Project Description

Background & Rationale
Project Objectives
Sampling Approach
Year 1
Year 2

    The Republic of Mongolia has within its borders some of the world's most valuable resources.  These include many unequaled natural features but, more importantly, scientific colleagues.  Unfortunately, Mongolian scientists have had little historical contact with western scientists and vice versa; western scientists have had minimal access to Mongolian scientists and problems.  While Mongolian scientists have cultivated a lengthy working and educational relationship with Russian, Slavik, and German academics, it has only been since 1992, when the Democratic Revolution strained historic political and economic relations, that borders were opened to western nations to participate in and enhance Mongolian economic and research efforts with international technical, financial, and scientific assistance.
    In this project, we have identified a globally significant ecoregion in need of biotic survey and a shortcoming in the Mongolian research program, the lack of trained phycologists.  We propose a solution to these problems, namely an "International Partnership for Research and Training in Mongolia - The Diatom Flora of ancient Lake Hovsgol."  It constitutes a 36-month project which includes the participation of both U.S. and Mongolian institutions and scientists in an algal biodiversity survey and prepares a future Mongolian research program by including the training of Mongolian graduate students.

Background & Rationale
    In 1996, we took part in an NSF-sponsored (DEB-9640990) expedition to Mongolia to (1) establish contact with fellow Mongolian scientists and students and (2) identify collaborative research problems.  Our expedition took us from the academic and economic capital, Ulaanbaatar, to the shores of pristine Lake Hovsgol in north-central Mongolia.  We were part of group of seven Mongolian and nine American scientists whose specialties ranged from fisheries to remote sensing to aquatic invertebrates.  By working side-by-side with such a diverse group, many pertinent scientific questions were raised and lasting international relations established.  However, it was evident that there were few scientists in Mongolia pursuing our specialtyóphycology.
    Lake Hovsgol (also called Hubsugul, Khubsugul, Kossogol, Cossogol) is a second, less-famous lake located in the Baikal Rift Zone.  Its larger counterpart, Lake Baikal, is located only 200 km from Hovsgol in the same drainage basin (Fig. 1), and is famous for its size (contains 20% of the world's fresh surface waters), its ancient age (25 my old), and an extremely high level of organismal endemism.  Lake Hovsgol is similarly an ancient ecosystem occupying a tectonic basin and may be as old as the Baikal system, yet it has received far less of the scientific endeavours that have targeted other ancient ecosystems.
    Our proposed biotic survey will focus on Hovsgol National Park located in north-central Mongolia.  The park was established in 1992 to promote, manage and protect some of Mongolia's most treasured resources.  It spans over 830,000 hectares with the entire Lake Hovsgol drainage basin on the east, the Darhad basin to the west, and is bordered to the north by Siberia.  The two basins are both tectonic grabens and are separated by the Hordil Mountains; the Hovsgol Basin drains south then northeast via the Eg and Selenga Rivers to Lake Baikal, while the Darhad drains west and north to the Yenisey River.  