Within the framework of projects PRIDE and LIFE for Danube Sturgeons a study has been conducted on the Current public awareness of biodiversity in the coastal areas of the Black Sea. Here are the photographic impressions from Summer Biological Practicum of Richelieu Lyceum (Odessa). In this annual two week field trip, that was held along the Psel River in 2017, 102 lyceum students participated in total representing 7 scientific groups (invertebrate zoology, vertebrate zoology, botany, hydrobiology, soil biology and entomology, physiology, geology). We thank Dr. Mikhail Son from the Institute of Marine biology for his invaluable assistance and contribution.
Aleksandre Gogaladze is currently (May, June 2017) traveling around Ukraine and Romania. His plan is to interview the stakeholder institutions to gather data on their social network structures in order to understand how Pontocaspian biodiversity related environmental issues are shared and communicated among different actors in Ukraine and Romania; Besides, he will work on promoting the PRIDE citizen science through the taxonomic identification sheet. Here are his first impressions from Romania.
I arrived in Bucharest a week ago from Ukraine loaded with new experiences and positive emotions. I had a very productive 2 weeks in Ukraine and thanks to PRIDE’s Ukrainian partners I managed to interview 11 stakeholder institutions. Also thanks to the Ukrainian hospitality I was invited on excursions in 3 different protected areas on the Black Sea coast where I met the directors of protected areas and also representatives of different conservation organizations. Apart from interviewing them we had fruitful discussions about conservation problems in general that Ukraine is currently facing and also about different possibilities of leaflet distribution and citizen science promotion on protected areas.
Picture 1. Regional Landscape Park “Kinburn Spit”
Picture 2. Regional Landscape Park “Kinburn Spit”
Picture 3. Regional Landscape Park “Kinburn Spit”
I spent most of my 2 weeks in Kherson, however before going to Kherson I stayed in Kiev for several days and met PRIDE’s partner institutions: Prof. Vitaliy Anistratenko from the Institute of Zoology and Ms. Natalia Gozak from WWF Ukraine. We discussed and planned the future steps together and they helped me with contacting the stakeholder institutions.
Picture 4. At the office of the Lower Dnieper National Nature Park. Interviewing the Vice—director Ms. Alena Ponomarova.
Picture 5. Regional Landscape Park “Kinburn Spit”. In the house of the director of the Park: Mr. Petrovych Zinovii together with Prof. Ivan Moysiyenko from Kherson State University and his family.
It is already one week I am in Bucharest, Romania. I have interviewed 3 institutions here so far and there are many more planned meetings to come before I go back to Ukraine for my secondment at WWF Ukraine. I met with PRIDE’s Romanian partner institutions: Prof. Marius Stoika from the University of Bucharest and Dr. Luis Popa and Dr. Oana Popa from the Grigore Antipa Museum. They were very helpful with putting me in contact with stakeholders and thanks to them I have many meeting fixed.
Besides, I and my fellow ESR colleagues: Alberto Martínez Gándara and Lea Rausch have very exciting plans on engaging with Black Sea Coastal schools and Universities and raising awareness and promoting citizen science amongst students using our leaflet. In Romania, with the assistance of Ana Bianca Pavel from INCD GeoEcoMar, we already have fixed meeting in Constanta with 5th grade school students from 2 different schools on May 30th. This will be a one day extra-curricular activity where we will explain the school students about the importance and uniqueness of Pontocaspian biota and we will enlighten them on how they can help us using the leaflet to generate the actual scientific data on species occurences.
