Photo: Jeremy Shelton
Photo: Jeremy Shelton
Among the greatest threats to South Africa’s freshwater biodiversity are habitat modification, pollution and invasive alien fishes. Alien fish have an impact because they prey on, or compete with, native fishes, invertebrate and plant communities.
CapeNature, the conservation authority in the Western Cape, has initiated a programme to rehabilitate native fish through the removal of invasive alien fishes. It is vitally important to monitor freshwater ecosystems prior to, and following, the intervention to make sure that the authority carrying out the rehabilitation is properly informed and takes appropriate action.
To support this process, a long term monitoring project to assess the ecosystem responses to the removal of alien fish in rivers, dams and wetlands has been initiated in the Cederberg in South Africa’s Western Cape. With funding from the Water Research Commission (WRC K5-2538), the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (NRF-SAIAB) is co-ordinating a multi-institutional collaboration under the leadership of Principal Scientist Olaf Weyl, which involves researchers and students from NRF-SAIAB, CapeNature, the Freshwater Research Centre and the Universities of Venda, Western Cape, Fort Hare, Stellenbosch and Rhodes.
In addition to monitoring ecosystem responses, the project capitalises on the learning opportunities that such monitoring projects provide by linking research activities to research projects required by BSc final year and Honours students. During a three-week field trip in January 2017, BSc (Hons) students from University of Venda, University of Fort Hare, Stellenbosch University and the University of the Western Cape learned and participated in aquatic monitoring of fish, invertebrates and plants.
The techniques included snorkel surveys, underwater camera assessments, seine netting, electro-fishing and aquatic insect monitoring and identification techniques. Students then received guidance from leading ecologists to develop their own projects and collect the data for the research component of their relevant degrees. To facilitate peer-to-peer learning, the students were paired up with post-doctoral and post-graduate researchers from the participating institutions.
Postdoc researcher, Dr Jeremy Shelton, made a great video of the field trip in which you can meet some of the students and share the experience: