"Albania resembles a trunk with dried branches", says the Professor who discovers new plants

2023-11-17 10:40:30Dhoma e rrëfimit SHKRUAR NGA REDAKSIA VOX

Entela Resuli

Although he is approaching his 60s, he continues to spend a good part of his time in the mountains and plains of Albania exploring nature and flora not only in our country but also in the Balkans.

He has set foot in almost every "reservoir" of our country, on every mountain, climbing every peak above 1000 m.

When I ask him if he is tired or "fed up" with the study of plants, he says that in nature, although under the difficulties of the terrain and the risk of accidents, he finds more peace and relaxation than in the polluted air of the capital and the stress caused from the state of higher education in the University and its faculty.

Concerned by the lack of people in rural areas, he suffers their emptying, emphasizing: "The roads-arteries" of our country, although much better than in previous years, lead and bring fewer and fewer people to our capital, Our Albania is getting empty!

Albania today is more like a tree where many lateral branches are out of order, drying, while the trunk has begun to empty from the inside, despite the fact that it may look healthy from the outside."

Lulëzim Shuka, botanist and Professor at the Department of Biology at the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University of Tirana, shows the new discoveries in collaboration with colleagues, but also the life he sees in those places where plants flourish but people are absent.

-Professor, let's talk about a topic that is very close to your heart. You are one who divides your time between the audience and nature. 9 years have passed since our first interview on the discovery of the Albanian Tulip, what scientific news have you brought for this year?

The group consisting of a botanist from the University of Belgrade, myself and an English botanist, after 5 years of work, managed to scientifically argue and publish in the scientific journal Willdenowia, the discovery of a new genus for botanical sciences, the genus HayekiaLakuši?ex D. Lakuši?, Shuka & Eddie, gen. nov, genus which is included in the Campanulaceae family.

This genus is endemic to Albania, and since it is represented by only one species, it is also considered as a monophyletic genus or a genus with a single species, Hayekiabalukengjasme (Hayekiacomosiformis (Hayek&Janch.) Lakuši?ex D. Lakuši?, Shuka &Eddie).

For me personally and our country, this discovery is important because it constitutes the only genus endemic to Albania known so far, putting it alongside about 69 endemic Albanian plant species and subspecies.

This publication is also important because we were involved in the scientific "market" of discussions about a rather "hot" issue in the biological sciences, that of the conditions that must be taken into account in defining the concept of genus or even species.

In the biological sciences today it is fashionable to use molecular methods or DNA in the determination of species and sexes, avoiding the role of external changes or the morphology of plants and animals or even metabolic functions. Through this publication we reopen this important issue by placing ourselves between the two sides involved in the discussion of the dividing line of species or genus, between the group of morphologists and the current group of geneticists who do not accept discussions other than DNA- of.

In the publication, we emphasize the importance of molecular analysis, but it cannot be the only one. In the identification of a species or genus, the analysis of several other factors such as morphological, biological and ecological ones and their combined role to give a genus or species unique in its biology are equally important. We also emphasize the important role of interpreting the positioning of AND values ??in a segregating cladogram. This new interpretation in the definition of a genus constitutes the essence of this article, where the genus Hayekia is also published.

- Why have you named this new genus, Hayekia?

The name Hayekia of this genus was chosen by Prof. RadomirLakuši? (Professor of the University of Sarajevo and Banja Luka) as a tribute to Prof. Dr. AugustvonHayek (1871–1928), an Austrian botanist of the University of Vienna who worked in the field of phytogeographical studies in the Balkans and the southeastern Alps. Prof. R. Lakuši? (1933–2005) was the first to notice that the placement of the species Asyneumacomosiformis in the genus Asyneuma was wrong, but he did not manage to argue his suspicion during his lifetime. So his grandson and the first author of this innovation proposed to honor the Austrian botanist AugustvonHayek and at the same time recall the work of his own Uncle, a botanist also outstanding for the countries of former Yugoslavia.

-As always, the language goes to the financial support of scientific studies in our country. How has this support been?

In our country, until 10 years ago, financial support was very small. In these years not a penny has been given, or I don't know of any penny being given to scientific research. Personally, although I have applied with projects for studies of this level, I have never been financially supported, neither before 6 years nor in these last 6 years.

The worst is when they say that there are no applications, and the money is full! Moreover, after applying the answer comes after three or four years that there is no money or you are not selected.

You see at the end of the publication, the first and fourth authors thank the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of Serbia for the financial support of this study. In other words, Serbia finances research projects for its researchers abroad, including Albania in this case, while our country will not know about scientific research. What a paradox! In fact, in the University or my unit, those who sit around and do nothing are paid more than those who work.

-Many may say: Why should these projects be financed, at a time when they do not produce anything?

On the face of it, it seems like funding research is a waste of money. Then it falls to us to say why we need school, what we need plants or animals, why do we need to study them?

In last year's report on biodiversity, Kathy Willis of the University of Oxford gives this answer to your why: "It is important to know how many plant species exist today, where they are, to know the relationships between plant groups because they are essential for our being. They provide us with our food, energy, medicine, and they even control our climate."

But not only that, endemic species are the genetic wealth of a country, they are an added attraction to attract foreigners to visit this country. After all, knowing the discovered treasures or discovering the natural treasures of this country makes people more aware of why you should love your country, why you should protect nature and the environment where we live.

In other words, these studies are not wasteful expenses, but the profits are in advance even greater than the expenses.

In scientific terms, these innovations or discoveries are an indicator of the quality of a higher education institution. They have the maximum points in a ranking among different institutions or Universities. Suffice it to tell you that for the year 2018, according to the most prestigious university quality assessment company in the world: TimesHigherEducation (WorldUniversityRanking), the best university in the world in the field of Zoology is that of SaoPaolo in Brazil, because of discoveries and publications in the field of zoology.

-Nine consecutive years, nine discoveries in the field of botany. What will we see next?

Eh! I often say to myself enough is enough, especially since occupational risk increases with age, as do health costs. Then someone from the districts, especially from Kukësi or Berat, Gjirokastra or Vlora, like B. Hallaçi, A. Diku, F. Nako or Nexhipi, who invite me to go out in the field, and thus the decision made is broken.

On the other hand, foreign collaborators, being part of a wide network from different European universities, often require different clarifications, for different issues in research or collaborations, which morally obliges you to continue.

Sometimes, then you get angry when someone else publishes a new type that I found and defined, and so you start analyzing and writing again.

So far, between finding a reason to continue, and a reason to continue when it is not an obligation, even more so when the research requires time and funding, the continuation has won, placing the entire financial and time burden on the family.

So, maybe for the next year, I would very much like to realize the 10th number of innovations or new species, subspecies or genera altogether.

'Confession Room' exclusive column of Vox News.

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