UK-led project awarded $2.5 million by National Science Foundation to study climate change, biodiversity

By Jenny Wells-Hosley

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 29, 2022) — A study led by the University of Kentucky has been selected for funding by the National Science Foundation’s “Biodiversity on a Changing Planet” program, an international, transdisciplinary effort that addresses major challenges related to climate change. The five-year project has been awarded nearly $2.5 million.

Led by Michael McGlue, associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the UK College of Arts and Sciences, the study seeks to understand how aquatic biodiversity in Africa’s Great Rift Valley is affected by climate change.

The award marks a major milestone for climate research at UK — something McGlue and faculty hope to see even more support.

“Citizens of the Commonwealth have been touched by natural disasters (floods, landslides, drought) with increasing severity as the climate has changed, and the future remains uncertain,” McGlue said. “More research on climate change and its impacts are sorely needed at UK, including work that will help to build the resilience and preparedness of Kentucky communities.” 

In this project, McGlue and his collaborators, including scientists from the University of Toledo, University of Wyoming, University of Arizona, University of Connecticut, Indiana State University and Brown University, will study the food web in Lake Tanganyika, one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most prolific inland fisheries. Known for its biodiversity, the lake and its vast and ancient ecosystem are threatened by climate change in ways that are not well-understood.

“Climate and environmental changes present complex problems for life on Earth,” McGlue said. “In the tropics, climate change threatens the healthy function of freshwater fisheries, and places poor communities at risk of losing an important food source.”

The project, titled "The impact of climate change on functional biodiversity across spatiotemporal scales at Lake Tanganyika, Africa,” will assess several different scenarios of climate change and its effects on the lake’s ecosystems. Using high-resolution geological records, fossils and genetic tools, the team will set up a series of experiments to track variability in the lake’s biodiversity across thousands of years. The results will show how the food web responds to changes in temperature and precipitation, with potential for predicting changes in biodiversity amidst severe climatic uncertainty in large tropical lakes.

With this information in hand, fisheries and ecosystem managers will be better equipped to make decisions that safeguard food resources.

McGlue hopes this project will lead to even more support for climate change research and education at UK. Edward Woolery, professor and chair of EES, echoed the importance.

“The geological sciences are the natural home for understanding the fundamentals of global environmental change and climate-related hazards,” Woolery said. “This award demonstrates the strong commitment our program has to these societally important fields of scholarship. Our goal is for EES to become a leader in climate change research and education, which both serve UK’s land-grant mission and helps our communities adapt and advance in an uncertain future.”

McGlue and many EES faculty are part of the statewide Kentucky Climate Consortium, which has its headquarters at UK. This group, which includes members from UK colleges and research centers and other state institutions, serves as a catalyst for climate research and education in Kentucky. The consortium provides networking opportunities for Kentucky-based climate scholars and enables them to leverage their expertise to collaboratively pursue climate research, teaching and public outreach. 

Learn more about the Kentucky Climate Consortium at www.research.uky.edu/climate-consortium.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Science Foundation under Award Number 2224886. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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