Institutes of the Nature Research Centre
The Institute of Botany
The Institute of Botany is the main botanical research institution in Lithuania conducting fundamental and applied research in botany, mycology, microbiology, bacteriology and virology, as well as providing education and training to produce top-rank researchers and highly qualified professionals.
Exceptional attention is paid to modern fundamental investigations, i.e. research into the composition of the components of biological diversity (vascular plants, bryophytes and algae, fungi and microorganisms, communities and habitats), along with their structure and functioning (mechanisms and patterns of growth, development and adaptation processes) under global climate change and human activity impact; biological and ecological characteristics and functioning of microorganisms; identification of plant diseases and their agents – microorganisms and viruses.
Research activities of the Institute are exclusively important for ensuring our country’s expertise in international scientific and management organizations in realizing regional and global programmes on environmental protection and use of natural resources. The researchers of the Institute contribute significantly to the development and implementation of the State Environmental Monitoring Programme and the National Strategy for Sustainable Development, ensuring compliance with and functioning of the following: the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, fulfilment of the requirements of the EC Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC), implementation of Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 of the European Parliament and Council of Europe on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species, and implementation of the international CITES, Ramsar and Bern Conventions. In the international context, botanical research forms part of the programmes on the European vegetation cover continuum research to help solve the problems of phytogeography, organism invasion, etc.
The researchers of the Institute are involved in implementation of four long-term research and experimental (social, cultural) development programmes of the Nature Research Centre: Research into the status and change of biological resources and quality of the environment, scientific justification of conservation; Biodiversity investigations and prognoses under the conditions of global climate change and anthropogenic impact; Functioning and adaptation of biological systems: molecular, genetic and evolutionary mechanisms; and Investigations of hazardous substances distribution in the ecosystems, regularities and mechanisms of ecotoxic and biological effects under the impact of anthropogenic stress. At the same time, researchers of the Institute actively participate in projects announced by the Research Council of Lithuania. The results of investigations are published regularly in international scientific journals and presented at international scientific conferences and seminars. The researchers actively cooperate with colleagues from the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland, and are invited to give lectures and participate in seminars.
Fundamental and applied research conducted in active cooperation with foreign counterparts are designated for: the assessment of the significance of processes of production/decomposition of plankton and benthic microflora and the consequences of hyperproductivity of aquatic ecosystems and water quality; expert assessment of ecosystem vulnerability as well as resistance to chronic and acute anthropogenic and naturally occurring stressors; research into environmental factors and physiologically active signal-induced stressors (temperature, heavy metals, salts, plant toxins, etc.) and adaptive processes in plants; analysis of the ecological and biological properties of fungi, yeast and bacteria in natural and anthropogenized ecosystems; the accumulation regularities of biologically active compounds in plants; assessment of the diversity, distribution, biological and ecological properties of fungi and bacteria species causing plant diseases; research on diversity, structure, state and development of Lithuanian and surrounding regions’ flora and vegetation; studies on mycological diversity; identification of biological and molecular properties of virus diseases and phytoplasma agents in economic plants, determination of agent spreading and assessment of harmfulness as well as cultivar resistance to viruses; studies on molecular-physiological properties of biocidic systems and investigation of their mechanisms of the action; identification of chemical and oxidative stress patterns in the plant cells.
Contract research occupies an important position in the activities of the Institute. These activities include: optimization of the Lithuanian flora conservation system; a survey of protected areas and provision of proposals for their management; integrated assessment of eutrophication of water bodies; determination of diagnostic means for cultivated plant productivity reducing viruses and phytoplasmas, etc.
In order to ensure the continuity of research, young scientists are trained: not only do investigations involve university students, but researchers also supervise bachelor’s and master’s final theses. Ongoing PhD studies in biomedical sciences in the areas of biology, ecology and environmental sciences allow talented students to pursue a PhD degree. In 2010–2015, six PhD theses in the area of biology and six PhD theses in botany were defended.
An important part of the Institute’s activities in our country is the maintenance, augmentation and protection of collections of unique plants and other botanical objects. Most important in this is the Herbarium of the Institute of Botany (BILAS) founded in 1948 and belonging to the category of regional national herbaria. Collections of pure cultures of microorganisms are also maintained and augmented: about 3000 species and strains of micromycetes, yeasts and yeast-like fungi, streptomycetes and bacteria; over 2500 strains of fungi, agents of plant root and butt rot as well as pure cultures of phytopathogenic bacteria; plant viruses; genetic lines of yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). At the Field Experimental Station of the Institute of Botany (total area 50 ha), a collection of over 500 accessions of medicinal, aromatic, fruit and leguminous forage plants has been augmented, maintained and stored.
