belong to mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly orders, the biological indicators of water quality. Insects, which are kept in cabinets, are marked by their individual history, including chemical characteristics, habitats, and locations and frequency of occurrences. This hands-on field experience has resulted in increased motivation among students for further research on important environmental issues related to Mongolia’s water resources.

During the last several years, research on WQM using biological indicators and the overall study of aquatic insects has become a popular field of study among ecologists in Mongolia. With the Endowed Chair Program and the WQM insect collection, more young scientists will get the the chance to conduct important research, and contribute to a growing base of knowledge about Mongolia’s fragile ecology.

Read more information about the Water Quality Monitoring program.

Meloney Lindberg is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Mongolia and Joshua Friedman is the Foundation’s Program Officer in Mongolia. They can be reached at mlindberg@asiafound.mn and jfriedman@asiafound.mn, respectively.

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