In search of the tiniest Pontocaspian plants in Romania

During the first PRIDE training meeting thirteen Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) gathered in Romania to learn about different field techniques and collect their first data. Among them Manuel, a Spanish biologist working at the Brunel University in London.

Manuel's goal during these two weeks was to collect information on the diversity of tiny (± 0.2 to 0.0005 cm) “plants” and seeds respectively called dinoflagellates and dinocysts. Dinoflagellates and its dinocysts are found living in open seas and lakes as a part of what is called phytoplankton. Phytoplankton is formed by mostly microscopic “plants” as dinoflagellates, freely floating in the water. Among many other services, they are important due to their production of oxygen, which we use to breath.

Picture 1 and 2: Dinoflagellates. Photos by Manuel Sala

Manuel: “We started in the Razim lake complex situated on the Romanian Black Sea coast. This set of lakes straddles the coast for 40 km from the Danube delta in the north to the city of Constanţa in the south. It is a very good place to start because different salinity gradients (from fresh to brackish water) within the complex create different environments for these organisms.” We collected the dinoflagellates by towing a phytoplankton net horizontally behind the boat for two minutes. We captured the dinoflagellates within the net and transferred them to plastic bottles.

Besides filtering the water with a net, we checked the sediment of the lake floor for the presence of dinocysts. We collected sand and clay using a tool called Van Veen grab, which works as if two metal hands ‘grab’ the top layer of the lake floor. Once the sediments were pulled up on the boat we could scrap off the top layer and collect this in small plastic bags (pictures below).

After the successful data collection on the smaller lakes, it was time to do similar work on a bigger scale. While thick grey clouds packed together above the Black Sea, the huge research vessel Mare Nigrum was waiting in the harbor of Constanţa for the scientists to board. From there the ship would navigate to different sampling locations on the Black Sea, so each of the researchers could collect his or her data.

Pictures 3 and 4: Van Veen grab (left) and Manuel collecting sediment samples (right). Photos by Anouk D’Hont

Unfortunately for Manuel, there were no phytoplankton nets available on the ship, but they did have a fancy apparatus called CTD bottle water sampler offering a solution. This device takes water samples at different depths in the sea. These water samples were filtered by Manuel to concentrate the dinoflagellates in a smaller volume and kept in plastic tubes the next day in the lab. Here we also took sediment samples using a bigger version of the Van Veen grab, and another special tool called multicorer. The multicorer is a man-high device containing four Plexiglas tubes which are pushed into the seafloor sediment giving us four cores. With these cores we can look at life in the seafloor but also study its recent history.

Picture 5: The multicorer (left) and a CTD bottle water sampler (right) on board of the Mare Nigrum. Photo by Sabrina van de Velde

After two weeks in Romania, we returned to London with a beautiful sample set. In the future we will report results and much more about these tiny but hugely interesting “plants”!

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Authors: Anouk D’Hont, Sabrina van de Velde, Manuel Sala Pérez

PRIDE - coming together in Bucharest

How trilling to finally meet everyone of the PRIDE program - all the colleagues, supervisors and partners from associated institutions in Romania. We – Aleksandre Gogaladze, Justine Vandendorpe, Liesbeth Jorissen, and Sifan Koriche are glad to share some impressions of our first two weeks together.

Our Romanian adventure consisted of two weeks of hard work in the field and evening classes. We learned about geology and biology but also engaged with each other and had great fun. The first week was about understanding the rocks which was tough for the non-geologists. On the second week the roles reversed, now geology students had new experiences. They learned about different biological sampling techniques. The overall atmosphere was strongly positive, students were constantly encouraging one another, supervisors always ready to answer questions and everyone was enthusiastic and joyful. One does not always have luxury to be part of the boat excursions in Razelm lake complex and the Black Sea international waters.

Picture 1. The PRIDE Team on the stairs of the University of Bucharest. Sheree Nandi and Yavar Moshirfar are not in the picture but they are part of the team (Photo PRIDE photographer)

Picture 2. Learning to understand rocks. A river valley in Buzau area (Photo L. Jorissen).

Picture 3.  Learning about biological sampling techniques in Lake Razelm complex (Photo A. Gogaladze).

