Institut für Evolution und Ökologie

PhD student Retreat

PhD Retreat 2020

Botanical Garden & Bebenhausen Monastery (Friday, 30th October)


Even though this year, the EVEREST PhD retreat had to be limited to only one day due to Corona, we had an informative and interesting time. The morning started with a tour through the Tübingen botanical garden, where we explored what our university had to offer in terms of plant diversity (Fig 1). We learned about the structure of the garden and its special collections. The garden plants are arranged based on their geographic origin, and specializes on wild species such as Fuchsia and alpine plants. We also learnt how cranberries are harvested and Robert was brave enough to try one. Then, we were lucky to get access to the green houses and learn some more about the diversity in subtropical and tropical regions (Fig 2). In total, there are about 10,000 plant species found in the garden!

Continuing with plant collections, we were able to get an exclusive insight into the herbarium of the Plant Evolutionary Ecology group. Dr. Uta Grünert led us through two rooms, where she showed us one of their specimens, Arabidopsis and explained how her team works on digitizing the herbaria collections. We were also able to see some preciously prepared fungi and the biggest plant seed – from the Lodoicea maldivica or Seychelles nut. It was incredibly heavy!
During our pizza lunch, we had some time to introduce ourselves a little more and talk about our individual PhD projects. Then we took off for a little walk through the Schönbuch forest, with so many pretty and colorful autumn leaves to collect! We arrived at the Bebenhausen monastery and took a walk around the buildings (Fig 3).

Unfortunately, the monastery was closed for the public, but the surroundings were still very pretty and impressive. The garden however was a little smaller than expected! At the gates of the Bebenhausen monastery, we ended our short, but very nice trip and eventful retreat.
Compiled by: Vistorina Amputu and Leonie John

PhD Retreat 2019

Blaubeuren and Lone Valley 18-20 October

This year our retreat focused on ancient prehistory. Therefore, we visited the Ach valley and Lone valley, which are both known for their prehistoric findings. On Friday, we arrived in the Ach valley in Blaubeuren and moved into our guesthouse next to the URMU the Prehistoric Museum Blaubeuren. Exactly there led us our first visit. In the museum we learned a lot about the life of our ancestors 40 000 years ago. How did they made tools and how does this tools look? How did they made fire? What animals did you hunt? However, our ancestors were not only preoccupied with survival also art played a big role in their lives. For example, they gained colors from earth and burnt wood or made musical instruments from different types of bones.
In the evening, we went for a walk to the "Blautopf", a small lake famous for the kilometers long cave system that can be reached from its bottom. Later we cooked together and played games to get to know each other better. We learned many interesting things about each other, such as the favorite plant or the frequency of visits to the dentist.
The next morning we left the Ach valley and drove into the Lone valley. There we visited the Archäopark Vogelherd and got a great guided tour from Benjamin Schürch. He showed us how people used to throw arrows to hunt which we could try for ourselves. However, it soon turned out that all of us except Heiko had to stay hungry. In addition, we saw prehistoric tools and hunting weapons and could test how the Stone Age fashion suits us. We also visited the Vogelherd cave where many of the important finds had been made. At last, we witnessed that it is possible to light a fire without any modern tools.  
After a short lunch in the park, we hiked to a nearby excavation site of a prehistoric hunting camp. There Gillian Wong told us about the everyday life in an excavation site and about the finds made there. Most important, the remains of a bone were found from which small bone needles had been knocked out.
The day ended with a visit to the Hohlenstein-cave and the smaller Bären-cave right next to it. Important finds such as the Lion-man were made here. Afterwards we drove back to our guesthouse in the Ach valley and spent the evening together with cooking, talking and playing.
On our last day, we started the day off with a breakfast. After cleaning the guesthouse all the personal items were stored in the vans we decided to hike to Hörnle – well established viewing platform on the slopes of the Ach valley. After about 20 minutes hike up the mountain, we reached our goal. Unfortunately, due to the thick fog, the visibility from the viewing platform was not ideal but the hike was nice nonetheless. We eventually returned to the car park and bid farewell to the town and to each other. To best of our knowledge, everyone made it back to their respective final destination.

