The goal of our Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) Europe Section Blog is to share stories and relevant information about activities going on within our section and more broadly in the conservation community. Stories and articles shared on our blog should not be taken as an official position or statement of SCB or SCB Europe Section. Thank you for reading!

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Experience from the SCB Greek Summer School for Young Conservationists

Guest post by Jelena Šeat & Zsuzsanna Lánczos

The SCB Greek Summer School in Conservation Biology now has a decade long history in educating and inspiring students from all over the world to discover the challenging world of conservation biology. The programme is coordinated by the University of Ioannina, but many instructors are coming from other renowned European educational and research institutions to help students in training and developing their own research ideas. During the programme, students have very diverse activities, lectures, fieldwork and computer labs, in order to provide a comprehensive understanding of the principles of modern biodiversity theory and practice all the way from ecological fieldwork through data analysis. The school is held in a captivating landscape of northwestern Greece, on the border of the Northern Pindos National Park, where students and instructors can relax and enjoy themselves after demanding work sessions. 

Photo credit Elisavet Zagkle

The school’s program is divided into two main parts, training and running a project. Students have to develop a small research project and apply the knowledge gained during the training. This year we had student projects highly various in their research questions and conservation aims, from fireflies to flower-visitor networks. Even though students mostly spend time working on their projects, they also have the opportunity to get to know the work of their colleagues. These days, students are completing their projects.

Elisa Plazio (Italy) and Dianne Aguilon (Philippines) are both entomologists and their project is dealing with grassland management and how grazing influences flower-visiting insects through modifying flower availability. The girls expect that heavy grazing by local sheep and goats will decrease the diversity of flowering plants and insects related to them, and their preliminary results seem to confirm this. Elisa and Dianne already had experience with plant-pollinator networks and find the project very compatible with their plans for future research work. 

Photo credit Zsuzsanna Lánczos

Young plant researchers, Matthew Ogwu (Nigeria) and Dario Ciaramella (Italy), add to a long-term project related to the monitoring of Natura 2000 sites along the bank of the crystal-blue Viodomatis River, fringed by Oriental plane (Platanus orientalis) stands. This impressive tree is restricted to the southeast Mediterranean, and has notable cultural and natural values for people of the region. Just to illustrate how important Oriental plane is for local communities, we visited several villages in Zagori during the last two weeks and it was very common to see old plane trees at prominent public spaces. Additionally, Oriental plane is umbrella species in the mentioned Natura 2000 sites and Matthew and Dario are trying to analyze the human impact, especially how activities related to local tourism, weed invasion and changed soil characteristics endanger these sites. They believe the results of this research can be used for better management of these protected areas and preservation of Oriental planes. 

Elena Magenau (Germany) and Natalie Eder (Austria) are trying to quantify the intensity of seed predation. They placed seeds of different size in different habitat types to obtain the first quantitative data on seed predation and dispersal. Their results could help to form an idea about the pressure plants in the various habitats have to face during reproduction, and whether animals play important role in the distribution of seeds. 

The next project also aims to investigate plant-animal interactions but from another perspective. Sotiria Boutsi (Greece) and Yuval Cohen (Israel) are gluing artificial caterpillars of green plasticine on leaves of trees vs. shrubs. They also try to characterize the intensity of night vs. daytime predation and whether wounded leaves attract predators to themselves. These caterpillars may not look very similar to live ones, yet Sotiria and Yuval recorded several signs of "attack" by various predators, including birds, beetles and wasps. At the time of our visit, they look a bit bleary-eyed due to lack of sleep. They have to place the caterpillars at dusk, and then check them at dawn, which left them little chance of a full night's sleep for the last few days. But they are really excited about the results and find the lack of sleep a price they are willing to pay.

Photo credit Zsuzsanna Lánczos

The next team is also a night-active one: their research involves the very abundant local firefly population. Every evening, the participants are entertained by a beautiful firework: it is the mating season of the fireflies, and males fly around, emitting a pulsating, fluorescent green light in search of females. Elisavet Zagkle, Dafni Chatzinikolaou (both from Greece), Tzlil Labin (Israel) and Michael Ruggeri (Italy) investigate how artificial light sources influence this mating behavior and light communication patterns in fireflies. The team set up experimental plots in a rural area and natural habitats, but they also look at the effect of light manipulation in natural habitat plots. Literature data and their personal observations show that in areas exposed to light, firefly activity and abundance are reduced. This small scale experiment is a good example of how light pollution can influence animal behavior and potentially endanger the existence of local populations.

The last research project is run by Georg Küstner (Germany) and George Kazantzidis (Greece), who are working on a large dataset of endemic plant species from six islands in the Cyclades group. The project aims to explain which abiotic factors caused the existing taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity in the archipelago. Their first models seem to point to island area, elevation and precipitation play the most important roles in shaping endemic island communities.
Finally, we the writers, Zsuzsanna Lánczos (Hungary) and Jelena Šeat (Serbia) are in charge of the promotion of the summer school by writing about the research projects of our colleagues, as well as about them, their plans and aspirations. We set up a Facebook page of the school and wrote short articles, posted numerous photos, to share the experience of the school to all those interested in nature conservation.

This summer school will end soon but the experience, knowledge gained and friendships formed will stay with all of us. We hope we will have a chance to meet each other again and collaborate in a similar way on "real" conservation projects.

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