New Species of Diatom Discovered in Crater Lake at Mount Kilimanjaro

Posted on May 25, 2016

Afrocymbella barkeri diatom

Scientists have discovered a new species of diatom. The microscopic creature has been named after Lancaster University professor Philip Barker. Barker dedicated much of his working life to the study of diatoms.

Diatoms are a diverse group of single celled organisms. The microscopic phytoplankton have a silica shell forming the cell wall. The new diatom species is named Afrocymbella barkeri. It was identified by Belgian taxonomists Christine Cocquyt and Els Ryken in Lake Challa, a 92-meter deep crater lake at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro on the border of Kenya and Tanzania.

Professor Barker explained why diatoms are important. Barker says, "Diatoms are incredibly important organisms that live in oceans and fresh water. They contribute the same in terms of photosynthesising carbon as rainforests. I started using them when I did my PhD as a tool to understand past climates. They are highly diagnostic of salinity and nutrient levels but what has sustained my interest is that they are terribly beautiful."

A research paper on the new species was published here in the European Journal of Phycology. The researchers say in the paper, "The name barkeri is in honour of Prof. Philip A. Barker (Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, United Kingdom), a diatomist with a long-term research interest in the palaeolimnology of East Africa's lakes, including Lake Challa."

Photo: University of Lancaster