Friday 19 April 2024

Unforgettable research expedition in the Kyzyl-Kum desert, Uzbekistan

In early April, we took part in an unforgettable expedition to the Kyzyl-Kum desert in Uzbekistan. Five members of our research team (Balázs Deák, András Kelemen, Réka Kiss, Katalin Lukács, Orsolya Valkó), Csaba Tölgyesi and Zoltán Bátori from the University of Szeged, and Toshpulot Rajabov and Abdubakir Kushbokov from Samarkand State University (SamSu) participated in the expedition. 

The aim of the expedition was to start a large-scale research programme related to Abdubakir's PhD research on the restoration of degraded semi-desert habitats. The research will investigate degradation and regeneration processes along actively used and abandoned watering wells along a grazing intensity gradient. A total of 480 cenological quadrats in 20 sampling areas were surveyed and a total of 480 bags of soil samples, nearly one and a half tons (!!!) were collected. All of this required and will require a lot of preparation, very intensive field work and a lot of post-processing. Currently, Abdubakir is in charge of the concentration of the one and a half tons of soil samples in the SamSu laboratory with the help of a lot of enthusiastic students. A fraction of the soil will be subjected to chemical analysis and root biomass analysis in Uzbekistan, and the seed fraction will be analysed in Hungary using soil seed bank analysis. 

You can read a news about our expedition on the SamSU webpage:

We had a very successful, enjoyable and memorable expedition in every respect :) Thank you very much to everyone who was with us on the expedition for all the hard work, organisation, dedication and great company. To the "mining team" for the very hard physical work, to the coenologists for their work, to our Uzbek colleagues for the super organisation and hospitality!

Below you will find many pictures of the unforgettable moments of the expedition :)

Our first group photo: we have just arrived to Kyzyl-Kum and eager to discover its wildlife.

We had very cool transport vehicles: UAZ 4WD cars.

Which needed to be repaired every now and then :)

Or needed some push - as sometimes the roads were wadis:)

One of our everyday activities was the labelling of the sampling bags. Once we did this while the drivers were fixing the motor of the UAZ next to us :)

The interior of the cars was also very cozy and comfortable.

We were always very happy to see camels.

We met a lot of sheep and goat flocks as well.

We have never seen as many tortoises as here in Kyzyl-Kum. The Russian Tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii) was everywhere.

There were a lot of agamas as well.

Our sampling gradient always started next to the watering wells, where there is almost no vegetation due to the heavy grazing and trampling pressure. This zone is called the 'sacrificed zone' by our Uzbek friends - and this term perfectly expresses the essence of these areas.

A perfect example of a sacrificed zone. In some places we counted 1 800 sheep dung per square meter!

With increasing distance from the watering wells, we can observe marked changes in the vegetation. The Artemisia diffusa sagebrushes, a Calligonum bushes, and the abundance of sedges all indicate a good quality rangeland.

Gorgeous tulips were everywhere (Tulipa lehmanniana).

The yellow-flowered version was our favourite, just it was not as common as the red version.

Our favourite plant species was surprisingly a sedge -  Carex physodes. It was just gorgeous.

The "abundance" of grasses is very important source of biomass in the rangelands.

From this angle, it is more visible that indeed it is an important source of biomass!

Calligonum leucocladum bushes are important landmarks.

Siberian Lily (Ixiolirion tataricum)

One of the most important pasture plants is Artemisia diffusa, which provides excellent forage for livestock.

Peganum harmala is a plant that is poisionous even in very small quantitities. It is a typical plant in the sacrificed zones of abandoned wells.

Astragalus villosissimus.

Not easy to guess this: It is Convolvulus hamadae - not in its most spectacular form.

The cutest plant was the Bur Buttercup (Ceratocephala falcata).

But not as cute as the plant - Myosurus minimus - on the sweater of András :)

Moments of field sampling.

Everybody does everything simultaneously.

One of the hardest task was the soil sampling. The procedure on the picture was repeated 1 440 times... 