In between two weeks of field training we gathered with everyone involved in PRIDE to meet and share our thoughts and passion. This was a two days conference in Bucharest. During the conference we learned about the Pontocaspian lake system evolution. Also, we got familiar with the benefits of multidisciplinary approaches in research, where geology/biology/climatology/hydrology can in combination disentangle questions of high complexity. We felt very special and were happy to be part of this all.

Authors: Aleksandre Gogaladze, Justine Vandendorpe, Liesbeth Jorissen, Sifan Koriche

Social media

As part of our social media outreach we have a facebook page “Drivers of Pontocaspian Rise and Demise” 

The facebook page is for everyone interested in geology, climate and biodiversity of the Pontocaspian region and the work of researchers there, including of our own programme. Feel free to join and share with us your stories and observations!

Author: Frank Wesselingh

A new paper on the Denizli Basin

I am proud of a paper just in from Hülya and Cihat Alҫiҫek and myself about Plio-Pleistocene lake environments and biota of the Denzili Basin, Turkey.

One day in 2005 I received a mail from an unknown colleague in Turkey with some photographs of shells. Working with fossils in a museum delivers more often inquiries about fossils, shells and stones. I opened the mail to find very nice pictures of fossil bivalves that looked very familiar to me. Could they be Didacna? But why then from Turkey, and as the mail suggested a Miocene age? After all the origin of Didacna is very unclear, it was not present in the Caspian basin before the Pleistocene and its origin in the Black Sea basin is enigmatic too.

 The mail triggered an intense communication with the sender, Hülya Alҫiҫek, who is a sedimentologist from the Pamukkale University in Denizli. In the years after we studied together the fauna, engaged with a Hungarian colleague Imre Magyar, in order to see if we were looking at a very early, possibly the earliest, occurrence of a genus that characterizes the Pontocaspian faunas up to today. In 2008 we published the fauna in Geobios (Wesselingh et al., 2008). We concluded that it indeed concerns the oldest known occurrence of the Pontocaspian genus Didacna, although uncertainties over the exact stratigraphic age remain. Furthermore some palaeontologist question our attribution although to date no counter-arguments for doing so have been published.

The paper triggered a whole set of new research lines in the region that underlay part of the PRIDE programme. The southwestern Anatolian basins do harbor Pontocaspian biota in various Neogene and Quaternary time intervals and their role as satellite basins for the possible origin and maintenance of these biota will be subject of research in PRIDE by for example ESR Arthur Sands in Giessen.

Impressions from the Tosunlar section, its fossils and the palaeonvironmental settings – photo Frank Wesseling; graphic Hülya Alçiçek


The new paper is about a very nice section in the northern Denizli Basin, the Tosunlar section. A succession of lake margin-deltaic environments rich in fossils is documented. Sedimentary facies and isotope geochemistry show lake level variations, yet the composition of the endemic fauna remains remarkably constant. Again, the stratigraphic age is not well constrained and already next month we will have a fieldwork targeting the succession with paleomagnetism and other approaches through the project of Sergey Lazarev from Utrecht.

A beautiful paper that I hope will initiate further discussion and insights into the beautiful geology of the Denilzi Basin.

Hülya Alçiçek, Frank P Wesselingh, Mehmet Cihat Alçiçek, 2015. Paleoenvironmental evolution of the late Pliocene-early Pleistocene fluvio-deltaic sequence of the Denizli Basin (SW Turkey). Palaeogeography. Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 437: 98-116.

Author: Frank Wesselingh


Welcome to the PRIDE blog

In this blog we aim to share our personal experiences in the programme. Impressions from who we are, what we do and what we encounter.

The blog will contain impressions from meetings and fieldworks, interviews with participants but also with colleagues from elsewhere working in the region. The blog will also be the place for all ESRs to share their progress, will host tips for wonderful papers, impressions of small and big things that we find fascinating and wish to share.

It is my wish that this blog will grow into a time document about the Pontocaspian region, its nature, geology and people and the people who work in the region. If you are not from the PRIDE program and wish to attend us on progress or findings or make a guest contribution, please contact us (see contact below on the page).


Author: Frank Wesselingh