Picture 6. Excursion in the Lower Dnieper National Nature Park territory. From right to left: me, Director of the Park: Mr. Aleksey Chachibaia and school students from Kherson Gymnasium
Another good news is that with the great support of Ms. Natalia Gozak from WWF Ukraine we have already introduced our leafelts into 20 Black Sea Boxes that will be distributed around schools in Ukraine. Also, Ms. Natalia Gozak suggested to dedicate 1 day to PRIDE from the Ichthyological field work that WWF Ukraine is organizing for Kherson University students. The fieldwork will take place in Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, in Vilkovo area, Odessa Region and the day for PRIDE will be on June 27. We have asked for expert assistance from Dr. Mikhail Son from the Institute of Marine Biology in Odessa and fortunately he is willing to accompany us on the fieldwork on June 27 and represent PRIDE together with me, Lea and Alberto. Our intentions are to enlighten the students on the uniqueness of Pontocaspian biota and importance of Pontocaspian mollusks in food webs as a food source for Sturgeon and other Pontocaspian fish species. The theory will be accompanied by a fieldwork at the end of the day and we intend to use our leaflets to show students different species assemblages in different environments (marine, estuarine, freshwater).
Author: Aleksandre Gogaladze
Our ESR Sri Nandini attended the European Geosciences Union - EGU 2017 conference in Vienna, Austria from 23–28 April 2017 and presented a poster on her research. Her research entrails Past and Future Impact of North Atlantic Teleconnection Patterns on the Hydroclimate of the Caspian Catchment in CESM1.2.2 Model and observations. EGU is Europe's biggest Scientific Conference held annually with 15,000 participants from 107 countries, a great choice for networking, outreaching and development of early career scientists.
The Open Science Meeting (OSM) and the associated Young Scientists Meeting (YSM) are the premier scientific events of Past Global Changes (PAGES), a core project of Future Earth and a scientific partner of the World Climate Research Programme. The theme this year is "Global Challenges for our Common Future: a paleoscience perspective."
Sri's presentation will be recorded and put online afterwards. We are very excited to see the involvement of PRIDE Science at international conferences and wish Sri Nandini all the very best for this!!
Sri Nandini and Sifan Koriche joined the Marie Curie Alumni Conference, 24-25 March 2017 in Salamanca, Spain. The MCAA conference was quite productive in terms of poster presenting, networking and collaborations. Sifan and I had great opportunities for outreach. We got interviewed twice by the MCAA, once a monologue and a question-answer-session. Let's see what they will publish.
From 13 to 18 February 2017 we organized the 7th PRIDE Network Training Event at Naturalis/GiMaRIS in Leiden. The program: ethics lecture, video vlogging course, stress mitigation, progress talks by the ESRs, work package discussions, joint projects and field trip discussions, talks on biodiversity in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, talk about the work of IUCN.
On 16 February 2017 we received the project officer Giuliana Donini and reviewer Guy Duke for the mid-term review meeting.
On Friday evening we went to Amsterdam where Salomon Kroonenberg presented his book: Spiegelzee.
At the book presentation of Spiegelzee of Salomon Kroonenberg.
“All climate models are wrong, but some are useful” Statistician George Box (1919-2013).
I am a climatologist. I use a climate model. This is my laboratory where I perform all my experiments.
This doesn’t mean I bounce a jelly Mini-Earth in the lab, it means I describe Earth’s climate system through a climate model made of several computer programs to create a virtual Earth. Inside this virtual reality, I aim to understand the changing processes on the Earth’s climate system through. Processes like clearing farming land to build cities for a larger population in Brazil or intense deforestation in Indonesia. Others including more/less industrial emissions into the atmosphere/ocean creating fog and pollution in China or India or the extent of Antarctic/Artic sea ice & sea-level rise in Tuvalu. This is the only tool I have to better understand our system; because I cannot conduct large scale experiments on the vast atmosphere itself; nor am I a time traveler (to see past/future changes). Is this concept so different from playing computer games like MY2050, CO2FX or SimCity?
The climate model (collection of math equations to describe the different (physical, chemical, geological) processes that drive the Earth’s climate) is run on a supercomputer; demanding huge amounts of expensive computational resources. The science of climate modelling stems from laws of physics (like Newton & and laws of thermodynamics). Each equation contains many variables like temperature, rainfall, sea-level rise, and when we combine all these equations, through individual & collective interactions, we see how the climate evolves (atmosphere, ocean, land, sea ice & the sun) from the North Pole to the Kiribati Islands (equator) and the South Pole. This is a complex & daunting task.
