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Dr Henry Okonkwo

Mangroves shore up our coastlines, and often symbolise characteristics of resilience and strength in times of upheaval.

But they are under threat, and Dr Henry Okonkwo wants to ensure that they survive and flourish.

His project proposal for the JWO Research Grant is entitled “Assessing the biological resilience of the African mangrove: Genetic diversity, reproductive efficiency, and phenology of selected mangrove species.”

Okonkwo says that the Mangrove ecosystem “is a characteristic feature of tropical, subtropical and warm temperate coastlines. They serve a multiple role as nurseries for a range of aquatic species, blue carbon sinks, coastal community livelihood support and tourist attraction areas of local, national, and global value.

“However, mangroves all over the world face the threat of degradation and destruction from pollution, deforestation, conversion, reclamation, industrial development, and climate change. Mangrove restoration projects aim to restore lost mangroves,” but often flounder for a variety of reasons.

“Reproductive efficiency and genetic diversity are basic to the biological resilience of any ecosystem,” he says. “Reproductive efficiency is fundamental to the amount of genetic diversity in the new generation; it determines the capacity of populations to withstand changing environment, while phenology is the dashboard of ecosystem response to climate change impacts.

“Mangrove restoration projects often rely on mangrove fruit (propagule) supply for their plantings. Mangroves generally are reported to have low fruiting efficiency, genetic diversity and are susceptible to phenological interruptions from climate change. Nutrition, climate change, pollution, pollinator inefficiency, pollen viability, stigma receptivity, and flower and/or pollen predation and disease are possible culprits of reproductive inefficiency in mangroves that have been poorly investigated.”

He says that scientific solutions to issues of genetic diversity and reproductive efficiency will depend on the exact cause.

“Nutrition related causes will require mangrove soil fertilisation alongside taking measures to avert poor mangrove soil development; climate related causes will require local, national, and large scale environment and climate related action to ameliorate or minimise mangrove pollution; disease and predation causes require biological measures such as the use of the natural enemy of the disease organism and/or the use of chemical solutions; pollen related problems may be overcome by assisting with artificial pollination with viable pollens; artificial breeding plots may also be established within mangrove areas to produce genetically diverse propagules for restoration projects.”

Okonkwo concludes that the potential impacts of the study include understanding of the exact causes of low mangrove fruiting efficiency; providing information on the reproductive efficiency of the mangroves in Africa; giving an idea of the potential impact of climate change on mangrove reproduction; providing information on the reproductive and phenological patterns of mangroves in Africa; establishing the degree of genetic diversity in the African mangrove and providing useful information that policy makers can use.

 

Dr Henry Okonkwo is a Principal Research Fellow in the Swamp Forest Research Station of the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria located in the Niger Delta community of Onne Rivers State in Nigeria. He conducts research in the areas of mangrove conservation, plant reproductive ecology, and seed germination ecology. He holds a PhD in Silviculture and Forest Biology from the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. His hobbies include travelling and music.