Friday, July 26, 2013

Some preliminary results from our underwater population and biodiversity surveys

            Since October 2011, the Maru has been conducting population and biodiversity surveys recording the presence and abundance of certain cichlid species around Kande Island in the northern region of Lake Malawi. While some species are abundant year round, others come and go. By analyzing the data patterns of species abundance and scarcity can be determined. We've also been able to put together graphs to display the change in total numbers of all the species that we monitor.

            Transect line surveys are conducted in two separate locations at Kande Island and the Outer Reef. Initially population and biodiversity surveys were completed twice a month: on the 1st and 15th. Having established that population and biodiversity trends could still be reliably tracked at a less frequent survey interval it was decided to conduct surveys once a month and to expand the number of survey sites. To perform the surveys, two fifty meter swims are done along a fixed transect line. While swimming, the surveyor identifies which species and how many are present in a one meter radius around the line and records the data on an underwater slate. The data is entered into an excel spreadsheet and a graph for each species is updated monthly. The graphs are then analyzed.


The first two graphs show that at both sites there has been a decline in the total numbers of fish.  Year on data at the Outer Reef shows a 27% decrease however at Kande Island the decrease is more marginal.

To determine the factors relating to the decline in species numbers, it is important to find patterns of when fish species are more or less abundant. Graphs 3 and 4 show the relationships between eight different species on the outer reef while Graphs 5 and 6 show the abundances of eight species on the island that seem to track each other.. At the Outer Reef we were able to find selected species that appear to share ecological niches and thus vary in abundance at roughly opposite times.  However at Kande Island we couldn't find similar relationships between any two groups of species.  

Why niche sharing could be found at the Outer Reef but not at Kande Island could be due to any number of factors.  There is still much to learn!

Stay tuned, or join us in the discovery!  Visit to learn more about the Maru's research programs and how you can get involved.  

This blog post was written by Brianna, Tierney, an intern at the Maru Research Center.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Science is Politics, Politics is Science

In "Local Knowledge, Environmental Politics, and the Founding of
Ecology in the United States:Stephen Forbes and "The Lake as a
Microcosm (1887)" David W. Schneider argues that the founders of the
science of Ecology learned substantially from the local knowledge of
fishermen during their research activities and eventually began
adopting their political concerns.

Certainly too little attention has been paid to the role that informal
or "local" knowledge has played in the development of most scientific
disciplines. Nothing develops in a vacuum. This article will
certainly be a useful citation in my study. It may be the case that
scientists in the projects I am studying followed a similar evolution.
And if they didn't it would be interesting to find out why.

The article itself, however, while exploring how Forbes grappled with
scientific and political boundaries, curiously doesn't attempt to
critically examine the usefulness of maintaining the epistemological
boundaries that labels such as "scientific," "political," and "local"
imply. Though the material he presents provides a great opportunity
to interrogate the supposed dichotomy of "scholarly science" and
"practical politics," Schneider refrains. Instead he makes the much
less radical claim that Forbes simply used scientific objectivity as a
tool for political ends. I'd argue, with Latour, that knowledge never
has an intrinsic character, so the idea of using scientific knowledge
for political ends can't arise. Rather from its very beginning all
knowledge is created for social goals and through social processes
(this is the core message of his classic "Science in Action") and so
whatever character it may later be ascribed with is itself a product
of politics and culture ("translation?"). So the story instead is one
in which Forbes established the field of Ecology by successfully
translating knowledge that had formerly been labeled "local" into
"scientific" and then adding to it and that this entire process of
knowledge translation and creation was a cultural and social one, both
personally for Forbes as seen in the changing character of his
correspondences about local fisherman, and more broadly as seen in the
disputes between fishermen and "big business."