Fig 1: Running computer codes and checking experimental outputs via remotely connected to the supercomputer
Information of processes are resolved by 3 dimensional grid boxes (cubes) called spatial model resolution (pixels/ grid points) with larger grids at the equator and smaller at the poles (which can be made of several kilometers). A 2-degree spatial resolution specifies horizontal grid box of ~ 210km but even at 1-degree horizontal resolution (111km) it is still too coarse (Fig2) to capture finer processes like ocean eddies/ topography (mountains) or evaporation over the Easter islands. Choices for resolution depends on available computing power and the time needed to run the model experiment. In the current golden age of high resolution (smaller grids), the more complicated & higher resolution a model, the slower it is on the supercomputer. Choices are made in every aspect of building, running and analyzing climate models for efficiency. But as climate models (regional to global scales) span longer periods (years, decades, or millennia) than weather models (local scales), they cannot include as much detail. Most scientists agree that high-resolution models were far better at reproducing observational data (e.g. from satellite or gauges) & intense storms, cyclones & hurricanes (fine scale climate events). This is not always true. But to have a perfect simulation of reality, climatologists need understanding of each process (every cause and effect). A question to ponder, won’t there always be processes we don’t fully understand but think are important? Processes like clouds which are on smaller resolutions then model. When we achieve the finest resolution, would these climate models be simulators of reality then?
Modern day climate model descendants from the first pioneering model (1960s) at NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey have improved vastly. These models agree/disagree with each other due to choices made when incorporating elements in building each model, such as the treatment of clouds, aerosols and the carbon system. This gives a different virtual reality each time. The Community Earth System Model (CESM1.2.2) is one of these ~30 climate models. The CESM is unique as it is developed by a broad community of scientists & freely available to researchers worldwide. It encompasses a much improved holistic science on major components of the climate system. This gives a better representation of the Earth’s climate system. Using the CESM, I hope to learn more about large scale ocean-atmosphere teleconnection patterns such as the North Atlantic Oscillation and the El Nino Southern Oscillation. These affect sea surface temperatures as well as atmospheric conditions such as change in pressure and winds which are responsible for rainfall. This can lead me to understand the past extreme events or predicting future years of potential impacts, like a high probability of drought (warm and dry) for the Caspian. Or several years of cold and wet conditions (flooding) with catastrophic implications for local people, agriculture & economy through time.
How do climate modellers predict the future?
We do not.
Predicting the future is impossible. Instead we make climatic projections for a set of different possible futures (creating virtual realities) based on physics and predications of future CO2 and other emissions. When modelling a century for these virtual realities, even the 5th Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) offers “what if” projections of future climate scenarios that relate to certain emissions scenarios. Inside this virtual reality, I can tell how hot the next 5-10 summers will be, but not how hot a weekday in that one summer. There are limitations; even inside this virtual reality.
We make assumptions on how the earth system works. These assumptions are simplified, because the climate is complex and computing power limited. The truth is complex and models are merely an approximation of the truth. With a little bit of patience, time, more data to work with and more powerful computers, climate models will improve through advanced scientific understanding of Earthly processes. But skeptics continue discrediting climate models, basing it on crudity & simplification reflected in reality. Hence, rather than viewing models as the literal truth, we should view it as alternate realty which is something useful. As featured in Before the Flood documentary, Piers Sellers, the British born astronaut, acclaims that “as the science community, we have not done the best job, frankly, of communicating this threat to the public. When you go up there and see it with your own eye, you see how thin the world’s atmosphere is..like a tiny little onion skin around the Earth”.
Climate modellers, as humans, have limits to their scientific understanding and computing power, hence “all models are wrong” because they are a simplification of reality “… but some are useful.” These simplifications are the only tools to explain, predict & understand the climatic process on Earth. Does a climate model have to be perfect to be useful? The hard part is assessing whether a model is a good tool for the job at hand. So the question for my next blog is:
How do we assess the usefulness of a climate model (CESM); for the Caspian in particular? We show ways to quantify climate modelling uncertainties and its impacts, past and future.
