Bootsma Heads to Africa on Fulbright Scholarship

Harvey Bootsma’s connections to Africa run deep, having studied the waters and fish of Lake Malawi for years. Early in his career, he was the first director of the Lake Malawi National Park, and a former student of Bootsma’s now runs the Lake Malawi Fisheries Research Station.

This October, the professor in UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences will return to Malawi on a Fulbright Scholarship at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Harvey Bootsma in Malawi

Harvey Bootsma in Malawi on a previous trip

He will spend eight months, teaching in the aquatic sciences program, advising graduate students, and helping to establish a monitoring program in Lake Malawi. The system will be much like the observing systems that Bootsma and Professor Val Klump have been operating on Lake Michigan for almost 20 years ago, with support from the Great Lakes Observing System. Data from observation systems is used to understand how large lakes are responding to stressors, such as climate change, and support mathematical models that inform management practices.

“The Fisheries Department [in Malawi] recently put observing systems into Lake Malawi, which is great because they are now collecting data that we’ve wanted for years to do modeling for that lake,” Bootsma says.

The systems were installed by the United Nations Development Programme; however, not much training was provided, and the systems have begun to fall into disrepair. Bootsma will get them up and running and train people to maintain them.

While in Africa, he also hopes to work with the National Parks Department to establish a program to monitor biodiversity in the nearshore waters of the park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“Lake Malawi has more species of fish than any other lake in the world. Especially in the nearshores, there’s a really diverse fish community. It’s like diving into an aquarium,” he says. Recent studies suggest this biodiversity is being affected by land use change and climate change.

Fish in Lake Malawi

Fish in Lake Malawi

Bootsma plans to study the ecology of nearshore fishes in Lake Malawi with methods similar to those he and his graduate students have used to explore the invasive round goby’s role in the food web of Lake Michigan. He hopes to build upon his relationships in Malawi to help collect essential data on this important freshwater lake, so that scientists there can explain and address significant events taking place, such as mass fish kills.

“We know that Lake Malawi and some of the other African Great Lakes have been changing due to climate change, but we don’t know at what rate or what the implications are for how the ecosystems function,” Bootsma says. “We want to get a long-term monitoring program there with some of the scientists in the country.”