A host’s perspective: advancing ecological knowledge for climate change.

Climate-KIC’s Pioneers program presented an opportunity for the Latvian Institute of Aquatic Ecology (LIAE) share their plethora of knowledge in ecology to Pioneers who took part in a 4-week placement at the research institute.

As a centre dedicated to basic and applied research of ecology and environmental problems including climate change in the Baltic Sea and region, most of their work focuses on the Gulf of Riga and the Latvian part of the Baltic Proper, where they are also responsible for environmental monitoring, long-term changes. LIAE is involved in climate change research related to biodiversity, invasive species, eutrophication.

Representing LIAE as a host and manager for the Pioneers, Inta Dimante-Deimantovica was excited to teach and learn from other professionals. She chose to apply to Pioneers both as a Pioneer and as a Host as it presented itself as an avenue to build knowledge and expertise on climate-change. This unique set up gave her multiple perspectives of how to approach the program and make it propitious to her Pioneers. The institute nominated two Pioneers from Slovenia and Poland who spent 4 weeks working on ecological projects. One of the projects the Pioneers worked on was to create non-toxic boat paint which would then undergo experiments to verify the toxicity levels on organisms. The idea of research was to test 6 different coatings, which were previously synthesized by the pioneer at his institution, which he would then be verified in accordance with new legislation /regulations to check any possible toxicity. Coatings were developed to obtain the best anti-corrosion and anti-fouling properties. During his placement, the pioneer tested possible leaching of potential toxic substances from the coatings, which could potentially be harmful for the environment by performing ecotoxicological test based on 2 different organism groups, i.e. Algae and Daphnia.

Despite having his background in Chemistry, the Pioneer was able to display knowledge, he was able to integrate a multidisciplinary approach from chemistry and biology to conduct his research. He utilized his time at LIAE to its full capacity, getting new data for his research, synthesizing the data, and testing how safe his product was for the environment by applying methods from other fields.

The second Pioneer’s project was focused on conducting zooplankton samples from different lakes to learn how to analyse, identify microcrustacean species and compare those findings with sub fossil findings of microcrustaceans from the same lakes. The Pioneer possessed technical expertise that allowed her to assess the climate change and human impact on the lake environment. In addition, she was able to gain further her skills in conducting Cladocera zooplankton analysis—which is one of the key methods of assessing present lake ecological status. This improved her skills and broadened her knowledge on modern lake ecosystem functioning.

As the Pioneer’s manager, Inta was extremely impressed with the Pioneers ability to apply interdisciplinary scientific methods and skills in various occasions of the placement, including, conduction subfossil microcrustaceans analysis, and preforming ecotoxicological test based on 2 different organism groups (which has potentially led to a collaboration between the institute and the Pioneer). This sort of collaboration will continue even after the Pioneers have completed their placement, something that Inta is grateful for and attributes to Climate-KIC’s program. She is excited about such opportunities and sees it as an opportunity to share and transfer existing knowledge, specifically in freshwater microcrustaceans monitoring and application in ecosystems assessment in changing climate.

As to how this fit in the bigger conversation of climate change, Inta sees freshwater ecosystems as vulnerable and sensitive to climate change, whereby warming can make ecosystems responsive, with changes in biological communities and productivity shifts. With such collaborative opportunities and forum to share experiences, Inta believes that this will not only broaden their network, but further lead to more collaborative opportunities in the future, with experts alike.

As a first-time host, having two Pioneers at the same time from different backgrounds presented a unique opportunity for Inta and LIAE to learn from them as well. They are now more aware on what works, and how best to improve the placement should they continue next year. They also have a better understanding of how different the experience is and the expectations for both pioneers, and hosts, having been Pioneers before. This background understanding equips them well to improve the placement for a later cohort.