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Studying the air-breathing lungfish, a descendant of the first terrestrial animal

Gorongosa National Park is an amazing place for research because of the diversity of habitats, and especially because of what I study:  the little-known but fascinating lungfish and its environment. The lungfish (Protopterus annectens) is an air-breathing fish found in the coastal rivers of Mozambique and other parts of southern Africa. Researchers have described its ability to “walk” on its fins on the river or pond floor.

The lungfish of Gorongosa occur in seasonal pans. When those pans evaporate during the dry season, the lungfsh enters a state of  estivation, which is a kind of deep sleep similar to hibernation.

In Gorongosa little is known about the organisms that live in these pans and how they interact. With my research, I intend to answer the question that led me to make this study: What are the characteristics of the habitat of the lung fish?

This is the lungfish eating a killifish.

Many of Gorongosa’s lungfish are found in pans with lots of vegetation, and in some rice paddies outside of the park. In the tradition of the people who live near the park, only men eat the lungfish because, they say, “it is not possible for a woman to eat her sister”.

These are some of the things I use in in my research

Lorena Matos: I am an ecologist and a conservationist, in love with nature because it is unique and fascinating. I have liked to help people since I was little, but I did not follow a career in medicine because, like so many others,  I do not like to see blood. By working in conservation, I have found a way to help people, while protecting that which gives us food, fresh air and clean water. I am currently a research fellow at Gorongosa National Park, where I study African lungfish, the amazing fish that is the ancestor of the first animal that emerged on land and able to live out of water.

Lorena participated in the National Geographic Society Sciencetelling Bootcamp in Gorongosa National Park, September 2017. More than a dozen researchers and conservationists associated with Mozambique’s iconic park partnered with a team of National Geographic storytellers to develop personal and professional storytelling skills through public speaking, videography, photography, social media and blogging. The multi-day Sciencetelling course was created especially for scientists and conservationists to effectively communicate their work to audiences beyond peer-reviewed journals. A selection of their blog posts, photographs and videos will be published on the Sciencetelling Stories blog. Learn more about National Geographic’s Sciencetelling Bootcamp program.