Congratulations to Professor Johannes Foufopoulos (UM, School of Natural Resources) and Dr. Despina Margomenou (Modern Greek Program) who received a renewal of the International Institute's Experiential Learning Fund for their project, "Sustainability in Mediterranean Ecosystems"! The project has been continuously funded since 2013. Their research takes place on the island of Naxos and several nearby Cycladic islands (e.g. Amorgos) and deserted Islands (“Erimonissia”).
The aim is to expose an interdisciplinary UM team of graduate and undergraduate students to the environmental problems of the Mediterranean region and to try to get to know and assist local communities in developing long-term solutions to unsustainable practices. The Mediterranean Basin has been recognized as one of the most important global biodiversity hotspots and harbors many thousands of unique species of plants and animals. At the same time, the Mediterranean Sea region has been subject to continuous man occupation for millennia.
The long list of Mediterranean civilizations, including Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Arab, were all built on the rich resources and services provided by the local ecosystems. While it is clear that this human presence has left strong imprints on the vegetation of the Mediterranean, it is noteworthy that very few species extinctions have occurred in the region. This picture of surprisingly modest anthropogenic impacts on native ecosystems has, unfortunately, changed dramatically in the last 50 years, as expansion of human activities has led to serious degradation of native habitats.
Today mass tourism, intensification of livestock management practices, introduction of invasive species, agricultural industrialization but also abandonment of traditional agricultural landscapes are all undermining the long-term survival prospects of native species communities. Because of (i.) the clear effects of ancient human practices on present-day ecosystems; (ii.) continuing relevance of ancient methods of nature management to modern realities; and (iii.) historically strong two-way relationship between human culture and the natural environment, it is particularly useful to also examine these issues in the context of the existing archeological record.
More specifically, the focus is threefold: 1. To familiarize UM students with the ecological and cultural setting of the Mediterranean and the nature of the sustainability challenges. 2. To investigate the current and past impacts of humans on native ecosystems (resulting e.g. in the loss of native pollinators and the extinction of unique island wildlife) through overgrazing by livestock, agricultural changes, introduction of invasive species and pathogens, and global climate change. 3. To help promote activities that will permit the sustainable coexistence of local human communities and the rich biological diversity of the region.