The Institute of Ecology
The Institute of Ecology is the major environmental research institution in Lithuania conducting international-level scientific research in animal ecology, zoology, animal physiology, genetics, ethology, microbiology and parasitology, as well as providing training to produce highly-qualified researchers and teachers. Fundamental research and experimental development conducted at the Institute cover a wide range of topics relating to environmental quality status, regularities and mechanisms of the structure, functioning, sensitivity, vulnerability, genetic diversity, adaptations and microevolution of natural ecosystems, habitats, species and communities under global climate change and anthropogenic impact, and also development of theoretical fundamentals and projection of potential changes. The competence of Lithuania in analysing and solving international environmental problems and in developing strategies for the management of ecosystems and projecting their possible changes is often entirely based on the data of the research conducted by the Institute. Researchers of the Institute ensure implementation of a number of international agreements and conventions ratified by the Government of the Lithuania Republic such as: the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, EU Regulation (No 1143/2014) on the prevention and management of introduction and spread of invasive alien species, as well as international CITES, Ramsar and Bern Conventions. They are also engaged in the preparation and implementation of national-level documents (National Strategy for Environmental Protection, Environmental Education of Society, Fisheries Development) and other important national-level research activities, including harmonization of Lithuanian legislation with EU law, territorial selection for the NATURA 2000 European Project, preparation of National Reports on implementation of the Climate Change Convention, performance of national- and regional-scale research on biological diversity, production of environmental impact assessment, etc. Research topics undertaken by scientists of the Institute fall within the scope of the following four long-term research and experimental development programmes pursued by the Nature Research Centre: Research into the status and change of biological resources and quality of the environment, scientific justification of conservation; Biodiversity investigations and prognoses under conditions of global climate change and anthropogenic impact; Functioning and adaptation of biological systems: molecular, genetic and evolutionary mechanisms; and Investigations of hazardous substances distribution in ecosystems, regularities and mechanisms of their ecotoxic and biological effects under the impact of anthropogenic stress. Broad-spectrum interdisciplinary investigations are conducted at the Institute in pursuance of projects funded by the Research Council of Lithuania. Active participation of the Institute in international research projects (EU FP6 and FP7, NATO, PHARE, OMPO, UNESCO, ES COST, ES LIFE, LIFE+, HELCOM, ICES, UNDP, GEF, UNEP, etc.) carried out under cooperation agreements with research institutions of foreign countries promotes collaboration with researchers of the USA, UK, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, etc. Of utmost importance is scientific cooperation with researchers from neighbouring countries (Poland, Belarus, Latvia, Russia, the Ukraine) as it is often extended to include project realization.
Scientific research results are constantly published in international scientific journals. They are also presented at international scientific conferences or seminars organized by researchers of the Institute. Cooperation with foreign partners covers the following research areas and activities: ecotoxic effects of environmental pollution and ecological changes in marine and freshwater ecosystems; genotoxic, cytotoxic and mutagenic impacts of various chemical compounds on aquatic organisms; development of the biomarker system for the health status assessment of marine and freshwater ecosystems; chemical and molecular and other mechanisms of interaction between animals and their environment; evolutionary biology, ecological plasticity of animal parasites and mechanisms of their transmission in ecosystems; development of new applied geoinformation technologies for ecological and landscape studies; assessment of global climate change and anthropogenic impact on ecosystems, habitats, communities and species, their adaptation possibilities, production of recommendations for impact mitigation measures; abundance and distribution of living organisms; peculiarities of alien species adaptation, biological traits determining species invasiveness; impact assessment of biological invasions on community food webs and ecosystem functions. The powerful intellectual potential of the Institute (60 researchers and 54 members of supporting staff) and a strong technical-experimental base (six experimental stations, an experimental aquarium, two seagoing experimental ships, the GIS Centre) enable the solving of problems of highly complex fundamental and applied research.
The recent upgrading of the technical-experimental research base (acquisition of state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, renovation and modernisation of experimental bases and the experimental aquarium, etc.), which was made possible by effective use of EU Structural Funds support, has opened up great possibilities for scientists of the Institute and the whole Nature Research Centre. The Nature Research Centre offers doctoral study programmes in ecology and environmental science and biology and trains specialists of excellence in these fields of science, which is of great importance for the future of the Institute. Since 2010 there have been fifteen doctoral dissertations defended. Scientists of the Institute also actively cooperate in the training of bachelor’s and master’s degree holders in appropriate fields of environmental science at other universities of Lithuania. Additionally, they are invited to deliver lectures at educational institutions in other countries (USA, UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, France, etc.).
