Computational Modelling Group

Is the decline in East African lesser flamingo population a natural concequence of soda ake dynamics?

30th September 2013
Research Team
Seth Bullock

Soda lakes are unique ecosystems with low species diversity but high productivity. They are shallow endhoreic basins that undergo large fluctuations in water level in response to rainfall, which causes rapid changes in their physical and chemical characteristics. These changing conditions cause shifts in phytoplankton abundance and community structure, which affects the abundance of phytoplankton available to lesser flamingos using their filter feeding mechanism. Changes in food availability affects the distribution and density of lesser flamingos across the East African soda lakes, and is likely to be an important factor in the mortality events observed at some locations. The largest mortality event occurred at Lake Bogoria in 1999-2000 where 200,000 lesser flamingos died.

Many hypotheses have been postulated about the causes of lesser flamingo mortality events, including death by starvation, heavy metal poisoning, ingestion of cyanobacterial toxins, and disease. The lack of any continuous data about these lakes or monitoring of flamingo populations has made the evaluation of these hypotheses very difficult.

A field expedition was undertaken in March 2011 in collaboration with academics from Queen Mary University, London, and the National History Museum, to collect lake sediment cores from three of these soda lakes. From these cores it should be possible to reconstruct lake water level, cyanobacteria abundance and community structure, and flamingo abundance.

The model includes a hydrological model of six different soda lakes in the Great Rift Valley, a simple mathematical model of cyanobacteria density, and a non-deterministic agent based model of flamingo population which calculates the energy budget of each flamingo.


Life sciences simulation: Ecology

Physical Systems and Engineering simulation: Hydrology

Algorithms and computational methods: Agents

Software Engineering Tools: Git

Programming languages and libraries: Java, R

Computational platforms: Mac OS X

Transdisciplinary tags: Complex Systems