Microbial survival in the Makgadikgadi Basin, Botswana

Salt lake in Botswana

The Nwetwe, Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana, image by Rainer Lesniewski/Shutterstock

Diverse microbial communities exist in the Ntwetwe and the Sua salt pans, but little is known about the ecological strategies of these microbial communities to survive the environmental challenges of the pans.

Naturally formed salt pans are found in many arid and semiarid environments on Earth, including the USA, Australia, China and Africa.

Studies have shown that certain microorganism (halophiles, i.e salt loving) can life within salt pan environments and survive exposure to high salinity, desiccation, daily fluctuations in temperature and intense solar radiation.

The Makgadikgadi Basin in Botswana is the relict of a mega-paleolake system that originated during the Pleistocene. Nowadays, the basin consists of a system of ephemeral lakes consisting of several pans.

The largest pans are the Ntwetwe Pan in the west and the Sua Pan in the East, each containing distinct morphological features that are remnants of an ancient lake system. These features have been influenced by local environmental factors such as precipitation, water inflow and aeolian activity, and can act as a paleoclimatic archives for climate information.

Preliminary work has demonstrated that diverse microbial communities exist with the pan; however, little is known about the ecological strategies utilized by these microbial communities in response to the environmental challenges presented by the pan.

The aim of this project is to develop an understanding of the processes underpinning the survival of microbial life within this hostile, polyextremophilic environment.

The project will investigate:

  1. How microorganisms physiologically adapt to changes in environmental conditions
  2. The interactions that occur between the microbial communities and the host sediments (e.g. biominerals).

The student will use a combination of field work and laboratory microcosm experiments for this study.

Apply for this course

Application deadline: 7 January 2022

CENTA Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships involving the Universities of Birmingham, Leicester,  Warwick, Loughborough, Cranfield and The Open University and four NERC research organisations.