Study shows how climate impacts food webs, poses socioeconomic threat in Eastern Africa

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Study shows how climate impacts food webs, poses socioeconomic threat in Eastern Africa
The research team spent 12 days on Lake Tanganyika collecting core samples from the lake’s floor. They chartered a Congolese merchant vessel, seen here, and adapted it for their research project. Credit: Michael McGlue, University of Kentucky

A new study is sounding the alarm on the impact climate change could have on one of the world’s most vulnerable regions.


Michael McGlue, Pioneer Natural Resources Professor of Stratigraphy in the University of Kentucky Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and his team conducted the study at Lake Tanganyika—a major African fishery. The results, which published today in Science Advances, show how certain changes in climate may place the fishery at risk, potentially diminishing food resources for millions of people in this area of eastern Africa.

“Lake Tanganyika’s fish are a critically important resource for impoverished people from four nations (Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Zambia) and resilience to environmental change in that region is quite low,” McGlue said. “Our study revealed that high frequency variability in climate can lead to major disruptions in how the lake’s food web functions.”

Small pelagic fish, known locally as dagaa, are abundant in Lake Tanganyika, and their conservation is pivotal to the food security and economy of rapidly growing and largely impoverished segments of these four nations.

Dagaa feed on algae and plankton, which means greater algae production in the lake results in more fish. How this aquatic food web responds to external forces, like climate, is critical for identifying vulnerabilities and maintaining healthy fish stocks. But until now, very limited information existed on how Lake Tanganyika may respond to such forces.

To understand how the lake reacts to climate changes, the team would need detailed information on the lake’s upwelling—the process by which deep waters rise and fertilize surface waters,