Who we are: Jacqueline Loos

My first impression of nature in our human-dominated world was that nature will always be stronger than our artefacts. This idea came when I saw a little dandelion breaking up the asphalt of the street in front of our house as a child. Though I lived in a city (Lübeck, Northern Germany), there were green places around me and it was an adventure to smell the flowers and to observe animals hiding in the ruderal shrubs. But after a while I realized that meadows I used to pass by and green corners I used to play in became replaced by more and more buildings— and I switched to the opinion that nature might be stronger than human beings, but it won’t recreate as fast as people can destroy it.

Therefore, and after an orientation period I decided to dedicate my work to our environment— and studied environmental sciences with focus on biology, chemistry and nature conservation. I started to work on animals and their habitats: After some practical training on primate research in the rainforest of Ecuador and on seahore birds at the Baltic coast, I graduated with a thesis about Green Lizards in the Middle East. After working as research assistant on habitat of beetles in Romania, I conducted my own little research project on niche partitioning of recently discovered gecko species in Vietnam with the support of Cologne Zoo.

Though all of these projects were interesting, I missed the framework of a larger research group which would exchange scientific insights on environmental problems through several diciplines—as the protection of our natural world requires much more than biological science.

I am convinced that we can achieve a better world if we give more respect to nature, if we implement our insights into action and if we communicate well within our world’s human society. For a holistic kind of sustainable development, we need to follow an interdisciplinary approach and we need to be able to understand more than our own scientific language.

Therefore I am more than happy to be one of Joern’s PhD students in his interdisciplinary project on sustainable development in Southern Transylvania. I consider myself fortunate to write my thesis on butterflies and plants in the wonderful Transylvanian landscapes and I am looking forward to the common activities of our research group.

Who we are: Tibor Hartel

(By Tibor Hartel)

I was born and raised in Sighisoara (Segesvár, Schäßburg) and a small village near this town, called Székelypipe. After graduating university I come back to ‘my’ town and home area. Since then I have worked here as biology teacher (for 10 years) and biologist.

Tibor Hartel

As a researcher, I am interested in amphibian ecology and conservation in Southern Transylvania. More recently, I have also become interested in other topics such as landscape ecology and social-ecological systems (here the influence of Ioan Fazey and Joern Fischer has been strong).

For a long time my only contact with the ‘western world’ was the internet (used mostly to request papers). I was never particularly interested in visiting foreign countries, and my first trip abroad with a fellowship was quite recently: in 2009 (to National Museum of Natural History – Naturalis, Leiden, Netherlands), then in 2010 (back to Naturalis). I must admit that initially other persons like Dan Cogalniceanu and Pim Arntzen wanted me to go on these trips more than me – but now I am grateful to them for their insistence! The few visits I made ‘abroad’ increased my attachment for the Saxon landscapes of Transylvania. This was so obvious that Pim Arntzen called Sighisoara Tibisoara. Now my visits to western European countries increase in their frequency. I now like the visits because they are short.

For a very long time, my only contact with ‘academia’ in Romania was Professor Dan Cogalniceanu, my PhD supervisor. Given the overall conditions of academia in this country, I consider this a positive aspect (somehow in the line: isolation results in speciation…). Since 2009 I have been involved in teaching at Babes Bolyai University in Cluj Napoca, an activity I greatly enjoy.

Many things have changed in the past 10 years in this area. Since I am mostly an optimistic person, I will give some positive examples: the many nongovernmental organizations like Mihai Eminescu Trust (my ‘host’) and the ADEPT foundation. These organisations are real outliers in the NGO landscape of Romania, in a very positive sense. There are also a lot of other wonderful and good people (mostly outside of academia) interested in doing good things for this region: for nature and people. True, their job is not easy but I like to see that they are more and more efficient and start to get connected…and a network is developing. The research project lead by Professor Joern Fischer is among the many good things happening to this area: a needed new approach, and mentality to understand these social-ecological systems in Southern Transylvania.

With all these and many other initiatives going on in my home area, I feel I am a lucky person.

Generally I feel that what we are somehow related to other people. In other words: it would be selfish to think that our successes are solely due our own efforts. And this is good. Some very important people and teams in my life: my parents, Alexandru Gota, Cosmin Moga, Kuno Martini, Dan Cogalniceanu, Joern Fischer and his team, Ioan Fazey, the colleagues and my pupils from the two schools (Mircea Eliade High School and the Miron Neagu General School) where I taught, the Mihai Eminescu Trust, the ADEPT Foundation and many others.

Ah…I almost forget it: I am seduced by the resilience theory (thanks to Joern and IoanJ)

Who we are: Joern Fischer

By Joern Fischer

When a new person contributes to this blog, we’ll ask them to write a little bit about themselves. I’m a professor interested in sustainable land use at Leuphana University Lueneburg (Germany). I started working there not very long ago – in November 2010. Before that I lived in Australia for nearly 14 years. I studied in Australia, did my PhD in Australia, and essentially got ‘stuck’ there. It’s mainly because my parents were still in Germany (where I had grown up) that I decided to go back.

The thought of going back was with me for much of the last few years, but I was never quite sure how to make it happen. Being an ecologist, I always wondered: what would I study in Western Europe? What would actually keep me interested? I could easily sympathise with people working in the Amazon, or even rural Australia, because rapid landscape change is underway in these places – and new research is really important to inform management decisions in such regions. But Western Europe? Sure, there are ecological problems there, too, but by global standards, ecosystems are relatively stable; things might change, but at a relatively slow pace.

Things changed a bit when in 2009 I visited my friend Tibor Hartel for the first time, in Romania. Tibi showed me around the landscape that’s home to him: southern Transylvania. I was amazed by the beauty of the landscape, and shocked by what might happen to it. Up until now, land use change has been slow, and the practices used today are still quite similar to how people used the land hundreds of years ago. But now – in the era where Romania is in the European Union – how might this change? What will happen to the species-rich grasslands with their rare orchids, what will happen to farmland birds like the corncrake which are still common but rare in Western Europe? And what about people? With the social and demographic fabric shifting, how do people’s values change, and what does this mean for land use practices? How can economic circumstances be improved without natural and cultural heritage being destroyed?

Tibi posed these questions to me as he showed me around his world. Of course, like everybody else, I have no real answers. But I was inspired enough to try to find out more about this fascinating, and complex set of issues.

I was lucky to receive a Sofja Kovalevskaja Award in 2010. This is a wonderful opportunity, offered by the Humboldt Foundation in Germany, which gives me the chance to focus on one major research project for several years in a row. That’s a great luxury at a time when academic life becomes ever more rapid. Being able to focus on one thing, at depth, for a substantial period of time, is a rare thing, and I am delighted that I have been given this opportunity.

So – to sum up my interests: I’m interested in sustainability, and I think it’s essential we cover both social and ecological issues. When it comes to social issues, we must go deep, including attempts to understand fundamental things that shape human behavior, like underlying values and beliefs. But we also need to be pragmatic to make things happen in the real world: for that reason, I also welcome approaches that focus on ecosystem services and other similar concepts that are directly relevant to policy makers.

We need to find ways to work on the long-term, underlying issues, while also getting on with pragmatic action in the short term. I hope my work can contribute to this challenge.