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19th Ave New York, NY 95822, USA

Dr Nompumelelo Baso

Dr Nompumelelo Baso loves to crack a code. The task she wants to undertake if she wins the JWO award is to figure out how climate change and invasive species gang up on freshwater ecosystems to break the backbone of functional communities across Africa, destabilising water and food security. And then, to work out how nature can bounce back.

The title of her project proposal for the JWO Research Grant is “Fostering trophic resistance to climate change and biological invasions in African freshwater ecosystems”.

Baso, an aquatic ecologist and data analyst, says that “freshwater is important for our livelihoods, especially for poor and marginalised communities. This research will ensure continued ecosystem service provision in such communities even in the face of global change.”

She hopes that the research will “help build resilience in our freshwater ecosystems, by protecting and promoting positive feedback loops, which are essential for ecosystem stability”.

Baso says that “these ecosystems are under increasing threat from the effects of climate change and invasive species, which can disrupt the delicate balance of interactions among organisms at different trophic levels. These interactions, known as trophic cascades, are crucial for regulating the abundance and distribution of species, as well as the biodiversity, nutrient cycling, and functioning of the whole ecosystem. Therefore, understanding how trophic cascades are influenced by climate change and invasive species is essential for predicting the ecological consequences and developing effective conservation and management strategies.”

She says her project poses a fundamental question: “How do climate change and invasive species synergistically influence trophic cascades in various African freshwater ecosystems, and what are the adaptive strategies that native species employ to counteract these influences?”

She says she takes hope from developments in biological control, “which involves using natural predators, parasites, or pathogens to manage and reduce populations of pests and invasive species. This is one of the most promising and hopeful recent scientific developments for environmental and conservation efforts.”

Over and above informing conservation and management strategies for freshwater ecosystems, Baso’s research will help demonstrate the economic value and benefits of freshwater ecosystems, and her predictive models will help to identify potential challenges for the bio-economy, and ultimately contribute to the development and implementation of sustainable and inclusive bio-economy strategies.


Baso obtained her PhD in Botany from Rhodes University, and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity. Further to her research, she says that “whether it’s identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates or clarifying complex scientific concepts”, she thrives on making science accessible. So, when she’s not immersed in research, she’ll be helping others make sense of their data @ Baso R-Analytics, or in the garden with her “inquisitive” toddler. She adds that her own secret pleasure is that she is “obsessed with RStudio programming. Cracking a code that has been refusing to run is the best feeling!”