Tuesday 30 November at 10:00, Aleksandre Gogaladze will enter the Academy Building to defend his thesis entitled Towards effective conservation and governance of Pontocaspian biodiversity in the Black Sea region. For his PhD research at Naturalis and Leiden University, he tried to untangle the complicated tangle of social networks and policy arrangements for biodiversity conservation around the Black sea.
An unique endemic biota
Aleksandre Gogaladze started his Naturalis adventure in 2015, as a Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher (ESR) within the Horizon 2020 Pontocaspian Biodiversity Rise and Demise Program (PRIDE). During his job as science communicator, he explored the effective outreach strategies in the Black Sea Basin and devised different tools for engagement with different target audiences. In the PRIDE program he was encouraged to start a PhD as well. Motivated to understand the complexity of Pontocaspian (PC) biota and the dynamic political and social settings within which the PC biota conservation was embedded, he decided to go for it.
“The region around the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, also called the Pontocaspian region, holds an unique endemic biota. It’s one of the few places with a stable ecosystem in brackish water”, says Aleksandre enthusiastically. “This biodiversity hotspot is hosted by countries which have different historical and cultural backgrounds, as well as socio-political and legal conservation frameworks. This may result in differences in the social network structures of stakeholder institutions with various implications for PC biodiversity conservation. These networks are crucial in protecting PC habitats and species, which is why I have devoted my PhD to them”, he explains.
He kicked off his research by delving into the biota of the Black Sea to find out which endemic species live there, what their population sizes are and what anthropogenic pressures are driving their decline. “After the ecology part, my research consisted of many interviews with people from conservation organisations, academia and the governmental sectors in Ukraine and Romania for understanding the social context of biodiversity related environmental issues”. A huge amount of work: “I dived into a huge network, but after many interviews I finally managed to get a better overview of the framework.”
“I analyzed the interactions both quantitatively and qualitatively. The analysis revealed the size and the structure of the networks, but also the content of the relationships.” Aleksandre translated the social networks into a visual representation, in which the differences between the countries quickly became visible. “Although the social network in both Ukraine and Romania is well placed, the Pontocaspian biodiversity plays a minor and mostly incidental role in the inter-organizational interactions”. Roughly speaking, lack of knowledge and common understanding on conservation needs of PC biota as well as funding scarcity are the cause of inaction.
But there’s hope! “Luckily we identified four regions in the Black Sea Basin that support the local biodiversity very well. These areas have a lot of potential, and shall be prioritized in national and international conservation agendas.” Aleksandre has clear thoughts about exactly how this can be done: “Broadening the sturgeon conservation networks! Everyone knows about sturgeons and many people depend on the sturgeon for their income. Therefore sturgeons are declared as the flagship species and well-embodied in conservation activities. A proposed way forward is extending the existing sturgeon networks to integrate the associated background invertebrate PC biota.”