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Understanding how Gorongosa’s miombo woodlands adapts to fire

Since I was a child, I have always been fascinated by nature, trying to understand how animals breathe. I started to study this and discovered that plants provide oxygen to breathe. But what I did not know was what was inside plants that enabled them to produce the vital element to maintain life.

As my interest intensified, I enrolled as an undergraduate in Applied Biology At Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo,Mozambique, where I studied the characteristics of genetically modified organisms in maize. In 2015 I participated for the first time in a biodiversity survey offered by the EO Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory in Gorongosa National Park, where I was fascinated by the beauty of the different types of habitats that the Park presents. In 2017 I returned to the Biodiversity Laboratory as a Research Fellow, where I am now studying the fire dynamics, carbon and species diversity of miombo.

Why study miombo?

Miombo forms the largest type of woodlands in southern Africa, including Mozambique. For animals, miombo forest provides habitat and food; for humans it yields ingredients for traditional medicine and is associated with popular myths. My project focuses on the response of the miombo ecosystem to the soil type, the presence of termites, and the frequency of fire.

Collecting leaves

I am also working to develop DNA-sequencing (RAD-Seq) molecular markers for two typical species of miombo: Brachystegia Spiciformis and B. boehmii, and to verify the level of carbon and nitrogen uptake using isotopes in areas with high abundance of vegetation and low occurrence of fire.

Burned area and unburned area used to compare the genetic diversity of the woodlands impacted by fire.
Analyzing data in the laboratory at Gorongosa National Park.

The hypothesis of this research is that Brachystegia spiciforme and B. boehmii.ao species enduring fire alter their own metabolism to create fire-resistance. The use of molecular markers is a basis for biodiversity characterization studies, the RAD-sequence are regions of the genome, inherited in Mendelian form, easily registered and with the ability to detect rapid variation as a result of differences in DNA sequences.

Camilo Bruno Samuel Antonio (Bachelor of Applied Biology) is BioEd Research Fellow at the E.O Wilson Lab in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.

Camilo Bruno 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.