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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Capacity building in fish biodiversity discovery In Kenya

PI: Dorothy Wanja Nyingi (National Museums of Kenya)
U.S. Partner: Henry Bart, Jr. (Tulane University)
Project Dates: August 2013 to July 2014

 Kenya Partnership
Participants in the Biodiversity and Phylogenetics Research Methods Workshop held September 24 to 27 at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi (Photo courtesy Dr. Nyingi).

The ichthyology section is the youngest of all the research collection departments at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). Founded in 1997, the section holds the largest collection of fishes within East and Central Africa. Despite its potential, however, it has suffered from the lack of adequate funding and human capacity. Previous collaboration with Tulane University with funding from the National Science Foundation has supported field collections, morphological and genetic analyses, and capacity building of local researchers. However, many gaps remain in field expeditions, specimen curation, data analyses, publication, and dissemination. The main goal of the project is to support the Kenyan research team in their work on fish species discovery and creation of checklists and identification keys. Building on progress made with support under the pilot round of the PEER Science program, this new project will involve field excursions in rivers not yet explored, particularly the mid and lower basins of the Tana and Athi rivers and rivers in northern parts of Kenya. The project will also include support for proper curation of fishes at the ichthyology section of NMK, training in phylogenetic analyses, and support for undergraduate and post-graduate student participants.
 
This project will increase the training and capacity of Kenyan scientists and students by engaging them in important components of biodiversity research, specifically taxonomic revisions and new species descriptions, molecular phylogenetic analyses on DNA sequence data, improvement of the state of preservation of the NMK fish collection, and Web-based dissemination of data from the collection. The additional training and resources provided as part of this project will ensure that Kenyans will have the capacity to conduct biodiversity research in the future and that the NMK fish collection is available to support this research for generations to come. The proposed project will also allow unfinished fish taxonomic work to be completed, greatly increasing knowledge of the Kenyan freshwater fish fauna. It will train Kenyans in fish identification methods and will provide identification keys and guides to aid the identification process. Imparting this knowledge to local indigenous people should increase their desire to protect the species and their riverine habitats.
 
Summary of Recent Activities
 
Members of the Kenyan research team attended the 5th International Conference of the Pan-African Fish and Fisheries Association in Bujumbura, Burundi, September 16-20, 2013. The team was responsible for one poster and seven presentations, including the PI’s keynote lecture on the role of multi-disciplinary aquatic research in enhancing conservation and co-management of aquatic ecosystems in East Africa. The second key project event was a workshop held at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi September 24-27 and led by a group from the U.S. partner’s institution, Tulane University. The workshop focused on biodiversity and phylogenetics research methods, featuring a series of presentations and interactive demonstrations.
 
Although this project is only in its early phase, it has already resulted in a key outreach impact. PI Dorothy Nyingi published her book, Guide to the Common Freshwater Fishes of Kenya, in December 2013, and funds from the PEER grant allowed her to distribute 1,000 free copies to university libraries, students of fisheries biology, and others. A review of the book is available at <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mj4rRJ7sg5I>.
 
In the upcoming year, team member Prof. Nathan Gichuki is scheduled to visit Tulane to discuss possibilities of inter-university student and faculty exchanges in freshwater ecology studies, including fish discoveries. He will also begin discussions of elements of a new memorandum of understanding between Tulane, the University of Nairobi, and the National Museums of Kenya. There will also be discussions in a larger context with the Colombia Water Centre, The Nature Conservancy, and local Kenyan water agencies towards the goal of applying for an NSF PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education) grant aimed at developing sustainable water use strategies in the Tana River Basin.
 
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