Siberian Branch of the RAS
Institute of Cytology and Genetics 
Workshop on Information Technologies Application to Problems of Biodiversity and Dynamics of Ecosystems in North Eurasia (WITA'2001)


CONCEPT
of research into biodiversity and dynamics of ecosystems in northern Eurasia within the frames of international collaboration as formulated upon the First International Conference on Biodiversity and Dynamics of Ecosystems of Northern Eurasia (BDENE'2000)

Novosibirsk Scientific Center, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, August 21-26, 2000

PREAMBLE

A considerable increase in the pressure on the environment is one of the adverse consequences of the growth in the world population and science and technology advances. This pressure destabilizes and destructs the natural ecosystems through changing the populations of animals, plants, and microorganisms; disrupting their set interrelations; fragmenting and decreasing numerous populations and even whole biomes. Proceeding on a large scale and with a high rate, these processes represent the continuous global depletion of biota with a potential to impair the natural turnover of matter and stability of the biosphere. The epidemic proportions of ignorant depredatory exploitation of the natural resources of our planet is unfortunately an all-round reality of the present day, representing a strong additional factor disturbing the biological equilibrium. Thus, there is a direct evidence of the contradiction between the efficiency of economic activity and the ecological consequences of this activity resulting from a shortsighted policy of the nature management. In essence, the current situation brings the mankind to the edge of an ecological catastrophe that threatens the existences of the biosphere itself and the man as a biological species. This inevitably transfers the problem of maintaining the world biodiversity from a purely academic question to important scientific and applied problems with pronounced social and economic aspects.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, stated that there would be no alternative to the development of civilization complying with the maintenance of the balance between the negative consequences of socioeconomic progress on the one hand and preservation and reproduction of the biological diversity on the other. The concept of maintaining the ecological equilibrium and sustainable development formed the basis of environmental policies in the majority of developed countries. In 1995, Russia ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Russia's obligations under CBD implied providing a necessary level of environmental preservation on its territory.

It is evident that implementation of the concept of sustainable development necessarily requires the ecosystem-based approach to exploitation of the natural resources as well as application of optimal nature-preserving technologies. In turn, this necessitates a thorough understanding of the mechanisms underlying the function of natural ecosystems together with development of global and national strategies for environmental conservation and nature management.

Siberia with its geographical location in the center of Eurasia and vast territory has a tremendous impact on the ecological situation of the globe. The Siberian region comprises a widest range of landscape(geographical zones and represents a unique test site for studying biodiversity and dynamics of a variety of ecosystems under conditions of both relatively low and constantly increasing anthropogenic and technogenic pressures.

For several dozen years, research institutes, agencies, and organizations of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences have been carrying out wide-range experimental and theoretical investigations of Siberian natural resources, the consequences of anthropogenic and technogenic effects on the ecosystems of the region, search for optimal solutions, and development of practical recommendations aimed at conservation of these resources and their reasonable management.

The work of over forty years allowed us to accumulate tremendous data volumes concerning the states of various Siberian ecosystems and diversity of their flora and fauna. These data are processed and analyzed by newest methods of informational technologies and computer simulation.

The importance of the data obtained by the institutions of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences for developing the uniform methodical approaches to investigating and preserving the biodiversity of planetary-level natural ecosystems on the global scale as well as for fulfilling the International Convention on Biological Diversity within the sustainable development strategy suggested the Presidium of the Siberian Branch to organize in Novosibirsk the First International Conference on Biodiversity and Dynamics of Ecosystems of Northern Eurasia (BDENE'2000, August 21-26, 2000).

The organizers saw the major goal of the Conference in uniting the efforts of the world scientific community to estimate adequately the states of natural ecosystems, develop the substantiated solutions for maintaining and recreating their biodiversity taking into account their geographical locations, and establish international collaboration for solving these problems.

The Conference covered the biodiversity at all the levels of its organization, as defined by the CBD-genetic, species, and ecosystem-represented by the following sections:
(1) Basic problems of evolutions of species and ecosystems;
(2) Molecular genetic bases of biodiversity;
(3) Plant diversity of Northern Eurasia;
(4) Animal diversity of Northern Eurasia;
(5) Human genome diversity in Northern Eurasia: evolutionary, population, and ecological aspects;
(6) Aquatic ecosystems of Northern Eurasia;
(7) Soil ecosystems of Northern Eurasia;
(8) Lake Baikal as a natural laboratory for studying biodiversity and species evolution;
(9) Forest ecosystems of Northern Eurasia;
(10) Biodiversity and dynamics of ecosystems of Northeastern Asia (with support of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, and Academy of Science and Technology of Republic of Korea); and
(11) Biodiversity and dynamics of ecosystems of Northern Eurasia: informational technologies and simulation.

