Fish Barcoding and Functional Ecological Workshop

A fish photo taken ready for analysis using ImageJ and MorFishJ

Marine and coastal fisheries contribute significantly to Africa’s economy and play significant social and nutritional roles in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, escalation of numerous pressures, including overexploitation, climate change and pollution are immensely threatening marine biodiversity and fisheries in Africa.

For example, coral reefs in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) suffered a dramatic loss of live coral cover and a 2.5-fold increase in algal abundance following the first severe global bleaching event in 1998. Consequently, the structure of associated fish communities has changed in many coastal regions of the WIO, but quantitative data on the impact of these changes are scarce.

Currently there is strong scientific interest on identifying drivers of change and deducing whether these causes are related to evolutionary constrains (i.e., can phylogenetic relatedness explain observed biodiversity patterns). To address gaps in monitoring marine and coastal systems in Africa, Far-LeaF research fellow Dr Levy Otwoma together with his counterparts Dr. Achim Meyer, Dr. Sonia Bejerano, and Professor Oscar Puebla from the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research, organized a workshop on Fish Barcoding and Functional Ecology to enhance the monitoring of the status of marine and coastal systems in Africa.

The workshop, which was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, focused on compiling, and sharing both theoretical knowledge and practical laboratory skills and attracted 25 participants from 11 countries - Belgium, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.

Dr Otwoma highlighted the importance of population connectivity information in the management of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Western Indian Ocean. “MPAs in the WIO can reverse climate change and human-induced stressors on coral reefs, but they should be created to match with dispersal capability of the species being protected. Stakeholders in the WIO yearning for a network of MPAs, need also to make sure that these protected areas are linked to each other, to ensure the source and sink populations of vulnerable species are protected”.

The four-weeks workshop combined an online format (two weeks) with 10 days of in-person training at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute in the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya between the 3rd and 14th of October. The in-person part involved training the participants to use the software MorFishJ and ImageJ to characterize fish morphology. In addition, participants were trained on tissue preservation for molecular analysis, different DNA extraction methods, DNA amplification through the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and molecular data handling and analysis methods.

During a two-day symposium, participants shared their exciting research findings with topics ranging from the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) in biomonitoring and conservation to the taxonomy and genetic diversity of various fish species.

Participants at the last day of the in-person training at KMFRI dolphin conference hall, Mombasa Kenya

During a two-day symposium, participants shared their exciting research findings with topics ranging from environmental DNA (eDNA) in biomonitoring and conservation to various fish species’ taxonomy and genetic diversity.

A fish photo was taken and ready for analysis using ImageJ and MorFishJ.

Additionally, participants also heard dynamic talks from various keynote speakers who included Professor Oscar Puebla (ZMT), Dr Sonia Bejarano (ZMT), Dr Levy Otwoma (KMFRI), Dr Achim Meyer (ZMT), Dr Sammy Wambua (Pwani University) and Dr Monica Mwale (SANBI- South African National Biodiversity Institute).

Article submitted by Levy Otwoma


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.