The 5th Annual Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer Research Grant which opened earlier this year has made public its top 5 shortlisted candidates.
Proudly announcing the list of those who were shortlisted, the Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation (OGRC), host of the grant scheme, emphasizes that as a first-class research entity, OGRC shall continue to support, fund and partner with national and international researchers to conduct cutting-edge research focused on the natural sciences ensuring practical and impactful outcomes.
According to a statement presented to Environment-Africa, OGRC, the top 5 candidates selected represent the major objective of the grant scheme; which is to identify and support African researchers focused on innovative research that will contribute to the advancement of environmental and allied sciences; and address relevant, real-world, African issues of current and future importance.
The Candidates selected include:
- Dr Lovanomenjanahary Marline
Mosses and liverworts prefer to hang out in cool places, and for Dr Lovanomenjanahary Marline, they are cool to study because they can tell her things about how clean the air is. Marline is a Malagasy researcher who was shortlisted for the JWO Research Grant for her proposal entitled “Bioindicators of biodiversity, air quality and climate change: leveraging non-charismatic groups, bryophytes and lichens, in the tropical Afro-Malagasy Region.”
Marline says she is “passionate about island biodiversity and tropical mountain systems” and that her “long-standing taxonomist interest has been in bryophytes. Bryophytes, especially liverworts, are my favourite organisms,” and she laments that “in many parts of the world this ecologically and evolutionarily important group is still very poorly known”.
She uses Madagascar’s high mountains as “a model to investigate bryophyte diversity and distribution and to understand the effect of climate change on biodiversity. I am also interested in using bryophytes as a natural bioindicator to monitor and map indoor and outdoor air quality in urban areas”.
Marline argues that the rich biota of Tropical Africa and Madagascar “face a disproportionate risk due to the dual threats of habitat loss and climate change. Air pollution contributes to climate change, increasing warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Not only is it a serious threat to the diversity of life, but it also has a serious impact on human health.
2.Dr Matthew Burnett
Dr Matthew Burnett is worried about the fish, but more importantly about what lives off fish and what binds them all together.
Burnett has been shortlisted for the JWO Research Grant for his proposal entitled “Fishers, fish, and fish-eating waterbirds – interactions that can meet the sustainability goals for floodplains” and will focus on the Upper Zambezi River Basin.
With a Ph.D. in ecology, Burnett says his “passion for African wildlife has always been realised through the local communities that live alongside it. As such my focus has been on freshwater ecosystems, in particular freshwater fishes and fisheries.”
He says “the Upper Zambezi River Basin experiences stark wet and dry seasons that have shaped human and fish-eating waterbird communities, which are each dependent on its ecological functioning. The growth of small economies as human populations increase may negatively impact wildlife and disrupt ecosystem processes. The human-wildlife interactions in floodplains are generally unstudied despite their potential to guide sustainable management practice. Socioeconomics are equally important in understanding whether sustainability can be achieved.
3. Dr Shannon Conradie
Dr Shannon Conradie wants to know how hot is too hot for animals to carry on as normal. She was shortlisted for the JWO Research Grant for her proposal entitled “Linking physics and biology to inform wildlife conservation under global change: an interdisciplinary approach”.
Her research interests “focus on modelling the biological limitations of species distribution and ultimately survival in arid to semi-arid systems”, and her current research “explores survival and reproduction of desert birds under extreme environmental conditions through modelling the risk of lethal dehydration and / or hyperthermia, and the sublethal fitness costs of behavioural decisions under current and likely future conditions.”
She then combines this “into mapping birds’ vulnerability to climate change in order to determine areas critical for conservation and management action. I am additionally interested in advancing the field of eco-physiology using biologically informed process-based modelling techniques for endotherms.”
4. Dr Mohamed Henriques
Dr Mohamed Henriques looks at the world through birds’ eyes. He believes that “migratory birds connect the world at different levels, linking ecosystems, sites, habitats, and cultures”, and he was shortlisted for the JWO Research Grant for his proposal entitled “Migrant shorebirds as sentinels of local ecological changes in key African wetlands with global”.
He hopes to learn how local changes in West Africa “cascade through to the whole flyway by measuring changes in migration timing and pattern implications”.
He notes that “the shorebirds of the East Atlantic Flyway connect the very different ecosystems of Siberian tundra and Icelandic river plains in the Arctic, with the intertidal flats off the coast of the Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania bordering the Sahara Desert, and the tropical mangrove islands of the Bijagós Archipelago, in Guinea-Bissau.
“These high latitude breeding species spend up to eight months at these African UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, foraging on invertebrates on the intertidal flats. Their disappearance might cause unpredictable shifts in this ecosystem. In face of current global changes, West Africa is among the most vulnerable regions, with foreseeable local ecological changes in key biodiversity areas like the Banc d’Arguin and the Bijagós Archipelago. However, these changes are very challenging to measure and monitor. The proposed research project is built on a long-term ongoing effort through which the movements of bar-tailed godwits, Limosa lapponica, and whimbrels, Numenius phaeopus, are being tracked with GPS tracking devices.
5. Dr Yolandi Schoeman
Dr Yolandi Schoeman believes that is possible to engineer natural systems back to health.
An ecological engineer by training, she has been shortlisted for the JWO Research Grant for her proposal entitled ‘BioCredits: Regenerating Africa’s Landscape bio-intelligently’, and aims to “develop an impactful biodiversity credit system for sustainable development, by incentivising sustainable land use, and ecosystem and landscape regeneration.”
She says the system will “revolutionise African conservation, promoting biodiversity, ecosystem health, and sustainable development”, as well as “benefit communities and nature, and offering social and economic advantages through sustainable practices.
Asked why she embarked on this research, she says: “I am deeply passionate about addressing the unprecedented challenges that Africa faces due to climate change and environmental conflict. The devastating impacts on biodiversity, livelihoods, and the overall well-being of communities motivate me to embark on the BioCredits project.”