Scholar wins Award for Young African researchers

Dr Never Mwambela
Founder & CEO Plant_Biodefenders Ltd

Dr Mwambela is executing her research dubbed the Impact of climate change on biodiversity and food security: The role of Nature-Based Solution for Improving Conservation and Wellbeing at the University of Barcelona, Spain. 

The scholarship programme aims at equipping young scholars with high-impact projects with academic and research contacts in Europe to carry out work they engage in back home.

A scholar has to come up with novel integrative natural solutions with multiple functions for minimising impactsof climate change, while ensuring resilient food production and biodiversity conservation.

Dr Mwambela carried out her award-winning research in Tanzania’s protected areas of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Makuyuni Wildlife Park and the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem.

She also conducted the research in the country’s agricultural landscapes of KPL Coffee Plantations (Kilimanjaro) Cotton farms in Meatu-district, Simiyu Region, and in maize farms in Arusha Region.

Climate change being a major risk in biodiversity conservation and food production in sub-Saharan Africa,Tanzania included, prompted her to carry out the research.

In fact, agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a major challenge of meeting food demands as a result of the sector reducing its footprint in environment and sustainable production.

Pests, especially invasive ones, are responsible for 40 per cent losses of crops, thanks to climate change and weather patterns for contributing to the dispersal, expansion and population dynamics of insects and facilitating the spread of indigenous and exotic species in new areas.

The burning of fossil fuels, clearing of forests for intensive agriculture, including widespread usage of synthetic pesticides, are among human activitiesworsening the situation, as they increase production costsand environmental pollution.

Dr Mwambela attributed intense droughts, water scarcity, severe fires, rising sea levels, flooding, catastrophic storms and declining biodiversity in some areas of Tanzania to anthropogenic climate change.

Simply put, it is all about shifts in temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns over seasons, years and decades compounded by human activities.

“The effects of extreme temperatures on other arthropod groups such as spiders has received much less attention despite their potential biocontrol and conservation role in the ecosystem,” Dr Mwambela explained.

In her novel project, Dr Mwambela uses spiders as an ideal approach to determine species’ diversity and their conservation role, analyzing the spiders’ gut to determine pests diversity and associated impacts as the spider diets in agricultural landscapes of Tanzania.

Her research findings show highest spiders’ diversity in protected areas in the northern tourism circuit, namelyNgorongoro Conservation Area, Makuyuni Wildlife Park and the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem.

The findings indicate highest spider diversity and their biocontrol role in agricultural andnatural landscapes especially on cotton, maize and coffeefields.

“We discovered more than 20 spiders’ families including Araneidae, Salticidae and Lycosidae, playing conservation roles as biocontrol of major agricultural pests, including fall armyworm, bollworm, jassids, aphids, whiteflies, red spider mites and thrips,” Dr Mwambela said.

” We also revealed some spider species feed vectors including mosquitoes which transmit infections including those of Malaria and viral pathogens such as dengue, chikungunya, Zika virus and yellow fever confounding the intervention programmes”. Dr. Mwambela said.

She said the lowest spiders’ diversity the findings revealed in intensified farming systems with synthetic pesticide and in inhabited areas called for ecological agriculture and organic farming to restore the soil and ecosystem and minimise impacts of climate change.

The newly identified spiders’ species of Tanzania shed light on the role of bioindicator of environmental pollution and climate change in the biosphere, as theywere resilient to extreme conditions, high disturbance and toxins.

Dr Mwambela advised researchers and governments in Tanzania and across sub-Saharan African to consider harnessing the integral role the spiders play in informingfuture policy on bioindicators of pollution, environmental bioremediatory and biocontrol of disease and invasive pests of major food and cash crops in the region.

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