While the Park may be delimited by both international and latitudinal-longitudinal boundaries, its scientific value as a natural laboratory centers on its containment of two natural ecoregionsóthe entire Hovsgol basin and watershed, and a large portion of the Darhad basin (Kozlov et al. 1989).  Additional rationale for selecting this region for our work include the amount of previous research on the geology and ecology of this region (reviewed in Kozlov et al. 1989, Academy of Sciences 1990), the uniqueness of the Hovsgol graben, and the planned incorporation of the Park in a GIS.
    The aquatic biota of Lake Hovsgol has seen sporadic investigation for nearly 100 years (Dorogostaïsky 1904, Ostenfeld 1907).  For the last 30 years, it has been the target of cooperative survey and monitoring efforts by Russian (Irkutsk State University) and Mongolian (Mongolian State University and Academy) investigators but few of these results have been disseminated to an international audience.  Major results were synthesized in the Lake Hovsgol Atlas (Kozlov et al. 1989) in both Russian and Mongolian language versions, however, it too had only limited distribution.  In terms of diatoms, the group of algae in which we are particularly interested, the most comprehensive survey was done nearly a century ago (Østrup 1908) with few other works addressing the diversity and ecology of the primary producers (e.g., Kozhova & Zagorenko 1979, Dorofeuk 1985, Kozlov et al. 1989, Hindak & Zagorenko 1992).  From these previous works we can only conclude that the biodiversity of diatoms in Lake Hovsgol is severely underestimated.  Approximately 200 diatom taxa have been reported from Lake Hovsgol.  In comparison, the North American Great Lakes have had over 1600 diatom taxa recorded (Stoermer and Kreis 1978).  Even more impressive is that in single samples that have been carefully studied over 400 taxa have been identified (Lake Superior benthos; Stoermer 1975).  Lake Baikal also has much higher diversity and endemism of diatoms than reported from Lake Hovsgol.  Approximately 500 diatom taxa with as many as one-third endemic have been identified in modern Lake Baikal (Skvortzov and Meyer 1928, Skvortzov 1937, Kozhov 1963, Pomazkina and Votyakova 1993, Popovskaya 1993).
    The planktonic diatom communities in both Lakes Hovsgol and Baikal are characterized by non-diverse assemblages (Stoermer and Edlund, in press); however, their assemblages share no common taxa, even though the lakes are connected via the Selenga River drainage.  Samples taken on our first expedition revealed that Lake Hovsgol has a nondiverse Cyclotella-Stephanodiscus phytoplankton assemblage that may include one or more endemic taxa (Edlund and Stoermer 1997), while Lake Baikal has a plankton flora primarily composed of five species of endemic Cyclotella and Aulacoseira (Popovskaya 1993, Edlund et al. 1996, Stoermer and Edlund, in press).  The benthic diatom flora forms a second contrast between Hovsgol and Baikal.  Lake Hovsgol has a diverse benthic flora made up of some elements of the endemic species "swarms" common in Lake Baikal (Stoermer et al. 1986) but is apparently overlain by a more pandemic or cosmopolitan flora.  These results are in stark contrast to patterns of diatom diversity found in the more common post-Pleistocene large lakes.  In the North American Great Lakes, phytoplankton and benthic diatom assemblages are diverse groups of widespread or post-glacial taxa (Stoermer and Edlund, in press; Edlund and Stoermer 1997; in press) with only minimal development of endemism (Theriot and Stoermer 1984).

