At the beginning of 2020, MES posted an open call for a small grants program for young ecologists, putting together a scientific committee, an online platform for the call and some public outreach. We received 19 applications of very good quality, which made the committee’s job challenging. After a strict ranking procedure, 11 successful projects with a strong research component were chosen. Beginning of the work was postponed 1-2 months due to pandemic-related restrictions and only 3 grantees asked to postpone the activities for the next year. The grantees have been hard at work since April, interim and final reports showed incredible results – from new insight on endangered populations to describing new species for North Macedonia, and possibly even for science and raising public awareness on environmental issues and ecology in general. Also, the grantees showed diligence and responsibility in their financial reports. The candidates presented their results via ZOOM due to the ongoing pandemic; although unfortunate, this virtual method likely allowed for even wider outreach (you can watch the presentations [in Macedonian] at https://fb.watch/4f5Z9Wi_kl/). Short abstracts of the final projects and links to their respective final reports (in Macedonian) follow:
- Diversity and distribution of saproxylic beetles on Mt. Jablanica and along rivers Crn Drim and Radika
Due to the late start caused by the pandemic, the project duration was extended in order to collect specimens during early spring as well. This is the summary of the provisional report: Analyzing the material collected during field research (193 individuals) allowed for the identification of 52 taxa belonging to 22 families of saproxylic beetles; 25 taxa are of conservation importance. Project activities, results and most importantly, its conservation importance was presented to school children from the region.
- Establishing methods to determine and monitor airborne volatile organic compounds in the city of Skopje
The presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as air pollutants presents a serious issue which requires an appropriate scientific approach on the way to a solution. The understanding of the composition of these compounds is necessary in order to appoint effective control measures for their minimizing. The results from the analysis of these compounds in Skopje have shown the presence of hydrocarbons mostly: aliphatic (C7-C14), aromatic (mono-, di- and trialkylbenzene) and some terpenes. The presence of these compounds has a negative impact on the health and some of them (benzene, toluene, etc.) can cause very serious diseases. The goal that needs to be achieved to overcome the issue with VOCs as air pollutants is to raise awareness by explaining the impact of these substances on the health and environment. This is the only way to reduce human activities which contribute to the increase in concentration of VOCs in the air.
- High mountain wetland research in the heart of Shar Planina Mt.: relationships between biomass, plant biodiversity, soil nitrogen transformation and soil microorganisms
Mountain mires in Macedonia are generally considered as threatened habitats that are recognized as important ecosystems. Nevertheless, unfortunately, their ecology has not been sufficiently studied. In order to obtain basic ecological data for these sensitive ecosystems, we have collected and analyzed materials from three forest mires in the central parts of the Shar Mountain’s alpine zone. In this way, we obtained first data for the plant species richness and their biomass. On the other hand, through the analysis of the basic physical and chemical soil properties, we defined the specific conditions in the soils. Nitrogen, as one of the most important biogenic element, is intensively transformed to its other forms in this type of ecosystems. That’s due to the microbiological activity that we have also observed. As a conclusion, we have discovered very interesting findings about these ecosystems which we hope will contribute towards greater conservation.
- Distribution and conservation status of the relict fern Ophioglossum vulgatum on Kozhuf Mt.
The presence of Ophioglossum vulgatum was confirmed at two localities on Kozhuf Mt. At Alćak, where water is abstracted for a sheep pen, 83 individuals were counted; at Asan Cheshma the population seemed more stable with 116 counted individuals. The species composition of plants at the locality was also studied using provisional phytocenological surveys (12) at a surface area of 80m2, resulting with 18 identified species. The most dominant species was Trifolium repens (21.62%), and the least dominant were Carex sp. (0.45%). Ex-situ conservation was initiated in the botanical garden in Skopje and a guide for the identification of ferns on Kozhuf Mt. was designed and printed.
- Identifying habitats according to the habitats directive in Monument of Nature “Markovi Kuli” and assessing their conservation status
The Monument of Nature “Markovi Kuli” is to be nominated as a UNESCO world heritage site, which makes it an attractive research locality. During the project a total of 76 vegetation plots were analyzed, where 133 different taxa were identified, five of which are endemic to the area and two are sub-endemics. Three plant communities were identified, which in turn differentiated three habitat types. One habitat type stood out as a conservation priority dur to its rpesence on the priority list of threatened habitats according to the European Nature Information System; potential conservation measures were suggested.
- Valorization of diatom composition in water habitats in the Demir Hisar region
A higher workload than expected (substantial amount of collected material) resulted with more laboratory work than anticipated. The final report was therefore postponed for March 31st, but a provisional report needed to be submitted. Its summary follows: more than 20 localities were visited and 118 samples collected, out of which 280 species were identified thus far. Some are potentially new to science, as well as species new to the flora of North Macedonia. Mountain wetlands are mainly inhabited by oligotrophic species, while parts of Crna Reka river and its tributaries are inhabited by eutrophic species. Most important identified localities are Suvodolsko Lake, Strugovsko Lake and small lakes formed as a result of quarries in Zhvan village (mining ponds).
- Distribtuion and diversity of rove beetles (Coleoptera, Staphylinidae) on Sar Planina Mts. (Catena mundi)
Material was collected from 21 localities and more than 400 samples from 11 different habitats were analyzed. Eight species of conservation importance were identified, and an additional six are potential new species to science. In sum, more than 40 species of rove beetles were identified belonging to 7 subfamilies. Importantly, 17 are new for the entire Macedonian fauna and 26 are added for the first time to the list of beetles of Sar Planina Mt.
- Valorization of water and wet habitats on Mountain Kozuf using diatoms
A higher workload than expected (substantial amount of collected material) resulted with more laboratory work than anticipated. The final report was therefore postponed for March 31st, but a provisional report needed to be submitted. Its summary follows: Out of a total of 137 collected samples, 121 were analyzed and 356 species identified. At 90% of laboratory work finished, more than 15 species were identified as new to science, potentially rare and endemic. More detailed morphological analyses will follow to establish their status. In the following period, more microscopic analyses will be done, as well as conservation assessment of the aquatic habitats and wetlands, according to the identified diatoms.