The boys developed various techniques for soil sampling, one of this was the 'hammer and stone' method.

Another technique was the 'dancing and jumping'.

And the group dancing and jumping :)

This is the precious stone of Balázs, which was his loyal companion during the sampling. It was broken later, but even its half did a very good job.

This is approx. half of all our samples - hundreds of kg-s.

Currently Abdubakir with the help of a lot of enthusiastic students is concentrating the soil samples at the lab of the SamSU.

Idillic campsite near the hills.

Other nice campsite in the desert, in the courtyard of our very kind hosts.

Group photo with our kind hosts (in the middle) and drivers (on the right)

One of the few lunchbreaks that we had :)

Registan - a very famous UNESCO World Heritage Site in Samarkand. One of the most beautiful building in the world!

Registan in the sunlight.

Beautyful courtyard

Wonderful handcrafted pottery in the Samarkand bazar.

Short excursion in a nice hilly landscape.

Monday 15 April 2024

Ecosystem restoration with local or broad seed provenancing: our new perspectives paper in Biological Conservation

Our new perspectives paper, about the challenges related to seed provenancing in restoration has been recently published in Biological Conservation.

The paper is open access and freely available on the Journal's homepage (please click here).

The citation of the paper:

Török, Katalin, Valkó, Orsolya, Deák, Balázs (2024): Ecosystem restoration with local or broad seed provenancing: Debates and perceptions in science and practice. Biological Conservation 293: 110535. 

In this perspectives article, first we describe the debate on local versus broad provenancing and the benefits and challenges related to the approaches. For this we provided an overview on the current state of the art discussing the pros and cons about local and broad scale provenancing. In order to provide a deeper insight, we compiled a stakeholder survey involving restoration and conservation experts, and practitioners related to this issue. We aimed to highlight the synergies and potential conflicts between practice and research in order to enhance future discussions and by that fine-tuning provenancing frameworks. Finally, we merged the knowledge gained from the literature with that of the stakeholder survey and proposed a simple decision support framework on provenancing in restoration. The framework considers the critical intersections of assessments and decisions, the importance of science and practice at different stages, and includes the role of stakeholders in the process.


The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration gives new momentum to restoration projects worldwide, which often involve the introduction of plant species. Research evidence shows that restoration success can depend on the seed source. However, there are still debates about the pros and cons of local vs. broad provenancing in restoration. Despite a general agreement on the need for seed transfer regulation, the debate on provenancing challenges or delays the implementation of restoration. In this perspective article, we highlighted this debate that often creates a bottleneck and also examined this issue by surveying the opinion of Hungarian restoration ecologist researchers, conservation practitioners working in restoration, and other conservation experts on the perception of local vs. broad provenancing and the prioritization of further research versus immediate action. Researchers and practitioners had markedly different attitudes; defining aims and prioritization, using genetic knowledge, and species focus were most important to researchers, while broad provenancing,  feasibility, and rapid action were prioritized by practitioners. Comparison of the views of the stakeholders and linking this to a decision framework is a novelty of the study, a step necessary to understand the perception of each other to cooperate for a successful restoration. The results reflect reactive vs. proactive antagonism that should be discussed to identify which approach can be beneficial for restoration and feasible on the given scale. What is needed is to dive into restoration  implementation, jointly find bottlenecks, such as seed sourcing, and solve the problems by using the best available knowledge and necessary compromises.

Monday 18 December 2023

Ecologists and hikers have a major role in seed dispersal - Our new paper in the Science of the Total Environment

Long-term dispersal of diaspores (seeds, fruits) is ensured by seed dispersal vectors, such as wind (anemochory), water (hydrochory) and animals (epi- and endozoochory). Nowadays, one of the most effective seed dispersal vectors are humans. The key our efficiency is the rapidly growing rate of global transport, trade and tourism, which enables us to move more and more easily and quickly between distant biogeographical regions, and even between continents. People can travel large distances in a short time (even from one continent to another) and connect areas that would otherwise have no connection.

