Dr Lova Marline
Mosses and liverworts prefer to hang out in cool places, and for Dr Lovanomenjanahary Marline, they are cool to study because they can tell her things about how clean the air is. Marline is a Malagasy researcher who was shortlisted for the JWO Research Grant for her proposal entitled “Bioindicators of biodiversity, air quality and climate change: leveraging non-charismatic groups, bryophytes and lichens, in the tropical Afro-Malagasy Region.”
Marline says she is “passionate about island biodiversity and tropical mountain systems” and that her “long-standing taxonomist interest has been in bryophytes. Bryophytes, especially liverworts, are my favourite organisms,” and she laments that “in many parts of the world this ecologically and evolutionarily important group is still very poorly known”. She uses Madagascar’s high mountains as “a model to investigate bryophyte diversity and distribution and to understand the effect of climate change on biodiversity. I am also interested in using bryophytes as a natural bioindicator to monitor and map indoor and outdoor air quality in urban areas”.
Marline argues that the rich biota of Tropical Africa and Madagascar “face a disproportionate risk due to the dual threats of habitat loss and climate change. Air pollution contributes to climate change, increasing warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Not only is it a serious threat to the diversity of life, but it also has a serious impact on human health.
“However, relative to other ecosystems and habitats in the global North, very little is known about the impacts of air pollution and climate change on biodiversity in the global South. This in part arises from a lack of baseline data and suitable model systems and a dearth of research designed and led by scholars based in these areas.
This is why she proposes to use bryophytes and lichens, firstly “to assess species diversity and distribution patterns in biodiversity hotspots”, secondly “to predict and mitigate the effects of air pollution and climate change on biodiversity”, and finally “to map patterns of health-impairing fine particulate and metal-containing air pollutants.”
She says that “amongst policy makers and conservation specialists, very little to no consideration has been given to using bryophytes and lichens to inform new conservation strategies. Bryophytes and lichens are equally neglected in conservation initiatives, despite providing key ecosystem services such as water filtering, nutrient recycling, and carbon storage. This situation is acute across the tropics and especially in Africa and Madagascar, where conservation efforts targeting other organisms such as members of the big five, lemurs and baobabs receive orders of magnitude more funding than projects specifically targeting bryophyte conservation.”
Her research will focus on Madagascar, Benin and Ethiopia “to break new ground in our understanding of how complex ecosystems respond to global changes and to analyse the crucial link between biodiversity, climate change, and air pollution”.
She aims to “leverage the result of this research project to provide new and sustainable recommendations and strategies to stem biodiversity loss and move toward cleaner ambient air”. She also wants to establish “conservation priorities for sites or vegetation systems so that this exceptional diversity can be conserved and restored”.
But breathable air starts on the ground, with “tiny organisms like mosses and lichens,” says Marline. “They’re the least documented part of the world’s extraordinary biodiversity. But because mosses and lichens don’t rely on roots and vein-like structures to absorb water and nutrients, they are viewed as bioindicators of biodiversity, air quality and climate change. With this research I will use mosses and lichen as model to understand how climate change affects biodiversity and what the impact of air pollution on low form organisms are.”
Asked what environmental and conservation challenges concern her most, apart from climate change, Marline says “deforestation remains a key challenge to the environment and conservation in Africa. A recent study in Madagascar reported that the most frequent threats listed for plants and vertebrates is the increasing deforestation rates. Many other unfavourable circumstances and ecological disaster are partly the outcome forest loss, including air pollution.”
Marline says that while “a huge proportion of the world’s biodiversity remains unknown and undiscovered, new methods such as the use of AI, and new molecular tools (next generation sequencing) to speed up scientific discovery and for conservation, are hopeful scientific developments.”
Enthusing about her work, Marline says “what gets me up in the morning is the ability to learn something new. Every day I could be learning something new: new techniques (next generation sequencing), a new field of study such as bioinformatics, and collaborating with my peers not just from Madagascar but also internationally.
“I am passionate about my work. For the past couple of years, my research involved conducting fieldwork in the high mountains of Madagascar. Fieldwork can involve days of travelling to reach study sites, which are often located in remote areas in Madagascar, involving steep climbs with heavy packs and camping in the wilderness. Luckily, I love camping and I am a keen hiker who climbs mountains for fun in my spare time, making that part of the work very enjoyable.”
Her passions don’t stop there. “During my PhD years,” she says “I started taking up ballet lessons to help fixing bad posture and stretch my neck and back after long working hours behind the microscope. I’ve developed huge passion for dance since then. “
Asked what she’ll do if he wins the JWO award, he answers “I will go to a nice restaurant for a big celebratory meal”.
Dr Marline is a post-doctoral researcher in bryophyte diversity and distribution along elevational gradients in Madagascar.
Her Ph.D. thesis was entitled “Diversity and biogeography of Madagascan bryophytes with an analysis of taxic and functional diversity along an elevational gradient in Marojejy National Park, Madagascar”.