By: Sri Nandini
- PRIDE early stage researcher
- Doctoral Candidate,
- MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Sciences
- Faculty of Geosciences, University of Bremen, Germany.
The Danube River with a length of almost 3,000 km is the longest river in the European Union region. If we were lucky enough to travel along its riverbed, we would be amazed by the wonders we would find. However, the Danube River keeps one of its most breath-taking treasures for the end. The Danube flows into the Black Sea forming the Danube Delta, which is considered by the UNESCO the best-preserved river delta in Europe and since 1991 holds the distinction of UNESCO Word Heritage Site.
Hypanis plicata, picture: Alberto Martinez Gandara.
The 600,000 Ha of the Danube Delta serves as refuge for an extraordinary fauna biodiversity represented by more than 4,000 species. Many of those species such as different species of sturgeon, are considered under threat by the IUCN and are protected by regulations at European and regional levels. A very important part of this fauna is what we define as Pontocaspian fauna. This extraordinary diverse fauna is the result of the highly dynamic geology and climate during the last 2.5 Ma in the Pontocaspian region, which includes the Black, Caspian and Aral Sea basins, and therefore the Danube Delta. Remarkable examples of the Pontocaspian biodiversity are the many endemic mollusc species that we can find in the Danube Delta and across the Pontocaspian region. This diverse group is of great importance for the eco-functioning of the aquatic system and serves as food for many species of fish and birds. Sadly, this endemic mollusc’s diversity is currently decreasing as a result of pollution, habitat loss, overfishing and invasive species. The endemic mollusc species have been replaced by a few invasive species causing a serious loss of biodiversity. This trend may increase the vulnerability of the ecosystems such as the Danube Delta to catastrophic events, because a non-diverse fauna is vulnerable for instance to diseases that can decimate an entire population leading the ecosystem to collapse.
Ecrobia spalatiana, picture: Justine Vandendorpe.
PRIDE (Drivers of Biodiversity RIse and DEmise) is an EU funded project in which we study the evolution of the endemic Pontocaspian life forms and their evolution integrating climate, geology and biological approaches. We aim to understand the role and the importance of these biota in the ecosystems and to bring attention to the current adverse situation for these endemic species.
Matteo Lattuada and Alberto Martinez Gandara sampling for living molluscs on the Ukranian coast of the Black Sea.
Sabrina van de Velde identifying mollusc shells on the Caspian shore in Azerbijan.
As a part of the PRIDE outreach strategy, we want to involve local citizens interested in nature and conservation from the Danube Delta area, in both Romania and Ukraine, and raise awareness of the demise of Pontocaspian life forms and habitats and create conditions that support future conservation. We want to call for action to protect and conserve this diverse fauna and the precious ecosystem where occurs.
So, if you are interested in collaborating, do not hesitate to contact us!
- Lea Rausch
- Bucharest University
- Faculty of Geology and Geophysics
- Department of Geology
- Balcescu Bd. 1
- 010041 Bucharest
- Manuel Sala Pérez
- School of Geographical Sciences
- University of Bristol
- University Road
- Bristol BS8 1SS
As the saying goes, “Save it to cherish or leave it to perish”
If each scientist could keep track of one species, we would need 81 thousand scientists just for molluscs alone (that is more than double the size of the population of Monaco). One way to study diversity and to validate specimens collected is via modern DNA analyses. Every organism that belongs to the same species shares a number of genetic traits in their DNA that are unique from all other species. By comparing the DNA of known representatives of a species we can determine the status of undefined specimens based on these similarities. This can help, especially when morphological or anatomical characters are less informative or confusing to the eye.
DNA extraction at Justus Liebig University, Giessen.
Today ecologists and conservationists are beginning to recognise the importance of this tool, most especially in invertebrates (those small little guys at the bottom of the food chain nobody really cares about), which have seen far less historical interest compared to large mammals or birds. However, invertebrates provide an immense array of ecological services; bees pollinate (a service predicted to be worth 153 billion Euros a year), woodlice help process decaying matter, earthworms aerate soil (increasing its fertility), and aquatic snails, like the genus Theodoxus, help control harmful algae and provide a useful food source for many fish species. And while we notice the decline of the sturgeon or the wild salmon, we often fail to think about what is happening to their food.
