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Biological Invasion: a Threat or an Advantage?

Full member of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, professor of Klaipėda University dr. hab. Sergejus Oleninas Prof. Oleninas explores to a phenomenon when various species (microbes, plants, or animals) due to human activities are transferred from one place to another. The species adapt to the new environment and begin to multiply rapidly, thus occupying (invading) ever new areas.

Prof. Oleninas, who was the first scientist at Klaipėda University to start research on biological oceanography, seeks to convey the multidimensional nature of the science to students:  “As a biologist, I started  to study biological aspects: the physiological adaptation of the species, their adapting to the new environment, the impact on another environment, and the ways of their transfer.” It is important to understand that the problem of biological invasion presents not merely biological, but also legal, technological, economic, and sociocultural aspects.

Presently, Lithuanian water bodies are not exposed to significant threats of biological invasions, however, invasive species do occur. The blackthroat goby (Lat. Neogobius melanostomus), that had got to Lithuania from the Black Sea via Poland, has spread in the national waters and has already managed to cause damage. “The blackthroat goby in our waters has significantly reduced the water-purifying mussel population. That is bad, because the mussels were a natural biological filter on our coast,” said professor Oleninas and added that the process could have reduced the number of birds wintering in Lithuania, as they feed on the mussels loved by gobies.

When biologically invasive species get into a new environment and start breeding, it is impossible to eradicate them, especially in the marine environment. Therefore, the basic principle of the biological invasion management is prevention. Prof. Oleninas believes that “efforts should be made to avoid uncontrolled transfer of species to new places, because we do not know what will happen and cannot predict how the species will behave in a new location.” Then what can be done if the species is already here and has spread? It can be turned into an advantage: “Typically the abundance of the species is so high that it can be used for industrial purposes. The authorities of the Palanga City thought of a great way of fighting against the gobe: they held a special event for tourists. If the species is already here, you have to think how to make good use of it.”

Klaipėda University as a leader in the field of marine biology

To quote professor Oleninas, during the twenty six years of the University existence, KU became the leader in the field of marine biology in Lithuania. “As we have calculated, the number of scientific papers on the subject of marine biology in international journals is equal to that of the scientists from Vilnius University, the Nature Research Centre, Aleksandras Stulginskis University, and Kaunas University of Technology taken together. That is a clear sign of leadership, even if in one field of sciences,” concluded the scientist.

In the context of the ongoing education reform, the professor emphasised that KU had to clearly define the guidelines for action and to carry out scientific research that would distinguish it from other Lithuanian universities: “We need to look around and to do what is necessary for our region and what cannot be done in other universities. We have to do what distinguishes us from others, ” said KU professor Sergejus Oleninas.

Text and photos by Aistė Stalmokaitė