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Alexandra Zieritz

Anne Mclaren Fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences

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Research Summary

The overarching theme of my work is the conservation of tropical freshwater biodiversity and habitats, with a current focus on the biodiversity hotspot Sundaland (comprising the Malay Peninsula,… read more

Recent Publications

Current Research

The overarching theme of my work is the conservation of tropical freshwater biodiversity and habitats, with a current focus on the biodiversity hotspot Sundaland (comprising the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra and Java). The region hosts an incredibly diverse and highly endemic fauna and flora but suffers from severe anthropogenic pressures, most notably deforestation and conversion to palm oil plantations. My research aims to improve our understanding of the patterns, drivers and threats to freshwater biodiversity in the region, and identify taxa and regions of particular conservation importance. I do this by integrating methods from diverse fields of research, including molecular ecology (eDNA, DNA metabarcoding), phylogenetics and environmental/geospatial modelling. My work is done in close collaboration with local partners (e.g. Universiti Malaysia Sarawak) and the IUCN.

Current projects and research themes

(1) Patterns and drivers of tropical freshwater biodiversity

The project aims to (1) assess freshwater invertebrate biodiversity across Malaysia (with the plan to expand the project across SE-Asia in the future), with a focus on (2) identifying biodiversity hotspots, and rare and threatened taxa of particular conservation and functional value; (3) identify the factors driving patterns in tropical freshwater biodiversity using species distribution modelling and other statistical methods; and (4) unravel past and predict future changes (e.g. extinctions of species or populations and introduction of potentially harmful non-native species) based on historical distribution data and future scenarios of global change.

Main collaborating institutions: IUCN, University of Porto, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Universiti Malaysia Sabah

(2) Environmental DNA for monitoring rare taxa in tropical rivers

This project aims to develop a protocol for surveying mussels and other rare freshwater taxa through eDNA in tropical rivers that is reliable and cost-efficient to facilitate wide application among local researchers and practitioners. The final stage of the project will involve a workshop in Kuching, Borneo, to train local researchers and practitioners in this technique.

Main collaborating institutions: Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, World Museum

(3) Biogeography & conservation of freshwater mussels in Asia

We assess past and present patterns of mussel diversity through pioneering field expeditions and application of molecular tools (molecular barcoding). We use molecular phylogenetics (including phylogenomics) to reconstruct the evolutionary history of taxa, and species distribution modelling to identify taxa and areas of particular conservation concern, reveal the drivers of changes in biodiversity, and predict future changes under different climate change and land-use scenarios. Results are not only shared through scientific publications but also as Conservation Assessments of Species, both globally (https://www.iucnredlist.org/) and regionally in the form of a National Redlist (https://www.nationalredlist.org/handbook-and-national-red-list-of-freshwater-mussels-of-malaysia/).

Main collaborating institutions: IUCN, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Tanjungpura University (Indonesia), University of Porto, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Smithsonian Museum

(4) Valuing freshwater biodiversity

My work in this field ranges from investigating the role of freshwater mussels as biofilters and ecosystem engineers, to quantifying the nutritional value and hazards associated with the consumption of freshwater organisms. The data gathered are of particular importance in developing countries, where millions of livelihoods depend on these organisms and their ecosystem functions.

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