Enclosed by the mountains of the Lesser and Greater Caucasus, Kolkheti National Park, Georgia, has been able to develop its very own and extremely diverse flora and fauna. © Jana Thormann
The freely accessible database is in place, the laboratory infrastructure is functioning. The Caucasus Barcode of Life (CaBOL) project has laid the foundation for a multinational research center in the Caucasus. But at present, it is still unclear how the project will continue after the funding phase ends in February 2024. A conversation with CaBOL project coordinator Nils Hein from LIB, who has just returned from a research trip to Georgia with 30 students from Germany and Georgia.
Where did the excursion take you specifically? What was the goal?
With a total of 30 students from Germany and Georgia, we visited the only biodiversity hotspot in temperate latitudes. Enclosed by the mountains of the Lesser and Greater Caucasus, a very unique and extremely diverse flora and fauna could develop here. On site, we took a closer look at these natural features and their climatic history. This time the focus was on the west of Georgia with its primeval forests in UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kintrishi and Kolkheti National Park. The excursion was made possible within the framework of a teaching assignment of the Department of Geography of the University of Bonn, in combination with the ERASMUS lecturer mobility between the LIB and the Ilia State University (Tbilisi, Georgia).
Were there any surprises and special moments?
For me it was the first time that our work was accompanied by an external filmmaker. I was very touched when I saw the result. Because the film illustrates quite wonderfully how special it is to research, teach and learn together with others in this beautiful nature. And that is exactly what the CaBOL project stands for.
Where do you stand with the project at the moment? What have you already achieved?
Since the start of the project in May 2020, we have achieved all of our goals and even exceeded some of them: We have created a freely accessible database (https://ggbc.eu/) that currently contains more than 22,000 records and is expected to exceed 30,000 records by the end of the project. These data will form the main basis for all subsequent biodiversity projects in the region. The value of this “treasure” will probably not be truly appreciated for several years.
Where do we go from here?
Unfortunately, the CaBOL project in its current form will end in February 2024. At present, it is not yet clear how the project can be continued, as the first funding phase by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research – BMBF will end in spring 2024. Of course, we would very much like to be able to continue the project, firstly to record all the organisms occurring in the region for the database, secondly to check the conservation efforts with the help of monitoring, and thirdly, in the best case, to identify nature-based solution strategies for the coming man-made problems, such as crop failures caused by climate change or the use of pesticides in agriculture.
How is the collaboration with researchers from Georgia developing?
The cooperation with our colleagues from Georgia and Armenia has been very good and goal-oriented from the very beginning. The successful implementation of the CaBOL project is due to the fact that the CaBOL consortium consists of scientists who share a common goal, namely the protection if the biodiversity of the Caucasus. At the beginning of the project, the collaboration was strongly influenced by the impact of the pandemic. But after research trips and workshops on site in the Caucasus were finally possible again, everything moved forward quickly.
How is the development of the scientific infrastructure and a multinational biodiversity center in the Caucasus going?
The passion of all colleagues involved at the LIB and at the partner institutions in the Caucasus was (and is) impressive. As a result, we were able to establish the laboratory infrastructure and workflows faster than expected. Originally started with seven partner institutions, the CaBOL network now includes a large number of institutions from across the region, for example Ukraine, Poland and Romania. We want to further consolidate this network and deepen it through constant exchange and joint projects. Our major goal is to establish a multinational research center in the Caucasus. Based on our collected data, this center will take a global leading role in biodiversity research. CaBOL will have been one, if not the most important, cornerstone for this.
What is happening at the political level to move the project forward?
Projects like CaBOL require close international collaboration. Diplomatic efforts, treaties and partnerships between countries facilitate the exchange of scientific data, materials and expertise. Here, policymakers also play an important role in raising public awareness of the project. Successful scientific projects that cross national boundaries can thus be critical to promoting peace, stability, and cooperation across an entire region. The success of the CaBOL project and similar initiatives depends on the support and commitment of policy makers and government agencies committed to biodiversity conservation and scientific research. It is therefore critical that these efforts are aligned with broader environmental and conservation goals at the regional and global levels. From these, we are in constant contact with relevant decision-makers to inform them of current results and developments, and to advance the development of a biodiversity research center that will have high societal relevance. Thus, on November 20 and 21, the CABOL team invites to the symposium “Exploring the Biodiversity of the Caucasus – Insights from ongoing international collaborations”.