Professor Dr. Ralph Tollrian: Taking Leica Sport Optics to the Field

In Egypt 2011 the political system was changing, but the people were friendly as ever. Twenty-five students from the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany traveled the Sinai from the mountains to the coral reefs to study Ecology and Biodiversity of the diverse ecosystems. They visited the Ras Mohammed national park, St. Catherine protectorate in the Sinai Mountains and Nabq, the northern most mangrove ecosystem. In contact with the local Bedouin tribes, they learned about tradition and culture. The combination of these aspects makes the excursion a unique experience and their reliable, constant companion was the equipment of Leica Sport Optics. We had the chance to speak with their professor and leader of the field trip, Dr. Ralph Tollrian, about this adventure.

Q: What is your field of research?

A: I have a chair in Animal Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity. We study evolution and adaptations of organisms to their environment from the level of molecules to effects on ecosystems, interactions between organisms and biodiversity from the genetic diversity to ecosystem diversity. A major topic is nature conservation and the current biodiversity decline. On the organismal level we work with unicellular organisms to vertebrates and on the geographic level we study ecosystem from the tropics to the poles. Observations from field studies are analysed with laboratory experiments. While research is important we feel a strong dedication to teaching students. High quality teaching is the key to new generations of highly qualified scientists, teachers and biologists in general, which in turn have an impact on many other people.

Q: Why did you plan a university field trip to the Sinai/Egypt for your students?

A: Field trips serve multiple purposes. Besides obviously increasing knowledge of the specific ecosystem studied they focus the attention of students. During field trips it is much easier to convey information.¬†Students are more relaxed more interested and more actively discussing topics. They don’t have to be in other courses or meet their friends. This leads to a very creative and productive atmosphere. My observation is that during these trips bonds develop between the students, which last beyond the time at the university. Especially the field trips make lasting memories of the time as a student. This specific diving excursion to the Red Sea developed over the years. As a trained research diver I know about the risks and how we can handle them. I started this excursion because I discovered that several students were divers. I didn’t expect to repeat it every year. However, the interest of the students over the years is increasing. Students start to learn diving to join us on the excursion. The idea is not to train the students in coral reef ecology and create reef experts, but to use this fascinating ecosystem to further the understanding of ecosystems in general. The students see all kinds of adaptations and interactions during one dive and they can transfer these observations to a general level valid for other ecosystems as well. The students also learn a lot about the coastal ecosystem, the dessert and mountain ecosystems. An added value is the socio-cultural aspect. We collaborate with the local Bedouins and the students gain a good understanding of the different culture.

Q: Which Leica products are you using?

A: I use the Trinovid 10×42 binoculars, which I bought many years ago, and the Apo Televid 65 with the 25-50 WW Okular. Thus I combine maximum mobility – low weight and small size with high magnification and perfect resolution. The 10x binoculars give an extra magnification, which is sometimes important for identification of species. Yet its extra weight compared to the 8x binoculars rarely is a problem. Its wide field of view makes it easy to quickly focus even fast moving animals. The Apo Televid 65 is a perfect travel companion. The disadvantage compared to the 82 under low light, is more than compensated by its much smaller size and lower weight. You carry it with you when you go on expeditions and you won’t leave it at home.

Q: Why did you choose the Leica brand?

A: The Leica products are made for harsh conditions on expeditions. They endure saltwater spray in a small boat at sea or snow in an alpine mountain area. They won’t let you down. Furthermore the products support our teaching of students.¬† Especially with larger groups you won’t approach animals so close. The students on excursions are impressed when a small spot on a branch of a remote mangrove tree magnifies into the crystal clear image of an osprey. The difference between talking about animals and their adaptations to the environment and watching these animals is essential for an understanding.

Thanks Ralph! We wish you success in your important work for science and teaching!

-Leica Internet Team