If Only I Had a Microscope… (SSAWRN)

Alan Anderson

Dr. Ofurum Francis Arimoro developed his interest in stream biology in his home country of Nigeria, in the rich aquatic habitat of the Niger Delta. His primary interest was to use aquatic insects as indicators of water quality, but he also enjoyed teaching the growing numbers of students interested in water issues and advising the public as well – for example, how to use certain mites to rid waterways of invasive water hyacinths. However, the institution where he earned his PhD and spent years teaching, Delta State University in Abraka, had not a single bifocal microscope, an indispensable tool for biologists who study macro-invertebrates. Although Francis had published papers on aquatic insects, without a microscope he could seldom identify them below the family level, which limited his research progress.

Thanks to the work he had managed to do, however, he was invited last fall to give a talk on the biomonitoring of rivers in Grahamstown, South Africa, by the SA National Research Foundation. He spoke at the South African Aquatic Biodiversity Institute, located near Rhodes University. As a result of the talk, an expert from Rhodes invited him to work at the university for a month, using the lab’s modern instruments and immersing himself in insect taxonomy.

While at Rhodes, Francis heard about RISE and was accepted as a postdoc. He is now happily developing a stream bioassessment protocol for Nigeria based on an existing local system called the SA Scoring System. This is based on the varying resistance to  pollutants, which means that they are reasonably sensitive indicators of stream health. For example, the presence of insects from the families of Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Tricoptera (the so-called EPT group) usually indicate clean water. (Ephemeroptera are so named because their adult life phase usually lasts less than a day.)

The presence of Chironomids, by contrast, indicates water with some degree of pollution; the greater the proportion of Chironomids, the more polluted the environment. However, he still needs optical equipment that lets him identify the insects to the generic level, for many reasons. For example, some genera of Chironomids have different tolerances for pesticides and other pollutants.

Francis has other goals that can benefit his home country. He is developing a taxonomic key to help students learn identification of important indicator groups. “We have a lot of scientists coming up in this area, and I want to be able to help them,” he said. Another goal is to review biomonitoring techniques from around the world and adapt some to Africa by adjusting for climate, environmental features, micro-habitat, and other differences. Finally, because he is handicapped by the lack of comparable biomonitoring studies anywhere in Africa, a longer-term goal is to do additional studies in East Africa and/or other locations to compare with his own.

“For now,” he said, “I would like to learn more, go back home, and pass that along to others.”