We are extremely pleased to announce the successful small grants of the “D-r Ljupcho Melovski” programme, 2021. Due to the pandemic, three successful grants rolled over from 2020, adding up to a total of nine projects that will take place in 2021. We wish them great success, and firmly believe that the experiences that will follow will create firm foundations for the grantees’ future careers as researchers and conservationists

1. Assessment of the biodiversity of invertebrate terrestrial fauna in agroecosystems in the Pelagonia region, in conjunction with the determination of heavy metal concentration in the soil and biomaterial

COORDINATOR: Viktorija Boshevska

Summary: The pollution of soil with heavy metals is a serious problem for agriculture. Soil is the basis for food production and one of the most important biodiversity reservoirs. The soil fauna has a huge impact on soil quality and agroecosystem viability. Because of the ability to accumulate heavy metals, as well as sensitivity towards small environmental changes, invertebrate terrestrial fauna are a good indicator for the assessment of soil quality and agroecosystem health. The goal of this project is the evaluation of biodiversity, in parallel with estimating the effects from soil pollution on the invertebrate fauna that inhabit the agroecosystems in the Pelagonia region.

First report: Our research is focused on the fertile Pelagonia plain – the ground where we conducted multiple fieldworks over the past few months. The data obtained so far is a result of the teamwork of our small group of enthusiasts and advocates for biodiversity and environmental protection. We used the information for  biodiversity, structure, composition, size, monthly dynamics of invertebrate populations as well as their sensitive nature towards environmental change to evaluate soil quality and general health of the agroecosystems. We are looking forward to finishing our planned field and lab activities, so we can share our findings with you about the importance of terrestrial invertebrate fauna.

 

 

Photo: Collecting soil samples for analysis

 

2. Testudo hermanni and Testudo graeca – The only tortoises from Gazi Baba forest park

COORDINATOR: Dario Stojanovski

Summary: Skopje’s Gazi Baba forest park is home to two tortoise species: Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) and Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca). The aim of the project is twofold: scientific research (population study) and educational. Collecting and analyzing capture-mark-recapture data will help expand our knowledge of these tortoise populations as well as the species in general, namely their distribution, ecology and behavior. On the other hand, introducing the general public to the biology and ecology of tortoises living in Gazi Baba will raise public awareness of their significance for the park and beyond.

First report: In recent months, our team has conducted 25 exciting field trips in the park-forest Gazi Baba, the forest island in the heart of Skopje. The park-forest is home of two species of tortoises: Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni) and spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca) and provides ideal conditions for population studies, as it is an ecosystem that abounds in favorable habitats for the target group of our study – tortoises. Each individual tortoise we managed to catch was measured, recorded, marked and released. A total of 515 tortoises were caught and processed, of which 418 Hermann’s and 97 spur-thighed tortoises. According to our preliminary analyses in the park-forest Gazi Baba, it is estimated that the population of the Hermann’s tortoise is about 995 individuals, and the spur-thighed tortoise 175 individuals.

 

Photo: Collecting data on tortoises and entering them into the database

 

3. Diversity of the aquatic and saproxylic beetles in riparian forests and water ecosystems on Shar Mountain

COORDINATOR: Sandra Slaveska

Summary: In terms of biodiversity, the future protected area NP “Shar Planina” needs better-quality databases for different groups of organisms. The aim of this research is to get an idea of the ecological status of riparian forests and aquatic ecosystems, through valorization of the diversity of saproxylic and aquatic beetles. These representatives of the coleopteran fauna have bioindicative significance for the ecological status of certain habitats. The results of this research would be of particular importance in the creation of future strategies and plans for managing the protected area, as well as the enrichment of the national databases on the diversity of the targeted coleopteran fauna.

First report: The most recently proclaimed national park Shar Mountain is an interesting area for research for us young and enthusiastic ecologists . The late snows were a big challenge for us to get to one of our locations – Karanikolic Lake, but as challenging as it was, collecting material from the lake was no problem for our adventurous spirit. Along the way, we also found some very interesting representatives of the saproxylic beetles who were still in the larval stage, which makes them even more interesting, as we do not often have the opportunity to see them in the early stages of their life cycle in their native habitats. The work so far is going in the best order, it is fun to work and we expect successful laboratory analyzes and significant results in the future.

Photo: Setting up traps in the ground.

5. The influence of different climate types in north Macedonia on the number of Bacillus spp. isolated from soil

COORDINATOR: Sofija Kostadinovska

Summary: Soil microorganisms play a major role in the biogeochemical processes of various elements that are vital to plant growth and animal life. Understanding and anticipating the impact of climate change on soil microorganisms and their role in the ecosystem is a great challenge and opportunity to direct research efforts towards one of the most urgent problems facing our planet. In this project the impact of climate types on the number of Bacillus spp. will be determined and the results will be able to indicate potential ways in which microorganisms can be used to reduce the negative consequences of climate change.

First report: Global warming is causing changes in the populations of soil microorganisms, so microbiological research is becoming increasingly important for the preservation of the environment. It is with great pleasure that we participate in starting a new trend of research in the field of microbial ecology for the first time in the Republic of North Macedonia by examining the number and distribution of Bacillus spp. as a function of organic carbon on soils of different climatic types in our country. We determined a declining trend in the number of soil microorganisms with increasing temperature and successfully isolated 36 strains of Bacillus, of which 6 showed antimicrobial activity that can further be widely used. Understanding the basic ecology of the microorganisms and their effects on the environment has enabled us to identify the harmful effects of climate change.

