Faces of the LIB: Jeanne Agrippine Yetchom Fondjo

“The knowledge and preservation of nature concerns everyone. That’s why women should be more involved in research.”

From Cameroon to Hamburg: Humboldt Fellow Jeanne Agrippine Yetchom Fondjo is currently studying the biodiversity and species delimitation of grasshoppers from Cameroon at LIB. Copyright: LIB, Jeanne Yetchom

 

Even as a child, Jeanne Agrippine Yetchom Fondjo wondered why some animals seek out ecological niches. The Humboldt Fellow is now an expert on grasshopper species from Cameroon. Until spring 2024, she will be researching grasshoppers from the tropical humid forests of her African homeland in the Entomology Department of the LIB in Hamburg.

What drives you as a researcher? Why do you dedicate your life to nature?

When I was a child, I spent my holidays in the village, and my grandfather was one of the famous breeder in the village. He raised poultry, goats and sheep. And it happened that on the evenings when they came home, each goat would go into its own cage, and I wondered how this was possible. And then I asked myself: How are they constituted/organised? How do they live? So this were the reasons for my interest in nature.

I dedicated my life to nature because nature is the very essence of life and therefore deserves a special interest. Furthermore, I have noticed that very few women in my home country are involved in this field, which is an aberration. However, the knowledge and preservation of nature is a matter for everyone and therefore women researchers should be more involved.

What led you to biology?

I would say it is my love for nature and also the curiosity to understand certain phenomena in nature such as niche segregation in animals. I have always been interested in understanding what might cause certain animals to prefer one environment over another. To understand why some animals can be found everywhere while others are difficult to find.

What aspect of your daily work life is your highlight at the LIB and at home?

I would say realising and sharing of new ideas, by exchanging with colleagues at the LIB as well as with people from different parts oft the world, with different social backgrounds and cultures.

What do you focus on in your scientific work?

I must say that during my PhD work I focused more on morphological aspects, but morphological aspect, although crucial, has its limitations. Because there are so called ‚cryptic species‘, which are morphologically similar, and which makes species delimitation very difficult.  Thus, given the existence of cryptic diversity within several groups of grasshoppers, the combination of molecular and morphological approaches would be helpful to definitively resolve the taxonomy of several taxa. Thus, at the LIB I will use an intergrative approach, combining both morphology and genetic analyses, in order to contribute to a better knowledge of the systematic of grasshopper from Cameroon humid forest, and to better understand this biodiversity hotspot and prioritize conservation efforts.

The issue I discuss in my scholarship is the Taxonomy and molecular species delimitation of grasshoppers (Orthoptera: Acrididea) from Cameroon Humid Forests. I study the Biodiversity and species delimitation of grasshoppers from Cameroon using an integrative taxonomic approach composed of intensive field sampling, museum studies, classic morphological work and genetic analyses using more classic barcoding and multi-gene techniques. I intend to solve the taxonomic problems that make research on the ecology and conservation of species in their natural environment difficult.

What does nature mean to you personally?

Nature is the key to life on earth. If no one takes care of it, it risks disappearing and all the organisms that live in it with it. It is therefore imperative to preserve it in order to make the most of it. For me, the forest is one of the most impressive environments in nature, because in the tropics, where I come from, it abounds in impressive biodiversity, mainly in terms of the invertebrate fauna that I study, and which is one of the essential components of the functioning of forest ecosystems.

Crayfish, fish, butterflies: Who has their own personal affection and why?

I was interested in breeding fruit flies and caterpillars, but with the aim of building up my insect collection, what I did. But I am very fascinated by orthopteroid insects and mainly Grasshoppers. Therefore I like to be with Grasshoppers in the wild.

How do you explain the term biodiversity, especially also with regard to your home country?

The term biodiversity refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, including plants, animals, bacteria and fungi. Cameroon is also a hotspot of biodiversity of plants and animals, but that is still under-studied and deserves special attention, especially in the context of global changes and the loss of forest cover.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in the field of environmental protection?

In my humble opinion, global change and species extinction due to the increasing loss of natural ecosystems are the biggest challenges for environmental protection.

 

Dr. Jeanne Agrippine Yetchom Fondjo is specialized in Taxonomy, Biodiversity Conservation and Evolutionary Biology, and is one of the current experts on Orthoptera in Cameroon. Since 2014, she has worked on the ecology, taxonomy and conservation of grasshoppers from Cameroon, her native country. She earned her PhD in Ecology and Taxonomy of Acridomorpha from the Littoral Evergreen Forest Zones of Cameroon, at the University of Douala (Cameroon) in 2020. She was awarded the OWSD-PhD Fellowship (Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World) in 2016 and took up a Sandwitch Fellowship programm at the College of Life Science, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi’an (China) in 2018. Yetchom Fondjo also received a grant from the Mohamed Bin Zayed Conservation Fund (MBZ) in 2021, to assess the conservation status of a threatened grasshopper species. She was awarded the Georg Forster Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from the Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation in October 2021 and took up the Fellowship at the ‘’Leibniz-Institut Zur Analyse des Biodiversitätswandels, Museum the Natur (Hamburg)’’ in July 2022.

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