    Lake Hovsgol and the surrounding area comprise the Hovsgol National Park which was established in 1992.  Administered under the Ministry of Nature and the Environment, the formation of the park has been a strong initial step in Mongolia's commitment for sustainable management of its natural resources.  Lake Hovsgol is perhaps the most pristine, large, oligotrophic lake on earth (Kozhova et al. 1994) but has remained that way only under continuous ecological threat.  Although there are only 6600 people living in the basin (ILEC 1997), one of the world's largest untapped phosphorite deposits lines the western shore of the lake and further industrial development of these deposits poses a significant threat to the Lake Hovsgol ecosystem and potentially to downstream Lake Baikal (ILEC 1997).  The lake has also been used in the past for cargo and fuel oil shipments without stringent safety precautions or response plans.  Fuel shipments have been curtailed for the past several years but may begin again during future open-water seasons.  These threats loom even after Lake Hovsgol's recent designation as Mongolia's first International Long Term Ecological Research site (ILTER) following a cooperative agreement between the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Natural Sciences.  Both the initiatives and threats argue strongly for immediacy in documenting diversity in this unique ecosystem, training and preparing Mongolian scientists for future research, and creating baseline data and taxonomies integrated with existing and planned electronic databases to assist and build the Mongolian research program.

Project Objectives
    This project has been designed with five major foci.  The end products of this partnership will be, first, the documentation of the diatom flora of Mongolia, particularly the Lake Hovsgol region, with the eventual publication of a flora, "The Diatoms of Lake Hovsgol National Park."  The number of collections made will be ca. 750 (ca. 240 already collected), and total diatom taxa between 600-1000.  Second, we include the important training of Mongolian scientists/students to study and use diatoms in research programs through collaboration in the production of the "flora", hands-on experience in both field and laboratories in Mongolian and American universities. Third, the partnership will establish a working diatom reference collection and herbarium in Mongolia to house isotype and verified specimens at the Mongolian State University, and deposit duplicates of material, slides, and type collections in established American herbaria (e.g., CAS). Fourth, because of the importance of electronic information transfer, we will produce an electronic database in the form of a WWW website "Mongolian Diatom Home Page," similar to our Great Lakes Diatom Home Page, of collection information, taxonomic identifications, and illustrated taxa.  This will make early results readily available to an international audience during the preparation the Hovsgol flora.  Collection and taxonomic data will also be integrated into the electronic relational database at the California Academy of Sciences Diatom Collection to accompany slide and isotype deposition.  Fifth, because of the interest and scientific value that an ancient lake with low-level human disturbance holds, this project will also identify and initiate future collaborations between Mongolian and American scientists and students particularly in the areas of biogeography, systematics, endemism, paleoecology, and large-lake ecology.

Sampling Approach
    High priority sampling locations will be targeted during the two collecting trips proposed.  Pelagic plankton collections, surficial deep-basin sediments, and attached communities from 10-50 m depth will be targeted using line-operated sampling gear.  Periphyton communities growing along depth transects from 10-50 m contain the most diverse flora in oligotrophic large lake systems (Skvortzow 1937, Kingston et al. 1983, Stoermer 1975) and have been little studied in Hovsgol.  Soninkhishig, our Mongolian partner, will be concentrating her efforts on sampling microhabitats in the abundant stream and pond systems surrounding the lake especially along the western shore, via jeep and ship-to-shore collecting.  All sampling will be coordinated with GPS locations and associated with physical and chemical measurements including, but not limited to, depth, temperature, Secchi depth, substrate character, and pH.
    All aquatic habitat types and communities will be considered for sampling.  Samples will be either dried or field preserved with ethanol (acceptable in small quantities for airline transport).  Following collecting trips, samples will be split, one portion to remain in Mongolia for deposit in a Mongolian Diatom Herbarium.  Time in Ulaanbaatar will be used to interact and mentor our Mongolian colleague(s) in diatom taxonomy, literature, applications and to prepare a Mongolian Diatom Herbarium and working collection.  Four slides will be prepared from each sample for deposit in the co-P.I.'s, CAS, and the Mongolian herbaria.
    The diatom survey will be accomplished by preparing water, sediment, and periphyton collections for microscopic analysis, counting a representative number of specimens (typically 500-1000) from prepared microscope slides, and also scanning individual slides for rare taxa.  Difficult species will studied in greater detail using scanning electron microscopy.  These analyses, along with environmental data taken at the time of collection, will provide estimates of relative abundance, ecological preference and taxonomic descriptions for all species.