Photo: Soil samples are prepared for analysis

 

6. Natural enemies of the pests of the oak forests on the Jablanica mountain

COORDINATOR: Blagoj Shurbevski

Summary: The focus of this research will be the influence and the natural regulators of the insect species which tend to inflict damage on the oak forests and cause imbalance in the said ecosystems. The research will be conducted on the Jablanica mountain range. Having healthy oak forests has an invaluable ecological significance for all the living organisms depending on them for survival. Using a combination of field research and laboratory analyses, we will determine the composition of “pest” species and their population dynamics. In the same manner, we will investigate the presence of other species of invertebrates, which act as natural regulators of the populations of these pests. The results from this research can have practical benefits to the integrated forest protection, especially in the field of biological pest control.

First report: During the initial phase of this project, our team had intense field activity schedule. Because of the snow cover on large parts of the mountain Jablanica until mid – April, the vegetation period was late and so was the appearance of forest insects. In consequence to that, the time interval of our field activities was shortened but their intensity was increased. The most common insect species that act as pests on oaks and were discovered during our field research are: Tortrix viridana and Lymantria dispar. In addition, we found other species classified in the orders: Coleoptera, Hymenoptera, Diptera and Lepidoptera. The exact species will be determined in the lab analyses that follow. According to our preliminary assessment, the oak forests’ health on Jablanica is satisfactory, with the exception of damage done by direct human activity.

 

Photo: Infestation of Malacosoma Neustria on a oak tree

 

7. Hypogeous fungi in north Macedonia – distribution and ecology in selected areas

COORDINATOR: Angel Tanevski

Summary: Hypogeous fungi are a significant element of the ecosystem. Some of the genera are mycorrhizal, and play an important role in the functioning of forest ecosystems. Hypogeous fungi have been studied more intensively in the past ten years in North Macedonia, principally their diversity, thus there is plenty of room for further research of this noteworthy mycorrhizal group of fungi. The geological diversity and the effects of various climate types in North Macedonia enable the presence of rich biodiversity and appropriate ecosystems for the development of hypogeous fungi. In this project, field research will be conducted on insufficiently researched areas, in order to gain new knowledge about the diversity of hypogeous fungi, as well as the diversity of their mycorrhizal partners, and potential discovery of new species.

First report: In search of hidden treasure under the forest soil… No, we are not talking about precious stones, but the world of hypogeous fungi. In Macedonia hypogeous fungi remain insufficiently studied, and this project is determined to explore known and new sites, in order to find existing and potentially new species. From March to July, we conducted 7 field researches at 6 different locations in Macedonia, from which we registered about 40 specimens, 13 different species, belonging to 9 different genera. With this project, Elaphomyces aculeatus was discovered for the first time in Macedonia, a species which is proposed for the Global Fungal Red List of Fungi (IUCN), as a critically endangered species, because it is registered only in Europe, in less than 50 sites. In the following period we expect even more exciting field research, and even more interesting findings.

 

Photo: Tome and Grizli looking for hypogeous fungi.

 

8. Distribution and ecology of the black widow spider (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus) in Macedonia

COORDINATOR: Martina Trajkovska

Summary: This project is the first systematic attempt to study the black widow (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus) in Macedonia. Due to the lack of data for it’s distribution and ecology, the black widow is not on any list of endangered species. The critical analysis of the entire literature, followed by field and laboratory activities will result with new information that may contribute for future protection of this species.

Photo: Black widow spider 

First report: The subject of interest of this project is the black widow (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus), which is considered to be one of the most venomous spiders in the world. Its exact distribution is very poorly researched, not only on the territory of Macedonia, but also on the entire Balkan Peninsula. To date, no comprehensive study of this species has been conducted in Macedonia. Our preliminary results showed that the black widow is distributed in small and fragmented populations exclusively in the most arid areas of Macedonia. Communication/education was also conducted with the local population, medical and military personnel. The obtained data will be a scientific basis for future studies and conservation measures.

 

9. Distribution and population size of the European roller (CORACIAS GARRULUS) in the plains of Skopje valley

COORDINATOR: Ana Nikolovska

Summary: The data about the distribution and population size of the European roller (Coracias garrulous) in Skopje Valley, so far, has been obtained as a result of unpublished observations by experts in the field; meaning that a systematic study has not been done yet. Hence the main goal of the project, which is contribution to the knowledge of its distribution and its population size in the valley. The collected data could be used in creating plans and initiatives for protection of certain areas of natural values.

First report: The Europian roller is a migratory bird that nests in our contry only in the summer. This species nests in premade tree holes, mostly from woodpeckers. Most of the locaitons chosen for the research are quite on the open, which emerges from the fact that it’s easier for the roller to hunt. The data about the distribution and population size of the European roller is almost non-existent, but we strongly believe that with this research that will be changed. We have already had seven field trips during wich we have encountered 28 territories. Because of that we hope to find even more territories, which will contribute for expanding the data base about the distribution and population size of the roller.

 

Photo: Observing European rollers in Skopje valley

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