PhD Retreat 2018

Pfälzerwald 18-20 October

To start the new semester with a good mood, an adventurous and interesting weekend in Pfälzerwald was organized by EVEREST students, for EVEREST students. 15 of us took part and enjoyed the sun, the nature and each other’s company at its fullest.

We started off our weekend with an intensive hike in the Dahner Felsenland where we discovered the intriguing sandstone formations, which are well-known in the region, as well as its beautiful nature. In the late afternoon we drove up to the Hohe List, the house of a forester, offering cozy rooms for us to spend the night in the middle of a forest. At our arrival, we directly teamed up to cook for the whole weekend. After extensive amounts of food found its way into our bellies, we continued with a science pub quiz. Due to our interest towards each other’s research, discussions already came up when we were just presenting ourselves and our research. This ended up taking up most of our evening but ensured getting to know each other quite well.

On Friday we headed out for two excursions. The main topic for the day was the local ecology, including the fauna and flora we encountered, and nature conservation. In the morning we visited the Biosphärenhaus Pfälzerwald/Nordvogesen. Here, the museum explaining what these biospheres are, their background and what they mean for the region.
Not only learning was done in this place, all of us survived the treetop path and ended the adventure with a ride down the slide! Before moving on to our next destination, we had lunch, enjoying the perfect weather.

For our second excursion we went to one of the actual biosphere reserves. Accompanied by a guide, we learned about the history of these reserves and how the modern viticulture interacts with these biospheres. Also, the implications for the future of this interaction was discussed. Our different backgrounds made this guided tour even more interesting as everyone brought in different information on the topic.

After a whole day outside, we retreated to our cozy house in the forest and played silly games and shared some good discussions. The next morning, after a copious breakfast it was already time to head back home, say goodbye, pack the leftovers and get back to work with a refreshed mind. 

Nina Van Schepdael and Laura Limmer

PhD retreat 2017

5.-7 Oct 2017, Burg Derneck, Hayingen

16 PhD students from EVEREST arrived at the late afternoon at the Castel Derneck near Hayingen, situated on top of a hill in the Lauter Valley and includes castle ruins and a guest house. In absence of modern heating in the guest quarters the wood burning ceramic heaters kept it nice and warm!

Dinner preparation and funny games took up our evenings, providing excellent ways to get to know each other. In three teams we played “guess what I am drawing” to explain our PhD topics and a trivia with questions all around our work. Questions included calculations, identifying human ancestors,designing experiments, coloring, and more.

The trivia game was a resounding success, as good discussion followed almost every question. On Friday the winner Team 2 (Julia S., Deike, Peter, and Gillian) earned certificates and, most importantly, chocolate as prizes.

Friday and Saturday both included excursions focusing on evolution and ecology. On Friday we had the opportunity to visit the former military training base in Münsingen in a 4 hour guided tour. This area belongs to the UNESCO Biosphärengebiet of the Swabian Alb. We walked 8 km in lovely sun and heavy rain, alternating within minutes, and heard lots of interasting facts and stories of this area. The tour was very interesting because it related to each of our work.

Saturday’s excursion included a tour of Karlshöhle and Bärenhöhle, two connected caves near the town of Sonnenbühl that are famous for their extensive paleontological deposits.

The retreat ended Saturday afternoon at the Sommerbobbahn in Erpfingen, only a few kilometers from the caves. Some of us rode the bobsleds while others enjoyed the sunshine. We gathered together with snacks and drinks at the bobbahn café for some final discussion before we parted and headed home. Overall, the retreat was an excellent beginning to the new semester and an important time to build bonds with other PhD students in the Everest program.

Gillian Wong, Anna Kirschbaum, Ronja Ratzbor