Dr Lovanomenjanahary Marline, a distinguished Malagasy bryologist, has been honoured with the esteemed Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer (JWO) Research Grant, a significant accolade worth $150 000.
The grant, administered by Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation and Oppenheimer Generations Philanthropies, aims to support early-career scientists in devising solutions to African challenges. Dr Marline plans to utilise this funding for her ground-breaking research project centred on bryophytes and lichen. It serves as bioindicators in agriculture, signalling environmental health, air quality, and pollution levels, crucial for sustainable farming practices.
Bryophytes and lichen, small flowerless plants recognised for their sensitivity to environmental changes, have often been overlooked, particularly in Africa. Dr Marline, affiliated with the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, and Association Vahatra in Antananarivo, is determined to change this perspective. Her study delves into the role of bryophytes and lichen in monitoring three crucial threats to humanity and the environment – air pollution, climate change, and the biological diversity crisis.
The JWO Research Grant enables her to intensify her research efforts and collaborate with scientists and students from various African nations. The project’s three primary objectives include creating a comprehensive database of these unique plants in African biodiversity hotspots, predicting the impacts of air pollution and climate change on biodiversity, and mapping toxic particles and metal-containing air pollutants affecting human health.
Jonathan Oppenheimer, executive chairman of Oppenheimer Generations, established the grant in memory of his late wife. He emphasised the urgent need for conservation efforts, stating, “Without successful endeavours in safeguarding and preserving our biodiversity, our collective existence is facing extinction. Climate change is not an isolated phenomenon but a manifestation of the collapse of our ecological resilience.”
To monitor air pollution, Marline plans to deploy innovative methods, including distributing “moss balls” across three nations. These moss balls, composed of bryophytes, act as sensitive indicators of environmental stress and airborne pollutants. Additionally, the project will employ low-cost air-pollution monitoring systems called PurpleAir sensors to collect real-time data.
Dr Marline’s study holds immense importance as it generates baseline data on bryophytes in urban, rural, and mountainous areas of three Afro-Malagasy countries. This information serves as a reference point for future studies exploring the impact of climate change on plant species’ migration patterns.
Expressing her gratitude for the JWO Research Grant, Dr Marline highlighted the scarcity of government funding for environmental research in Madagascar, despite the island’s significance as a global center of bryophyte diversity.
Her journey from a small town in Madagascar to becoming a post-doctoral researcher exemplifies her commitment to bryophyte research. Her interdisciplinary approach integrates scientific expertise with a passion for dance, hiking, and cooking.
The Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer Research Grant empowers her to contribute valuable insights into the intricate interplay between biodiversity, climate change, and air pollution, underscoring the importance of supporting innovative research for a sustainable future in Africa.