Change in and near Kavkaskzy Nature Reserve in the Caucasus Mountains
Protected area effectiveness is a major question in Conservation Biology today. Eugenia will use state-of-the-art remote sensing analyses to focus on land cover change in Russian nature reserves. She will also use two long term animal population datasets: “Chronicles of Nature”, which are historical records of animal populations collected in each nature reserve in Russia, and “Winter Track Count”, which are long-term surveys of game species throughout Russia. These datasets, paired with the land cover changes, will allow her to study the relationship between land cover change and animal populations in a geographic region and at a scale that has not yet been performed.
Genya will focus on land cover change in Russian nature reserves, which is a region that is yet to be investigated by scientists studying the protected area issue. Even more exciting is that Genya has access to two long term animal population datasets: First, she will use “Chronicles of Nature”, which are historical records of animal populations collected in each nature reserve in Russia. Second, she will use “Winter Track Count”, which are long-term surveys of game species. These datasets, paired with the state-of-the-art remote sensing analyses that she is conducting at the SILVIS Lab, will allow her to study the relationship between land cover change and animal populations in a geographic region and at a scale that has not yet been performed.
To get started, Genya will focus on the Kavkaskzy Nature Reserve, which is one of the premiere protected areas in the Caucasus Mountains. The Caucasus mountains is especially important biologically because it is home to a wide variety of endemic species. These mountains were habitat refugia for a diversity of species during the last glaciation, and many of these species survived and persisted to the present day only in the Caucasus Mountains. It is rich with old-growth forest and several threatened species, such as tur, chamois, lynx, wildcat, bear, wolves, endemic raptors, deer, and several species of owls, raptors, and forest birds.
The reserve was established more than 100 years ago, as hunting grounds for the grand dukes. But increasingly, the unique habitat and animals of the Caucasus region are vulnerable to land cover change, poaching, and disturbance from tourism. Extensive land cover change, such as logging, has been documented outside of the reserve, but it is uncertain whether similar processes have occurred inside the reserve. In addition, tourism and its side effects are a growing threat -- the border area of the Kavkaskzy Nature Reserve will be home to the 2014 Winter Olympics, and development of the area to accommodate mass tourism has already begun.
The Kavkaskzy Nature Reserve’s greatest natural treasure are large patches of primary forest. Fragmentation of these forests is especially detrimental for wildcats, owls, and old-growth forest songbirds. Genya’s first goal is to measure forest disturbance in and around the Kavkaskzy nature reserve to understand whether the reserve has effectively protected the forests of the nature reserve.
Second, Genya will look at what is going on outside of the nature reserve. Studies by other members of the SILVIS lab show that agricultural abandonment is extensive throughout Eastern Europe since the breakup of the Soviet Union. However, patterns are widely variable from region to region, which has important implications for biodiversity (for example see: http://silvis.forest.wisc.edu/research/story/Post-USSR-Land-Cover-Change...). Genya will measure agricultural abandonment in the Caucasus region to see if the land use patterns look promising for biodiversity.
Genya’s final objective to pair her land cover change analyses with long-term animal population data from the “Chronicles of Nature” and “Winter Track Count” datasets. She will then be able to investigate how different species respond to land cover changes in their habitat.
Genya’s research is exciting to the conservation community and the ecology community. She will fill a huge gap in our knowledge about the effectiveness of protected areas in Russia. In addition, she will have an exciting opportunity to link regional-scale land cover data with valuable long-term animal population datasets, giving us insight into the relationships between land cover change and populations in a way that has not yet been performed.