UCL News


Monitoring and simulating threats to aquatic biodiversity

25 October 2005

Dr Martin Todd and Dr Anson Mackay (UCL Geography) have been awarded a grant from the UK DEFRA Darwin Initiative programme to investigate potential impacts from future climate change on aquatic biodiversity in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one of the world's largest inland wetland regions. The delta is maintained by annual flooding of the Okavango River, creating unique habitats, which results in exceptionally high species diversity across the whole Delta. It is one of the World Wildlife Fund's top 200 eco-regions of global significance and the world's largest Ramsar site, which means it is protected by an international treaty on the conservation of wetlands, especially as a habitat for wetland birds.

The project aims to improve our understanding of aquatic biodiversity in the region, in the face of twin threats; firstly, from future climate variability, which will impact severely on the amount of water flowing into the Okavango River and Delta, and secondly, from unsustainable development in the river catchments in Angola, Namibia and Botswana, and also in the delta region. This includes changes in the use of land - in particular, the resettlement of six million people in post civil war Angola.

Dr Mackay said: "The project will involve a multidisciplinary programme of research in order to develop baseline aquatic biodiversity characterisations encompassing phytoplankton, macroinvertebrate and macrophyte assemblages, and their relationship with hydrological drivers, namely the hydroperiod -- defined as flood duration and frequency - and with water quality. This will enable simulation of the aquatic biological diversity responses to future scenarios of altered basin climate and hydrology. This information will be valuable for informing policy decisions for biodiversity protection and conservation within the Okavango Delta Management Plan."

In order to ensure long-term sustainability in their research and assist in the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the team also aims to build capacity within key institutions that are involved in the conservation of biodiversity in the Okavango Delta. This includes the training of local scientists in methods of aquatic biological data collection, analysis and system modelling both in Botswana and at UCL.

Dr Todd added: "The Okavango Delta is one of the highest profile wetland sites in Africa, yet the threats from human impact and climate change on the aquatic biodiversity are real, yet undefined. The impact on aquatic organisms is crucial, as these organisms form the base of the food chain for many of the better-known mammals and birds, including elephants and crocodiles. The project will start in January 2006, and we welcome interest from other researchers in UCL working on ecological, environmental and climate issues in Africa."