Over 200 scientists from Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union and about 40 leading researchers from the USA, Asia, and Europe, representing research, educational, environment conservation, and nature management institutions and agencies attended the Conference. The Conference comprised scientific sessions, poster sessions, and computer demonstrations. The participants listened to over 100 oral presentations and got acquainted with over 150 posters. Five-volume Proceedings of the Conference occupy about 2000 pages comprising over 500 abstracts. The work of the Conference underlies the Concept proposed.

RECITALS

The problems of global ecology have no political boundaries, while their solving require consolidated efforts of the entire world scientific community. Concern for the preservation of ecological equilibrium on a globe scale is the keystone of success of the strategy for sustainable development. Achieving of this goal implies a number of measures that may be grouped as follows:
(1) Basic research;
(2) Investigation of human genetic diversity and evolution;
(3) Development of a unified methodology for studying ecosystems based on interdisciplinary collaboration of experts from different fields of science;
(4) Study of the reference objects for solving basic and applied problems of biodiversity and dynamics of ecosystems;
(5) Assessment of anthropogenic effects on the biosphere and development of optimal scientifically substantiated strategy for exploiting natural resources;
(6) Dissemination of the ecological knowledge; and
(7) International collaboration.

1. Basic research

Basic research is of key importance to implementation of the concept of sustainable development, creation of efficient strategies for resource operation, and making of reasoned managerial decisions. It is of special importance to the boreal ecosystems, as they initially display a low biotic diversity and increased reactivity in response to global environmental changes and intense exploitation.

The basic research should be aimed at (1) detecting the natural mechanisms maintaining the ecological equilibrium; (2) assessing the limits of loads on ecosystems while their exploitation; and (3) using the data obtained for developing scientifically substantiated technologies for optimal use of natural resources allowing their maintenance, remediation, and controlled development.

Basic research into ecosystems are developed in two directions with respect to the objects of study:
* Investigating the ecosystem as a whole and
* Studying biotic components of the ecosystem (microbial, plant, and animal communities as well as the man as a biological species and element of the biota).

Investigation of the ecosystem as a whole implies characterization of aquatic, soil, forest, and mountain systems of various geographical origins as ecological niches for particular animal, plant, and microbial species and is aimed at detection of mechanisms maintaining the ecosystem biodiversity and stability, assessing of the anthropogenic impact, and the possibilities of correcting its adverse consequences to restore the ecological balance.

Within an ecosystem, microbial, plant, and animal communities as well as species and populations are considered separately with respect to a wide range of genetic, phylogenetic, ecological, geographical, dynamic, and other characteristics.

2. Investigation of human genetic diversity and evolution

The present level of science substitutes the anthropocentrism with the concept of the man as a constituent of the live nature where man as a biological species is similarly exposed to the adverse consequences of the science and technology advances. Basic research should pay sufficient attention to the problem of human origin and evolution as an important component of the biosphere. Thorough investigation of the populations inhabiting the European and Asian parts of Russia and China combining molecular genetic, ethnographic, linguistic, archaeological, anthropological, and medical methods and approaches will allow us to answer the principal questions concerning the mechanisms underlying the origin and maintenance of natural human genome diversity and its relation to the demographic processes; factors affecting the establishment and evolution of human population gene pools; genetic differentiation, evolutionary development, and genetic interactions between different ethnic groups; prediction of genetic demographic situation in Northern Eurasia; etc.

3. Development of a unified methodology for studying ecosystems based on interdisciplinary collaboration of experts from different fields of science

Typical of ecosystems is their hierarchical organization. Interconnection of their constituent biotic and abiotic components provide their time and spatial stabilities. Therefore, only the integrated approach ensured by interdisciplinary collaboration of experts from different fields of science, unified methodological principles, and the entire arsenal of up-to-date research methods will allow ecosystems to be comprehensively analyzed. Identification and taxonomic attribution of species; comprehensive characterization of species communities; assessment of total populations of individual species, their genetic diversity, and structure of their trophic chains; evaluation of the effects of natural and technogenic factors and clarification of their mechanisms require an integrated application of various methods of molecular biology and genetics, informational technologies, physics, chemistry, Earth sciences, etc.

