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Biological Diversity and Resilience: Lessons from the Recovery of Cichlid Species in Lake Victoria

Alex O Awiti, The Aga Khan University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (East Africa)

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Abstract

A fundamental feature of the Anthropocene is the inexorable erosion of the self-repairing capacity or adaptive renewal of natural systems because of natural perturbation, exploitation, or management failure. The concept of resilience offers a systematic framework for understanding the dynamics and variables that govern response dynamics of ecosystems. Resilience of haplochromine cichlids is assessed using limnological and biodiversity changes in Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest freshwater lake, over the last five decades. The review explores the resurgence of the haplochromine cichlids using Holling’s adaptive renewal cycle and attempts to illustrate how resilience-based management approaches might learn from an inadvertent management experiment. The introduction in the 1980s of the Nile perch (Lates niloticus), a fecund and voracious predator of the endemic phytoplankton feeding haplochromine cichlids, anthropogenic eutrophication, and deep water hypoxia have combined in a synergistic way to increase the vulnerability of the lake ecosystem to perturbations that were hitherto absorbed. However, the upsurge in commercial Nile perch fishing appears to be enabling the resurgence of the haplochromine cichlids. The resurgence of haplochromine cichlids is characterized by phenotypic plasticity, ecological and life history traits and demonstrates the critical role of response diversity in the maintenance of systems resilience. Resilience of the haplochromine cichlids resides in the requisite functional response diversity and habitat diversity that provide the resources for renewal and regeneration. This paper concludes that management of Nile perch fisheries and control of nutrient loading into Lake Victoria could halt or reverse eutrophication, hence offer the best promise for a diverse, productive, and resilient social-ecological system.

Key words

eutrophication; Lake Victoria; Nile perch; recovery of haplochromine cichlids; resilience; response diversity
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087