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Ocean Currents Link, Divide Genetics of Global Mangrove Populations, UMD Researcher and Colleagues Show

By Samantha Watters

A University of Maryland (UMD) postdoctoral researcher is one author of a new large-scale study examining the genetic diversity of mangroves over more than 1,800 miles of coastline in the Western Indian Ocean, including Eastern Africa and several islands. Until now, little work has been done classifying and highlighting genetic diversity in African mangrove populations for conservation.

As in other wetlands, mangrove trees like the species (Rhizophora mucronata) studied in the paper in Scientific Reports create habitats for animal and plant life, acting as hubs of biodiversity while also economically supporting local communities. The work by researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Magdalene Ngeve, a postdoctoral student in the lab of plant science and landscape architecture and entomology Associate Professor Maile Neel, shows how oceanic currents both connect and divide mangrove populations, with important implications for protecting these ecosystems.

Born and raised in Cameroon, Ngeve grew up near the Atlantic coast, but didn’t give her local mangroves much thought until she left to pursue her master’s and doctoral degrees in biology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. It was there that her love of mangroves blossomed, and she brought that passion with her to UMD as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow. “Whenever I get asked about mangroves, I always say they are my happy place,” she said.

This study helps fill in an important gap in the research, since African mangroves have been understudied, Ngeve said. For her doctoral work, she presented some of the first genetic work on the mangroves of the West African coast, so expanding this work to the East African coast is a natural next step.

Ngeve is particularly interested in studying coastal environments as a way to look at larger global change phenomena. “Almost everything we do on land affects the ocean, and those intermediate environments are like the bridge,” says Ngeve. “Foundational species like mangroves and submerged aquatic vegetation, which I also study as a postdoc, are home to so many species and host high biodiversity. Making sure they are resilient means protecting that biodiversity for all that depend on them.”

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