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Tanzanian scholar defeats peers to win European Coimbra Award for Young African researchers

Dr Never Mwambela from the African Wildlife Management College, Mweka, Tanzania, carried out the award-winning research in the country’s protected areas of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Makuyuni Wildlife Park and the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem.

FRIDAY May 17, 2024

Dr Never Mwambela (Right), a lecturer at the African Wildlife Management College, Mweka, Tanzania, is the only researcher from sub-Saharan Africa to win the Coimbra Award for Young African researchers. PHOTOS | COURTESY

By Patty Magubira

The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania

A female scholar has flown the Tanzanian flag high in Europe after clinching a Coimbra Award for Young African researchers, beating her peers across sub-Saharan African higher education institutions.

Dr Never Mwambela, a lecturer at the College of African Wildlife Management, Mweka, Tanzania, emerged the sole young researcher from sub-Saharan Africa with a remarkable project.

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 impacts of climate change, while ensuring resilient food production and biodiversity conservation.

A lecturer from the African Wildlife Management College, Mweka, Tanzania, Dr Never Mwambela (Left), poses for a souvenir picture with a colleague after winning a Coimbra Award for Young African researchers.

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.

Dr Never Mwambela, a lecturer from the African Wildlife Management College, Mweka, Tanzania, upon her arrival at the University of Barcelona in Spain for her stint as a visiting young researcher from sub-Saharan Africa.

The burning of fossil fuels, clearing of forests for intensive agriculture, including widespread usage of synthetic pesticides, are among human activities worsening the situation, as they increase production costs and 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.

Dr Never Mwambela (Left) poses for a picture with the German President, Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Centre), at Hyatt Hotel in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, shortly after the youthful scholar from the African Wildlife Management College, Mweka, won the German Presidential Award last year. PHOTOS | FILE

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

The findings indicate highest spider diversity and their biocontrol role in agricultural and natural landscapes especially on cotton, maize and coffee fields.

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

“We also revealed some spider species feed vectors, including of mosquitoes, transmit infections ranging from Malaria to viral pathogens such as dengue, chikungunya, Zika virus and yellow fever, confounding intervention programmes.”

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.

Findings of Dr Never Mwambela’s research, which won the Coimbra Award for Young African researchers 2024, reveals spiders’ bioindicator role of shedding light on environmental pollution and climate change. PHOTO | SPIDER ID

The newly identified spiders’ species of Tanzania shed light on the role of bioindicator of environmental pollution and climate change in the biosphere, as they were 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 informing future policy on bioindicators of pollution, environmental bioremediatory and biocontrol of disease and invasive pests of major food and cash crops in the regionΩ

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