I am Conservation Biology graduate and now a PhD student with a mad love for all things wild, furry and with sharp canines! I come from a tiny little village in northern Greece called Panagitsa. During my placement year, I spent 7 months hiking up and down a mountain looking for European brown bear tracks and signs (yes, there are bears in Greece, not just sandy beaches and feta).
I have dedicated my time to learning more about bears and also learning how humans and bears can co-exist. I learned that wildlife conservation goes hand in hand with community work. As our first step in that direction, a group of four young people (my bother and sister, myself and our friend Bert) created a youth centre in the village called \’The Children\’s Orchard\’. A place where children can learn an array of practical things, from how to cook a spinach pie, traditional Greek grandma style, to how to produce organic vegetables in a small garden. More than anything, it is a place for children and young people to socialise in a healthy environment, be inspired and learn about living with nature in a more sustainable way.
My work with European brown bears in Greece during my placement year laid the groundwork for my dissertation and also earned me an invitation to present my project at the 24th International Conference on Bear Research and Management in Alaska in 2016. Upon my return from beautiful Alaska, I worked as a GIS and Environmental technician at the University of the West of England until I got a PhD Studentship to follow my love for bears (and bear poop!). I started my PhD in the spring of 2017 and, like most PhD experiences, it has been 20% confusion, 25% total despair, 25% pride and the feeling of superiority soon to vanish within the first few weeks, and 30% pure joy, making everything else seem like a tiny grain of sand in the bottom of your mug of tea (cold tea, that you made some time ago, but then saw an interesting thing online, baked some cookies, did some reading, edited an abstract, and found it on your way to the kitchen when dehydration made your eyes feel dry).
I love it!
For those of you interested in the scientific part of my PhD, here is a summary:
Survey tools to aid large carnivore re-establishment in Europe: Non-invasive monitoring techniques tailored for detecting wildlife corridors
In recent years, large European carnivore populations are showing a positive trend, with stable and even increasing populations in the majority of their range. Contrastingly, the habitats these carnivores inhabit are becoming smaller and fragmented due to human development. Assessing and promoting landscape connectivity has been a major component of large carnivore conservation efforts across Europe in the 21st century. Wildlife corridors promote the migration of individuals into neighbouring populations, allowing gene flow and thus reducing the potential for inbreeding caused by isolated habitat patches. However, monitoring functional connectivity between core habitats can be challenging given the low detectability potential using traditional monitoring methods due to infrequent use by large carnivores.
The principal purpose of this research project is to explore the functional habitat connectivity for brown bears in North Greece. This study will use remote sensing modelling to create corridor scenarios, and validate them in the field with two emerging non-invasive monitoring techniques: invertebrate-derived DNA (iDNA) sampling, and scat detection dogs. Both these monitoring methods target mammalian scat, and have the potential to significantly increase the level of detectability and are suitable for multiple species monitoring. This study will use these two techniques and compare them with a traditional method (systematic human surveys) to compare sensitivity, cost and detectability rates. Finally, the presence/absence data will be used to validate the habitat suitability and corridor models in an effort to create a robust ecological network model for Greek brown bear distribution.
Τhe conservation of such wide-dispersing species depends as much on maintaining undisturbed, core habitat, as it does on identifying, conserving and improving the strips of suitable land connecting pristine habitats together. This study aims to create corridor models to inform future large carnivore conservation management plans, as well as explore novel, low-budget sampling methods suitable for extensive large carnivore monitoring.