This expedition also takes place in three sites: Lilongwe Research Centre, Nkhata Bay and Liwonde National Park. The terrestrial research in Lilongwe aims to assess the biodiversity of the city and its surrounding areas. You will join existing research teams to monitor carnivore populations, as well as the species composition and distribution of other taxa including bats and birds. Alongside this research, you will complete a lecture course on Malawi Conservation which covers topics such as African biodiversity, speciation and human evolution, ecological monitoring techniques and humanwildlife interactions. At Nkhata Bay, you will spend a week either completing the PADI Open Water dive course or a Lake Ecology Course by diving (if already qualified) or snorkelling. Following on from these, you will get chance to assist with research surveys in the lake, including cichlid population dynamics. You will then spend two nights (one full day) at Liwonde National Park, experiencing and learning about the management of fenced reserves and the megafauna commonly found in them.
Biodiversity has never been more in danger than it is today. With human encroachment expanding, the wild areas in which biodiversity is traditionally thought to thrive are diminishing. But what about species that have found a niche outside of these “wild” areas? Species that have learnt to live alongside humans in the most unorthodox of places? Lilongwe – Malawi’s capital – is small and rural in comparison to many African cities and maintains healthy populations of several carnivores, including hyena. So if the predators can survive here, what unstudied biodiversity is supporting them?
Opwall and its scientists are working with local experts from Conservation Research Africa to monitor the biodiversity of this area and use this data to inform human-wildlife conflict mitigation. Spotted hyena and other carnivores are monitored through camera trapping, while bat diversity is studied through trapping and acoustic methods and is used as an indicator of overall biodiversity. Together we aim to also develop new invertebrate and bird monitoring in the area to establish baseline biodiversity estimates for these groups.
Lake Malawi has more species of fish than any other lake in the world, but most are more closely related to other species living in the lake than to species living elsewhere. It appears that speciation is happening within the lake, but surprisingly little is known about how this occurred. Our lake research centre, The Maru, conducts underwater population and biodiversity surveys of the Lake’s cichlid fish populations, a water quality monitoring programme and a fisheries monitoring programme. The goals of each of these programmes are to gather more detailed baseline data sets of cichlid population dynamics in the Lake, its water quality and its fisheries and to assess the extent to which correlations between the three datasets might help explain changes within them.
In Malawi the “windy season” has just started. It is hot most days (temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees) with only occasional rain. During the evenings the temperature drops but still usually stays above 20 degrees.
Fitness level required
Low. There are some short walks over rough terrain, but most of the work either requires very little walking or is from a boat.
Facilities in Lilongwe are basic (bunk beds, bucket showers, latrine toilets). Nkhata Bay and Liwonde are a little less rustic (bunk beds, running water for hot and cold showers, composting toilets). All sites have cell phone signal but no wifi.