One would anticipate the most interesting results from combined efforts of basic and applied research as well as from informational computer technologies and methods of mathematical simulation, as the latter are capable of not only predicting the local trends in changing the states of ecosystems and biodiversity generation and dynamics, but also reconstructing large-scale changes in the biosphere stemming from global natural cataclysms.

4. Study of the reference objects for solving basic and applied problems of biodiversity and dynamics of ecosystems

Model and reference objects having to a least degree undergone the adverse consequences of civilization are essential for assessing adequately the significant parameters of natural ecosystems. They include
(1) Saline lakes of Khakassiya, exhibiting both decreased species diversity and active matter turnover;
(2) Lake Baikal, representing a unique indivisible ecosystem matchless in abundance of its species diversity (over 2,000 endemic species);
(3) Mountain part of Altai with its diversity of landscape ecosystems; and
(4) Siberian boreal forests, displaying natural (background) biodiversity and, consequently, typifying species, population, and ecosystem interactions.

5. Assessment of anthropogenic effects on the biosphere and development of optimal scientifically substantiated strategy for exploiting natural resources

Irrational and excessively intensive exploitation of natural ecosystems and artificially reproduced biological resources within the frames of industrial and agricultural activities results in their exhaustion and destruction. Thus, the problem of maintaining the ecological balance has not only scientific, but also a pronounced socioeconomic importance.

The concept of ecologically sustainable economic development is based on the principle of ecological equilibrium, implying, first, utilization of biodiversity components in such a way and at such a rate that would not lead to their depletion upon a long-run exploitation and, second, scientifically substantiated technologies for recreating ecosystems damaged through management.

The modern state of natural ecosystems presses for organization of protected territories (conservations, integrated reserves, national parks, etc.) that would preserve the landscapes with natural complexes as a whole and maintain equilibrium of natural biocenoses. Their organization requires both the scientifically substantiated criteria and standards and mechanisms for making economic decisions considering the interests of all the parties involved: governmental and administrative agencies, academic and commercial research institutions, and public organizations.

6. Dissemination of the ecological knowledge

It is evident that the concept of sustainable development can be realized only through an ecosystem-based approach to utilization of natural resources and nature-preserving technologies. In turn, this demands the levels of understanding the goals of nature conservation on a national and global scales to be raised and the biodiversity and dynamics of ecosystems to be considered not as purely basic, but also most important socioeconomic problems.

Thus, the goal of the scientists involves not only obtaining and comprehending the knowledge on organization and function of ecosystems and developing the efficient methodologies for nature conservation and exploitation, but also disseminating this knowledge.

It is necessary to develop the mechanisms providing access, including through modern informational technologies, to the relevant information for all the public groups, all the interested persons, agencies, organizations, and administrative offices. The ecological training should became the inherent element of the general education, and the ecological education of the graduates of specialized institutions should be raised through organizing the corresponding departments, chairs, and educational centers for students and postgraduates.

7. International collaboration

Evidently, the ecological safety is not a problem of individual regions and countries; it is a global-scale problem. Efficiency of its solving depends on success in international collaboration, which may be realized through
(1) Bilateral and multilateral scientific projects, international research centers, and laboratories;
(2) Exchange of specialists, first and foremost, postgraduate students and young scientists;
(3) International conferences, workshops, schools, and seminars;
(4) Formation of common informational field with agreed formats and standards through developing the global informational network on biodiversity and dynamics of ecosystems of Northern Eurasia, GIS, Internet-oriented databases, and public electronic libraries;
(5) International journals; and
(6) Joint expeditions and collaboration in investigating biodiversity and dynamics of ecosystems on adjacent territories.

Gorny Altai-a world center of biodiversity concentration housing the borders of China, Mongolia, Russia, and Kazakhstan-might be a test site for joint expeditions.

Organization of specialized association for investigating the biodiversity of Northeastern Asia, supported by the Russian Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Academy of Sciences and Technologies of Republic of Korea, Academy of Sciences of Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and Mongolian Academy of Sciences would be of special importance.


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