EcoRubric 16:09 19 Apr 2024

How environmental stations help study and protect biodiversity in Ukraine

Significant scientific discoveries about Ukraine's biodiversity are happening across the country's network of ecological stations thanks to the efforts of scientists, students, non-profits, and volunteers. These stations are instrumental in studying nature in areas where no one has done so before.

What's the problem?

Sometimes, urbanization and human development seem to have reached all possible parts of nature, leaving nothing unexplored or unspoiled. Ukrainian environmentalists believe this assumption is wrong — at least for their country. Activists from the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group (UNCG), who participated in creating 75% of conservation areas in Ukraine, stress that many pieces of Ukrainian wildlife still need to be studied and monitored.

"Almost any random spot in Ukraine has likely never seen a biologist's foot," Oleksii Vasyliuk, the environmental group's leader, says during a presentation on the latest book volume about biodiversity in the Rzhyshchiv community — one of the territories of Ukraine's Kyiv region.

The lack of knowledge about biodiversity in these "random" geographic points, especially among locals, can lead to many consequences, like environmental degradation. People living near unstudied areas can neglect or harm their region's environment and cause a decline in their living conditions because they are simply unaware of the local flora and fauna, their value, and the importance of protecting them.

What's the solution?

Ukraine has a network of environmental stations, typically private but open for visits by scientists, students, activists, and NGOs. Their goal is to study regional biodiversity. Oleksii Vasyliuk explains that this complex process takes many years and may require hundreds of researchers:

"There are countless plant and animal species, and a biologist can only specialize in one. It takes hundreds of specialists to build a comprehensive picture of a region, along with a long-term program, inventory, and monitoring."

Екостанція Глибокі Балики

"Hlyboki Balyky" Ecological Research Station has become a hub for scientists to work, conduct research, and share experiences. Photo from the station's Facebook page

Monitoring — research that uses the same methods year after year — is crucial to gathering information on biodiversity changes. Scientists may not see a shift in two or three years, but it will be evident in a decade. That is why they must study the same territory using the same approach over these ten years.

The environmental stations offer biologists the opportunity to conduct research. Over several days, they can study the territory during the day and share and discuss findings with peers in the evenings.

"Hlyboki Balyky" eco-station

One such facility, the "Hlyboki Balyky" Environmental Research Station, is located in the Rzhyshchiv territorial community near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. In just the first two years since its founding in 2020, the station has hosted 65 scientists and involved over 40 volunteers in data collection. It is an almost entirely autonomous hub for researchers' temporary stays.

The residence is environmentally friendly. Solar panels on the roof of the main building, where guests live and work, provide electricity. Four cubic reservoirs collect rainwater, which is then used to irrigate the multi-level garden on the slope near the station. Sewage settling tanks are buried in the ground to make the used water suitable for reuse. Heating in winter is provided not by coal or electricity but by collected forest branches, which are processed into wood chips and pressed. 

Bohdan Popov, the station's manager, says the hub's main advantages are resource self-sufficiency and simple, low-budget mobile systems that meet the station's needs.

Екостанція Глибокі Балики

Thanks to the green technologies used there, the "Hlyboki Balyky" eco-station can exist autonomously, directly proving that coexisting with nature without sacrificing comfort is possible. Photo from the station's Facebook page

The research station has an eco-trail that descends into the ravine. Its length is no more than 200 meters, but if you go there, you can notice how the microclimate changes with altitude. This trail leads to the experimental field, where biologists grow crops using the method of their ancestors. Crops are alternated, and the lands are given time to rest and plowed in a special way to preserve the fertile soil layer.

Екостанція Глибокі Балики

Bohdan Popov, the station's manager, at the experimental pasture of the research station. Source: Volodymyr Nevelskyi

Beyond the field lies the actual pasture with goats, where scientists also conduct experiments. Botany professor Ivan Moisiienko explained that colleagues research grazed grassy areas to find the right regime for using grassy ecosystems to preserve biodiversity. If the territory is not grazed at all, the ecosystem degrades, so scientists need to find balance here.

Does it really work?

"The station has become a source of knowledge that no one else has"

UNCG leader Oleksii Vasyliuk says the research station is "in a very unexpected place." The site was chosen almost by chance and held no scientific interest before the facility was founded.

"However, the station has become a source of knowledge that no one else has. There's nothing like it in most areas of Ukraine," says Vasyliuk. The effectiveness of the new approach to studying territories and discoveries is evidenced by the initial results recorded in scientific volumes with inventory and monitoring data of the areas.

The first volume of this publication in 2021 contained information on higher vascular plants and animals of the main groups of vertebrates and some groups of invertebrates. Since 2021, biological research has been supplemented with research on soils and the sanitary condition of water bodies. Recently, scientists presented the third volume describing the biodiversity of flora and fauna of the Rzhyshchiv territorial community. It was prepared by 25 researchers who worked at the "Hlyvoki Balyky" station. This data may seem complex to the average reader, but it is of great importance to science.

For example, research helped clarify data on the rare earth-borer beetle Bolbelasmus unicornis in Europe. This species was last seen in Ukraine many years ago. Ukrainian scientists' findings contributed to the publication of a scientific paper by Czech researcher Daniel Juřena dedicated to the distribution of the endangered beetle species. The publications also discuss several species of insects, spiders, and fungi found for the first time in Ukraine.

"And this is not because new species appear in our territory — no one might have been looking for them before," says Vasyliuk about this "anomaly."

Remarkably, Ukraine has thousands of unexplored corners of nature and plenty of room to create environmental research stations.

The experience and data obtained at the station are unique for Ukraine—no other organization or state institution has conducted similar research, so there is ample room for further development. The study's authors are considering proposing the approach used at the station to reform scientific work in national parks and reserves in Ukraine.


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