The rivers of the Lake Victoria basin provide important ecosystem services in East Africa, including surface water for domestic use and fisheries for local communities. However, very little is known about the aquatic biodiversity that plays a role in providing these services. These rivers are being heavily impacted by changing flow regimes due to climate change and land use change, including continued deforestation of river watersheds such as the Mau Forest. There are also increasing calls for hydropower development in this region, which will alter migratory routes of fishes such as the critically endangered Labeo victorianus. These changes are impacting the water quantity and quality in rivers of the Lake Victoria basin, including the trans-boundary Mara River, which is the only permanent source of water in the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem, and a river of tremendous ecological and cultural importance. It is under immediate threat from several development schemes, including potential development of three large hydropower dams, and little is known about its freshwater biodiversity.
This project is aimed at generating and collating biodiversity data that are critical to address current policy discussions proceeding in the Lake Victoria basin regarding alteration of river flow regimes and the development of hydropower.
Photos: Amanda Subalusky
The primary goals of the Freshwater Biodiversity Data of Rivers of the Lake Victoria Basin are:
Increase accessibility of knowledge on freshwater biodiversity in rivers of the Lake Victoria basin by digitization and sharing of records from National Museums of Kenya. All specimens from the Lake Victoria basin stored at NMK will be made available through digitization and publication in open-access databases (GBIF).
Train scientists in using DNA barcoding techniques to analyze patterns in biodiversity distribution. Conduct two workshops for 15 participants each to train East African scientists in DNA barcoding approaches using the MinION low-cost, desktop sequencer.
Fill data gaps on aquatic biodiversity in the transboundary Mara River through field surveys. Conduct three intensive biodiversity field surveys of aquatic macroinvertebrates and fishes at 12 sites throughout the Mara River basin.
Document fish migrations in the Mara River using passive acoustic tracking methods. Train at least 10 East African scientists in the use of acoustic tracking for studying fish movement. We will work with a team of scientists from NMK and Eldoret University to deploy a network of 5 acoustic receivers in the lower and middle Mara River.
Translate findings into informational resources accessible to local communities, stakeholders, and policy makers. Publish all data and publications in open-access formats online. Posters and handouts of scientific findings using visuals will be distributed to at least 10 local communities throughout the study region.
Project Director Biography
Amanda Subalusky is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Florida. She has a MS in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from Texas A&M University, and a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University. Her research focuses on land-water interactions and their influence on aquatic food webs and ecosystem function. She has 20 years of experience working in freshwater ecology and conservation. She helped coordinate one of the first Environmental Flow Assessments in East Africa, in the transboundary Mara River, and continues to study flow ecology relationships there. Subalusky holds her PhD. from Yale University.
Project co-Lead, Edward Njagi, is a leading research scientist in Ichthyology of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). With over 18 years in both freshwater and marine fish research, he has explored nearly all hydrographic areas in East Africa — including lakes, rivers, swamps, streams and floodplains. Some of the extensive fish research he has led include a study of fishes of the Tana River, the Yala swamps and the Mara River in Kenya. His interests include taxonomy, ecology and climate change. He is currently the acting Head of the Ichthyology section. Njagi is a PhD student at the University of Nairobi.