Ugandan student Dorothy Akoth wins 2023 GBIF Graduate Researchers Award

Master's student at Makarere University becomes Uganda's first recipient—and the second in Africa—to earn selection for improving knowledge and understanding of the country's native fish species

BimaShots NARO Dorothy-hero
Dorothy Akoth, Master's student at Makarere University and 2023 GBIF Graduate Researchers Award winner. Photo by Christine Elong / National Fisheries Resources Research Institute.

Dorothy Akoth, a Master's student in the College of Natural Sciences at Makarere University in Uganda, has been named one of two winners of the 2023 GBIF Graduate Researchers Award.

An expert jury selected Akoth, who was nominated by the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology together with National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI), for the instrumental role of her research in improving the knowledge of the distribution and imperilment status of 110 native fish species outside the iconic Haplochromine tribe of East African cichlids.

Just as Akoth completed her undergraduate programme in the Makarere Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences, she received her introduction to GBIF through a NaFIRRI-led project supported by the EU-funded Biodiversity Information for Development (BID) programme. Her interest in the project prompted selection for a mentorship programme funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, which further honed her data management skills.

The experiences prepared the way for Akoth's research, which has relied on extensive use of GBIF-mediated data. Following publication of a journal article that updated national distribution maps and reviewed data gaps on non-Haplochromis fish, she has completed the application IUCN Red List criteria to the group (currently in preprint).

"My research relied mainly on GBIF-mediated data to update distributions and assess extinction risks, producing the first-ever national Red List for the country's fishes," said Akoth. "I am honoured to receive this award for its recognition of my work's significance. It's also a great opportunity for my career growth and a motivation for me to work harder and contribute towards biodiversity conservation."

"Dorothy is enthusiastic and highly motivated, and her achievements as a Master's student are extraordinary: her first-authored paper provides the most comprehensive update on the distribution of fish in Uganda since P.H. Greenwood's seminal work of the 1960s," said Vianny Natugonza, previously a research officer at NaFIRRI and now head of the Department of Biophysical and Geoinformation Sciences at Busitema University. "Meanwhile, her work on the national Red List will help inform conservation, shape protected areas, stimulate data collection, and contribute to regional and global IUCN Red List assessments."

"The maps that Dorothy has produced are critically important to freshwater conservation decision-making in Uganda," said Laban Muzinguzi, research officer in fish biology and ecology at NaFIRRI, editor of the Freshwater Biodiversity Portal for Uganda, and a member of the GBIF regional support team for Africa. "Her research offers a clear demonstration of the value of open data on biodiversity, which I hope will inspire more students—in Uganda and elsewhere—to publish and use data via GBIF."

Akoth is the second African student to win the award, and the first since 2015 when Fatima-Parker Allie of South Africa earned the honour. Dr Parker-Allie now serves as deputy director of Biodiversity Informatics Partnerships and Cooperation and GBIF national node manager at the South African Biodiversity Information Facility (SANBI).

Akoth shares the 2023 award with André Vicente Liz of CIBIO in Portugal, with both winners receiving a €5,000 prize.

About the Award

Since its inception in 2010, the annual GBIF Graduate Researchers Award (previously the Young Researchers Award) has sought to promote and encourage innovation in biodiversity-related research using data shared through the GBIF network.

About Makarere University

Established in 1922 as a humble technical school, Makerere University is one of the oldest and most prestigious Universities in Africa. In 1970, Makerere became an independent national university of the Republic of Uganda, offering undergraduate and postgraduate courses leading to its own awards. Today Mak is an active centre for research that offers day, evening and external study programmes to a student body of about 35,000 undergraduates and 3,000 postgraduates from Uganda and abroad.
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About the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute

NaFIRRI is one of the seven public National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) in Uganda under the policy guidance and coordination of the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO). Its mandate is to conduct basic and applied research of national and strategic importance in aquaculture, capture fisheries, water environment, socioeconomics and marketing, and information communication management, and emerging issues in the fisheries sector.
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About GBIF Uganda and UNCST

The GBIF national node for Uganda is hosted within the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST), which was established in 1990 as a semi-autonomous government agency to advise, develop, implement policies and strategies for integrating science, technology and research development in Uganda. GBIF Uganda supports UNCST's mission to provide effective and innovative leadership in the development, promotion and application of science and technology and its integration in sustainable national development.
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Jury for 2023 Graduate Researchers Award