A Theodoxus sp. from the Balkans foraging on algae.
Theodoxus species are small aquatic snails, traditionally common in fresh and brackish water ecosystems from Western Europe to the Near East, where they provide a valuable contribution to ecosystems. However, scientific reports are becoming rifer, suggesting their absence in once abundant areas and even showing localised extinctions in some places. Importantly, if fish can’t eat or waters get overgrown with algae or plants, then the fish die, and who knows what that would mean for us as humans. Conservation in Europe and the Near East remains challenging, let alone for snails. Pressure for land resources, agriculture and housing mean conservation efforts in this part of the world need to have robust strategies and conserve the most diversity in the least amount of space.
Various shell patterns of different Theodoxus spp.
Probably the most striking feature of Theodoxus is their intriguing shell. The range in patterns, shapes and colours have lead naturalist, even as famous as Lamarck, to describe species of Theodoxus. Unfortunately recent studies suggest shell patterns may be poor characters for distinguishing Theodoxus species as, even within species, there is a lot of variation. Basing a conservation strategy or a management plan simply on morphology, without the aid of a genetic perspective, may thus be poor for conserving diversity of this primary, but very important, group. As part of the EU project PRIDE program (European Union Horizon 2020 Innovative Training Network), in the Institute for Animal Ecology and Systematics at Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germany, the questions are being investigated. By undertaking a broad scale genetic study, the diversity we have left in the genus is being unearthed, areas where multiple species of Theodoxus may be present are being identified and regions where species may have retreated to in the past are being discovered.
Collecting Theodoxus for DNA analyses in the Limans of Ukraine
The question still remains though, “why care about conserving the diversity rather than conserving the areas where the highest biomass occurs?”. The answer is quite a simple one; different species or even different genetic lineages have different characteristics. For example, one species may be able to process higher amounts of harmful algae than others, while another species may be able to handle a greater range in water temperatures (allowing it to survive in harsher environments), a third may be able to reproduce faster and be a better food source for fish. Unfortunately at this stage we just not that sure what is what, and till we know the potentials of each species it is important we conserve as much diversity as possible.
Stephan Covey once said about human ethnicity, “Strength lies not in our similarities, but in our differences.” This is no truer for humans as it is for nature in general and Theodoxus in particular.
- By: Arthur Sands
- PRIDE early stage researcher at the Justus Liebig University, Germany
- Office: +49 6419935721
- Email: Arthur.F.Sands@allzool.bio.uni-giessen.de
The 14th of October 2016, Lea Rausch has started as new early stage researcher in the field of micropalaeontology. She has started at the University of Bucharest. Marius Stoica is her supervisor.
From 28 August to 9 September 2016 we organized the 5th PRIDE training event at the University of Reading. We invited external speakers for the outreach training: Nataliia Gozak from WWF Ukraine, Simon Gardner of the Environment Agency UK (and one of the writers of the BiodivERsA stakeholder engagement handbook), and Yuri Matteman, head of educational development at Naturalis.
The external speakers advised us on our outreach plans. Furthermore the main topics of the training were: biodiversity modeling, hydro/lake modeling, Geographic Information Systems.
We combined the training event with the INQUA workshop for early career researchers (at the University of Reading). Theme was: using observations and modelling to understand past climate changes. Sifan Koriche won the best poster award, and Diksha Bista was second in the category for the best poster award.
The PRIDE researchers, supervisors and external speakers at the training event at the University of Reading.
To actively practise outreach, our PRIDE researcher Sabrina van de Velde visited Manchester a few weeks ago. There the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) conference took place, which is the biggest interdisciplinary general science meeting in Europe. It is organised biennially and welcomes over 4,500 leading thinkers, innovators, policy makers, journalists and educators from over 85 countries to talk about research. She wanted to reach a wider public and show the scientific world of the existence and importance of PRIDE. With so many thinkers and researcher present, for sure it has been a succesful visit!