Seed dispersal on clothing (epianthropochory) can be considered a special form of epizoochory. This type of dispersal can be very important from a conservation point of view. Based on the results of studies so far, nearly 500 species have been registered to be able to spread on clothing. Most of these plants are weed and invasive species that cause serious conservation problems, especially in the isolated habitats.

An extreme case of epianthropochory :)

In our study, first-authored by Katalin Lukács and published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, we analysed the potential mechanisms that might affect the outcome of seed dispersal on clothing.

Our research involved 88 volunteers in a multi-site field experiments with samples collected from Hungary, Romania, and the Czech Republic. We accompanied volunteers on 39 sampling occasions during fieldwork or filed trips and provided each participants a new pair of socks at the beginning of the day. At the end of the outdoor activity, we collected the seeds from socks. We also collected seeds from the inside and outside of volunteers’ shoes (a total of 251 samples and 2,008 subsamples were collected). During the experiment, we also registered the sampling date, distance walked, and time spent outside, a list of plants to characterise the species pool of the visited site and the participants’ clothing type. The field experiment was complemented by a questionnaire survey to assess the people’s habits that might be relevant to the dispersal process under study.


The process of sample collection and sample processing.

Our results show that dispersal on clothing can play an important role in seed dispersal between habitats and regions. The process allows the spread of many species: we have found nearly 36,000 seeds from nearly 230 plant species. Interestingly, most seeds were spread by men and field biologists during visits to grassland habitats. On the shoes and socks of the most efficient dispersers we occasionally found more than 2,000 seeds. The type of clothing and footwear also had a significant effect on the dispersal efficiency: wearing long pants and high-top shoes can decrease seed dispersal potential compared to wearing short pants and low-top shoes (e.g., sneakers).

Based on the results of the study, we highlight the complexity of the process of seed dispersal on clothing. Informing people about this phenomenon is crucial, as our individual habits and behaviour can reduce the spread of weeds and invasive plant species.

Citation of the paper:


Lukács, K., Tóth, Á., Kiss, R., Deák, B., Rádai, Z., Tóth, K., Kelemen, A., Bátori, Z., Hábenczyus, A.A., Tölgyesi, C., Miglécz, T., Godó, L., Valkó, O. (2024). The ecological footprint of outdoor activities: Factors affecting human-vectored seed dispersal on clothing. Science of the Total Environment 906: 167675. 

The article is open access and can be freely downloaded from the journal homepage (please click here).

We summarized the results in a graphical form in this graphical abstract:


In the Anthropocene, humans are among the most abundant long-distance seed dispersal vectors globally, due to our increasing mobility and the growing global population. However, there are several knowledge gaps related to the process of human-vectored dispersal (HVD) on clothing. In a multi-site field experiment covering various habitat types in three countries of Central-Europe, we involved 88 volunteer participants and collected 251 HVD samples and 2008 subsamples from their socks and shoes. We analysed the number of diaspores and species in the samples. Specifically, we studied the effects of site characteristics (variables related to habitat types and season), vector characteristics (activity type, gender, clothing type, shoe type) and plant characteristics (species pool of the visited habitats and plant traits) on the number of diaspores and array of species dispersed. We assessed the habits of people that could be relevant for HVD with a questionnaire survey. A total of 35,935 diaspores of 229 plant taxa were identified from the samples, which indicates a huge potential of HVD in dispersing diaspores across habitats and regions. Most diaspores were recorded in grassland habitats, and more diaspores were dispersed during fieldwork than excursions. Clothing type also played a decisive role: there were more diaspores and species when wearing short-top shoes and short trousers than long ones. Even though our study was carried out mainly in natural or semi-natural habitats, a large number of dispersed species were disturbance-tolerants and weeds and only a few were specialists, suggesting the controversial role of HVD in conservation. At the individual level, people can reduce the number of diaspores through their clothing choices and diaspore removal habits, while providing adequate equipment for staff, operating cleaning stations, and increasing awareness of employees are main ways in which unintended diaspore dispersal can be tackled at the institutional level.