In response to challenges of the present-day world, researchers of the Institute pursue long-term aims of integrating ecological knowledge and sustainable development practices.
The Institute of Geology and Geography
The Institute of Geology and Geography is the leading geological and geographical research institution in Lithuania conducting research in stratigraphy, palaeontology, tectonics, mineralogy, paleogeography, geochemistry, hydrogeology and nuclear geophysics, as well as pursuing investigations on the functioning of natural processes and landscapes and rational use and conservation of the natural environment in relation to the state and evolution of the Earth crust and surface. Alongside this, researchers of the Institute participate in the education and training of highly-qualified researchers.
In the area of fundamental research, the institute focuses on the analysis of the composition, properties and evolution of the Earth crust and formation of natural resources, evaluation of ecosystems, including the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon, as well as on investigations into the human living environment and its transformations in geological time and space. The results of fundamental research have served in implementing many international scientific research and development programmes designed to assist environmental protection and sustainable development, formulating a strategy of rational use of national natural resources, protecting the quality of the living environment, and implementing other projects relevant for the development of the country and human welfare.
The team of the Institute takes part in two long-term research and experimental development programmes of the Nature Research Centre: Geosystems and their processes for sustainable development and life quality enhancement and Investigations of hazardous substances distribution in the ecosystems, regularities and mechanisms of ecotoxic and biological effects under the impact of anthropogenic stress. Researchers of the institute are involved in projects initiated by the Research Council of Lithuania and based on different funding schemes. Research results are successfully introduced to the scientific society worldwide through contributions to international scientific journals, co-authored monographs published by prestigious world-famous publishers, etc. Researchers continually deliver their research results at international symposiums.
Researchers of the Institute actively cooperate with colleagues from foreign countries in conducting fundamental and applied research: the evaluation of possibilities of storing carbon dioxide (CO2) within the territory of the country, investigation of the structure of the Baltic pre-Cambrian continent and its impact on the present-day environment and its evolution, assessment of paleogeographic and paleoclimatic changes of different geological periods, description of climate change reflections and carbon emissions from peatlands. Of particular importance are the formation of the national oceanographic data centre and the drawing of digital bathymetric and bottom sediment maps, which are of key importance for assessment of the Baltic Sea ecosystem within NATURA-2000, HABITAT-2003, and MARINE STRATEGY-2007 projects, as well as participation in the development of the European tide forecasting system and the policy and strategy of adaptation to climate change in the Baltic Sea region. The researchers of the Institute conduct different applied research works through active cooperation with Lithuanian state institutions and largest businesses of the country.
In accomplishing different research objectives, the researchers of the Institute successfully cooperate with researchers from Middle and Central Europe, Northern and other Baltic countries, Russia and Belarus. Close cooperation is pursued within the IGCP programme projects supported by the European Commission and UNESCO. Lithuanian researchers participate in the Swedish Institute’s VISBY programme, COST, etc.
The research pursued by the Institute contributes substantially to the sustainable development of different industries of the country, protection of the entrails of the Earth and their rational use, and environmental protection. Significant works have been done on environmental impact assessment during and after the decommissioning of the Ignalina NPP, on the issues of safe management of radioactive waste, on possibilities and feasibility of the use of geothermal energy, seismic safety of the territory of the country, possibilities and outcomes of exploitation of natural resources, ensuring environmental protection in the objects of intensive business activities, and drafting plans for protected areas and master plans for cities.
In recent years, support from EU structural funds has enabled substantial updating of technical infrastructure and acquisition of new modern equipment, which has enhanced the level of fundamental and applied research allowing access to the international scientific environment. In particular, a unique Paleomagnetic Laboratory was created in the Baltic region, the laboratories for nuclear, sedimentological, hydrological and geochemical investigations were updated and complemented, and the working environment for researchers and conditions for the storage and display of scientific collections were improved.
The researchers actively participate in training their young colleagues, delivering lectures to students of Lithuanian universities and supervising research works for bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The institute runs two doctoral programmes: geology and physical geography. Since 2010, 12 doctoral theses have been defended.
The researchers of the Institute serve as members and experts in different state and departmental commissions and public organisations dealing with the issues of the entrails of the Earth and their exploitation. They are involved in resolving environmental problems of national importance, participating in the process of law-making and taking an active role in popularising geology and geography.