PontoCaspian biodiversity Rise and Demise

Funded by an EU Marie Curie-Skłodowska Innovative Training Network grant.

For details see the PRIDE project website.

In the past two million years, the region of the Black Sea Basin, Caspian Basin and adjacent Anatolia and the Balkans (see above illustration) were the stage of the evolution of a unique fauna, the so-called Pontocaspian fauna. The fauna contains many endemic species well adapted to the unusual salinity regimes there, including fish, snails, bivalves, ostracod species. The diversity of the Pontocaspian fauna is the result of the very dynamic nature of the lakes (the Caspian Sea is technically a lake) and seas over the past two million years. In most times the various lake basins were isolated as they are today, but in other episodes connections existed. Episodic connections existed between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Sometimes the lakes were icy. In parts of the region lakes became dry at times. In the Pontocaspian lakes successive episodes of rapid diversification and extinctions resulted in the unique Pontocaspian fauna.

Over the past 80 years however, the Pontocaspian faunas have been decimated by development and nutrient input and the introduction of invasive species. In PRIDE, we want to learn from the past variation of the Pontocaspian fauna to inform the current biodiversity crisis. What processes drove the development of the unique Pontocaspian faunas in the past and how severe is the current crisis? Can the fauna still recover and how could we help to do so? The main program ran from 2015 until 2019. Throughout Europe 15 Early Stage Researchers (PhD students), nine universities, three academy of sciences, 3 natural history museums and 2 companies were involved. 

At the University of Reading, PhD researcher Sifan Koriche and Joy Singarayer explored how the Caspian Sea levels and connectivity varied over the late Quaternary, and what mechanisms drove those changes, using climate models and a simple hydrological model. They used the latest IPCC climate projections to make projections for the future of the Caspian.

Poster presentation at INQUA, 2019, Dublin