International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2016)
Biodiversity Information For the Lake Malawi Catchment Eastern Africa: Data For Decision-makers
Last Updated: November 26th, 2018
Freshwater biodiversity within the three East African Great Lakes – Victoria, Tanganyika and Malawi/Nyassa – represents a global biodiversity hotspot of tremendous value to people, yet it is declining at a rate exceeding either terrestrial or marine biodiversity. This decline is in large part due to the rapidly increasing pace of development that is suffering from a lack of accessible information on species distributions, their conservation status and locations of important sites of biodiversity to guide decision making. Lack of information also leads to a lack of concern. Work to provide the underlying biodiversity data required to raise the profile for freshwater biodiversity and to inform actions addressing its decline is underway for Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika but not yet for Lake Malawi.
Key Objectives and Activities
This project will focus on Lake Malawi and will generate and disseminate (through existing biodiversity information portals) new and updated information on freshwater species and sites, train end-users to access and use these information portals, and demonstrate data application to conservation challenges. More specifically, the IUCN team will: i) update the information baseline for freshwater biodiversity in the lake and its associated catchments (species IUCN Red List status and distribution maps), ii) track change in status of freshwater biodiversity over the last 12 years (this represents the elapsed time since the initial baseline assessment by IUCN), and iii) map the most important sites for the global persistence of freshwater biodiversity (Key Biodiversity Areas, KBAs). This new information for Lake Malawi will be combined with that obtained through the two related projects in Lake Victoria (IUCN project funded by the MacArthur Foundation) and Lake Tanganyika (The Nature Conservancy project funded by the Barr Foundation) to provide the most comprehensive information base on freshwater species status, distributions, and important biodiversity sites (freshwater KBAs) for these three important lakes and their catchments.
- Capacity building: Promotion and training in use of information portals for 44 potential end users from government, NGOs, and private sector.
- Species Red List assessments: Updated assessments of status of freshwater biodiversity in the Lake Malawi catchment.
- Freshwater KBA’s: A map of confirmed freshwater KBA’s for Lake Malawi and its catchment.
- Regional freshwater biodiversity data set: Production of publicly available information set for all three Great Lakes for: freshwater biodiversity, freshwater KBA’s, and protected areas, all available through a single portal (IBAT: Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool) for species within priority groups.
- Country profiles: Provision of biodiversity profiles for each of the three countries bordering Lake Malawi (through IBAT) to inform National Biodiversity Strategies and Assessment Plans (NBSAPs).
- Information exchange: Establishment of data links and exchanges between IBAT and two or more regional biodiversity information portals including the African Great Lakes Information Platform, ARCOS Biodiversity Management Information System, (see previous JRS grant), and BIOPAMA East African Community Regional Reference Information System (RRIS).
- KBA focal points: Establishment of KBA focal points for the three riparian states of Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania, as a precursor to KBA National Coordination Groups.
- Regional Report: Production of a report presenting detailed analysis of the Malawi freshwater biodiversity data sets and regional summary for the consolidated data sets for all three Great Lakes.
The project seeks to improve conservation and sustainable use of freshwater biodiversity for Lake Malawi through:
- Improved quality and availability of information on freshwater biodiversity tailored to the needs of conservation and management bodies, leading to better recognition within NBSAPs.
- Familiarization of end-users with available biodiversity information sources, and engagement of users to improve conservation and sustainable use of aquatic resources in the Lake Malawi basin.
- Better representation within IBAT of freshwater species information at the catchment scale, specifically for Lake Malawi and, eastern Africa (when combined with outputs of related ongoing projects in Lakes Tanganyika and Victoria) but with potential wider application across continental Africa.
- Addition of relevant freshwater biodiversity information to other relevant biodiversity information portals, such as BIOPAMA and ARCOS, or direct links between those portals and IBAT.
The project builds on work completed in 2005 which was carried out with financial support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS) under the Partners for Wise Use of Wetlands Programme, managed by Wetlands International. Co-funding for the project was provided by the IUCN Water and Nature Initiative (WANI).
Results to Date
- The team is working with the Malawi Department of Fisheries (MDF) to sign a partner contract. Although unexpected delays have occurred, MDF is currently investigating how to speed up the progress of the contract through the Malawi Government system so it can be finally signed.
- The team is considering several regional information portals, mostly targeted at biodiversity information in the region of Lake Malawi and Tanzania, with which to integrate the freshwater data from the Malawi project. Among sites that might mirror and incorporate the data are ARCOS, the African Great Lakes Atlas Platform, BIOPAMA, and the Tanzania Biodiversity Information Management Tool.
- Work has begun to update assessments of the status of freshwater biodiversity in the Lake Malawi catchment. Expert assessors have been identified and contracted for all the taxonomic groups, and over 850 species assessments are currently underway.
- Red List assessments for crabs and shrimps (a total of 11 species) are completed, reviewed, and submitted for publication in the next IUCN Red List update.
The project team has made great progress in beginning the process of updating Lake Malawi IUCN Red List Assessments. Originally there were concerns about the potential difficulties in contracting scientists with the relevant expertise and time to conduct the species assessments. This is always a challenge, given the small pool of expertise on these taxonomic groups. However, the team successfully recruited an excellent group of the top experts in the field to help complete the assessments.
Unfortunately, an unforeseen challenge arose in the form of the untimely death of the Malawi Department of Fisheries (MDF) project coordinator. The loss of this valuable team member was of course a major setback, and has led to delays in getting the MDF implementation contract approved and signed. A successor has been nominated as a replacement in the role, however, the loss within the department will undoubtably take time to adapt to. This risks further delays in getting the implementation contract approved and signed.
Project Director Biography
William Darwall, Ph.D., is Head of the IUCN Global Species Program’s Freshwater Biodiversity Unit. He has over 25 years experience leading collaborative research projects on the ecology and conservation of aquatic ecosystems in developing countries. His current work with IUCN includes implementation of large-scale biodiversity assessments of freshwater systems, including assessment of species threatened status for the IUCN Red List and identification of Freshwater Key Biodiversity Areas. He has completed projects to assess the status of freshwater biodiversity throughout continental Africa, Europe and large parts of Asia. His past field experience includes research and conservation projects in Malawi and Tanzania.
Notes from JRS
This grant to IUCN is among the first in our Freshwater Biodiversity Program. The investment recognizes the important role the Red List assessments play in national policy, international investments and guidelines, and in the support of other analyses and indices. The Great Lakes are of significant biological and economic importance and are a logical focal region for our initial program investments. Parallel efforts are underway in Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika that, notably, are funded by U.S. foundations that have already or are likely to exit strategic investments in the Great Lakes region. The creation of public access datasets and websites will be critical resources for conservation decision-making and for advocacy to attract new conservation investment in this region of growing human populations and extractive industry expansion. JRS is also grateful for the collaboration with IUCN to ensure that all data from this assessment would be publicly available with few or no restrictions and we applaud IUCN’s efforts to facilitate access to the point locality data that will support many of the Lake Malawi species assessments.