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International Laboratory of Landscape Ecology Opens at HSE University

International Laboratory of Landscape Ecology Opens at HSE University

Photo: N.M. Petrzhik

The laboratory will be led by Robert Sandlersky, a specialist in energy and mass transfer and the study of other properties of landscapes via satellite imagery and Senior Research Fellow at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The HSE News Service spoke to Robert about the laboratory’s future activities.

— What is landscape ecology?

— Landscape ecology today is an actively developing field of environmental science. It integrates many approaches and fields, starting with classical studies of landscape cover as a whole and ending with all aspects of human interaction with nature, most of which are integrated into the concepts of ecosystem services.

Robert Sandlersky

As such, landscape ecology studies a wide range of natural and social phenomena without being limited to particular subjects.

— Where did the idea to create the International Laboratory of Landscape Ecology come from?

— Our informal team (which includes employees of the RAS Institute of Ecology and Evolution, the RAS Institute of Geography, and the Moscow State University Faculty of Geography) has been developing various methods for studying ecosystems and geosystems for many years, mainly based on remote sensing and direct instrumental measurements of their properties and functioning parameters.

The establishment of the International Laboratory of Landscape Ecology at HSE University made it possible to unite the members of this team within one organisational structure led by world-renowned researchers. We had an excellent opportunity, firstly, to consolidate our efforts to research the structural and functional organisation of natural systems, secondly, to gain experience in long-term cooperation with international colleagues, and thirdly, to attract young specialists.

— Tell us about your team.

— They are mainly employees of the Laboratory of Biogeocenology of the RAS Institute of Ecology and Evolution and the Laboratory of Biogeography of the RAS Institute of Geography who worked in the research group of Yury Puzachenko (1940–2018). He was an outstanding ecologist and geographer who made significant contributions to developing the theory and methodology of research into complex natural systems based on statistical methods and remote sensing data.

The international laboratory’s core research activities will include studies of the structure and organisation of ecosystems and geosystems based on approaches developed by our research group over the past twenty years. This group includes me, Alexander Krenke, Ivan Kotlov and Anastasia Baybar.

We also plan to study the functioning of ecosystems based on instrumental measurements at special ecological and climate stations (Vadim Mamkin), study the climate-regulating functions of landscape from the standpoint of comfort and human health (medical geographer Natalia Shartova), and develop methods for mapping and assessing ecosystem services, hazardous natural processes and risks (cartographer and remote-sensing data-processing specialist Anna Derkacheva).

— Usually, each HSE University international laboratory is led by a world-renowned academic supervisor. Your lab has three of them. What is the reason for this?

— It’s the variety of fields. It necessitated the involvement of three academic supervisors, each of whom will supervise one or two areas.

Christine Fürst from the Institute of Geosciences and Geography (Halle, Germany) leads the development of integrated approaches to the assessment of socio-ecological systems and ecosystem services.

Oleg Panferov, Head of the Department of Climatology and Climate Protection at the Bingen Technical University of Applied Science (Bingen, Germany), is a leading scientist in the field of bioclimatology.

Fedor Tatarinov from Dan Yakir’s Laboratory of the Weizmann Institute of Science (Rehovot, Israel) is a specialist in the use of mathematical methods in environmental and geographical research, particularly in the processing and interpretation of data from ecological and climate stations.

— How relevant is the laboratory's research to solving problems important to humanity? And on the other hand, what possibilities are there for the practical application and monetisation of the results?

— To give an example, one fundamental problem concerns the structure, organisation and functioning of ecogeosystems based on the use of remote sensing data and instrumental measurements of energy and mass transfer parameters at ecological and climate stations. Working to solve this problem brings us closer to optimising the use of natural resources, as well as to design natural systems with specified properties in the future.

© iStock

There are many practical aspects of this field that are already being monetised: the assessment of natural resources (forest inventory, hunting), planning and risk assessment in agriculture, environmental expertise and much more.

— What organisations in Russia and abroad will you cooperate with?

— In addition to the RAS Institute of Ecology and Evolution, which is in fact where most of the lab’s employees come from, we plan to cooperate with a number of expert organisations in the field of ecology and geography, including the Research and Expert Centre for Sustainable Development and Environmental Health of RAS Institute of Developmental Biology, the Center for Russian Environmental Policy, the Biodiversity Conservation Center, the Centre for Responsible Environmental Management of the RAS Institute of Geography, and Sberbank’s projects in the field of ecology and energy efficiency.

We plan to cooperate with the world’s leading laboratory for processing ecological and climate station data: Dan Yakir’s Lab, where one of our academic supervisors works.

— How will you organise cooperation with other HSE units? How do you plan to use the laboratory’s potential in education?

— The laboratory plans to work with the HSE Faculty of Geography and Geoinformation Technology to involve students in research work, advise them, and assist them in their work on term papers. Our staff, including leading researchers, will develop courses and give lectures to students.

— What sources of data and equipment will you use to conduct your research?

— We will receive most of the data for our research from our colleagues from the V.N. Sukachev Laboratory of Biogeocenology of the RAS Institute of Ecology and Evolution—Russia’s leading laboratory in the field of ecological and climate station installation and results processing. They have several systems for measuring the parameters of energy and mass exchange in ecosystems at the Okovsky Forest ecological observatory in the Central Forest State Natural Biosphere Reserve (Tver region).

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Studies of the structural and functional organisation of the landscape will be carried out mainly using open-access remote sensing data. We plan to purchase two workstations with the appropriate software to process these large amounts of data. Some of it is already available in the Geodata Centre at HSE Faculty of Geography and Geoinformation Technology.

— What results do you expect in the coming years?

— The overall research result should be the expansion of our ideas about the organisation and functioning of complex natural systems and the mechanisms of their interaction with the climate. The theoretical knowledge we obtain about the work of the landscape and its climate-regulating functions should improve the efficiency of the use of resources and environmental conditions (ecosystem services) and contribute to optimising society’s adaptation to its inevitable changes.

Our methodological results should significantly enrich existing practices in the use of remote sensing data and other spatial data not only in environmental studies, but also in their application in fields such as engineering geography (the creation of geosystems with specified properties), landscape and territorial planning, agriculture, forestry and hunting, risk assessment of hazardous natural processes and environmental management, medical geography and others.

Of course, the results obtained will be published in leading academic journals and implemented as part of various research and development activities.

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