Year 1 (1998-1999)
    Co-PI Edlund spent over 100 days out of the country during the first year of this award with two trips to Mongolia.  The first trip (June-August 1998) involved two collecting expeditions, the first to Terkhiin-Tsagaan Nuur (lake) in Mongolia's Arkhangai aimag (province) and the second to Lake Hovsgol National Park.  The first trip was an unexpected opportunity to study the algal richness in another ecoregion of Mongolia and resulted in the collection of 50 samples from lakes, streams, and springs between Ulaanbaatar and Khorgo National Park.  These samples are currently being processed for microscopic analysis.
    The second expedition was to Hovsgol National Park and included co-PI Edlund, N. Soninkhishig, and Dr. Ts. Jamsran.  We first spent four days on the vessel Sukhbataar sampling plankton and benthic diatom assemblages in the central and northern portion of the lake.  We joined a group of 14 Japanese researchers from the Lake Biwa Research Institute headed by Dr. Michio Kumagai on this portion of our expedition.  We were able to coordinate our efforts on this cruise and collections and data were shared.  Following the cruise on the lake, we spent one week sampling the west, north, and southeast shores of Lake Hovsgol by jeep.  Our trip to Hovsgol resulted in 400 diatom collections.
    Several other significant research activities occurred during summer 1998 in Mongolia.  Drs Edlund, Jamsran, and Ms. Soninkhishig participated in a meeting of the International Long Term Ecological Research program in Ulaanbaatar to initiate the formation of the Hovsgol National Park ILTER site.  At that meeting, we had the opportunity to meet Dr. A. Dulmaa of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences.  Dr. Dulmaa has had an ongoing plankton and benthos survey program in Mongolia since the mid-1960s, and she is willing to collect recent material and provide us with archived subsamples from many of the regions in Mongolia where we will be unable to sample.  She has initially provided us with 60 samples, mostly from lakes in the Valley of the Great Lakes, which include interesting samples from some of Mongolia's large saline lakes.
    PI-Edlund returned to Ulaanbaatar in Nov-Dec 1998 to work at the Mongolian State University.  During this time, he taught a short course on diatoms, gave two departmental seminars, and was a guest lecturer in several undergraduate courses.  Research efforts during this trip included a survey of Mongolian and Russian literature that has resulted in a manuscript with a checklist of Mongolian diatoms.  This paper will bring together nearly 100 years of research in Mongolia to provide the scientific community with a survey of the known diversity of diatoms in Mongolia and provide updated nomenclature and taxonomy.  We also worked together on this trip to prepare two more manuscripts on using diatoms as indicators of water quality in the Tuul River, and on the taxonomy and conservation value of a red alga in Mongolia (with Dr. M. L. Vis, Ohio University).
    Research in the United States has concentrated on the processing of over 500 collections from the first year of this award and on the dissemination of initial results.  Less than 100 samples remain unprocessed and analyses will begin during summer 1999.  Subsamples and duplicate slides have been prepared from each sample for distribution to herbaria in Mongolia and the United States.  A system for transfer of data to the California Academy of Sciences was worked out at meetings with Dr. Kociolek and communications with Dr. Spaulding.
    "The Mongolian Diatom Home Page,", went public in March 1999 and is a website dedicated to information management on Mongolian diatom biodiversity and initial distribution of results from our project.  Ms. Rebecca Williams, an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, is the creator and current webmaster.

Year 2 (1999-2000)
    Year 2 of this award began with a visit to America by our Mongolian colleague, Ms. N. Soninkhishig, from May to August.  Sonya's visit was supported by an award from the University of Michigan's International Partnerships Program.  The main purpose of Sonya's 10-week trip was to familiarize her with facilities and research tools at the University of Michigan and to allow her to attend the 5-week Ecology and Systematics of Diatoms course offered each year by Dr. Stoermer at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, Milford, Iowa.
    Dr. Edlund also spent five weeks in Mongolia during year 2 of this award.  The trip involved two collecting expeditions, the first to Lake Hovsgol National Park and the Darhad Basin and the second to Mongolia's Valley of the Great Lakes in Uvs and Hovd aimag.
    The expedition to Hovsgol National Park included co-PI Edlund and N. Soninkhishig. We first spent four days sampling along the west shore of Lake Hovsgol in areas that were missed on the 1998 collecting trip.  Following the trip along Hovsgol, we traveled west to the Darhad basin.  The Darhad basin is a filled lake basin containing over 400 lakes remaining from what was once the largest lake system in Mongolia.  It is geologically related to the Hovsgol basin and represents the most southwesterly basin within the Baikal Rift Zone.  We are interested in studying the flora of this basin and its relation to the diatom flora of Lake Hovsgol and Lake Baikal.  The trip to Hovsgol and the Darhad resulted in over 200 diatom collections.
    The second expedition during Year 2 took co-PI Edlund and N. Soninkhishig to western Mongolia.  In 1998 we had met Dr. A. Dulmaa of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences.  Dr. Dulmaa has had an ongoing plankton and benthos survey program in Mongolia since the mid-1960s.  She has initially provided us with 60 samples, mostly from lakes in the Valley of the Great Lakes, which include interesting samples from some of Mongolia's large saline lakes.  Results of these cursory surveys indicated that the western lakes held an undiscovered diatom flora for Mongolia.  We traveled for nine days in western Mongolia and sampled nearshore communities from eight of the ten large lakes in this region.  The lakes varied from fresh to very saline and should hold interesting distributional surprises and species new to science.  The expedition resulted in over 200 collections.
    Research in the United States has concentrated on the analysis of over 500 collections from the first expedition of this award and on the dissemination of results.  Subsamples and duplicate slides have been prepared from each sample; samples and slides have been deposited in the diatom herbarium in Mongolia.  Samples, data, and duplicate slides will also be deposited in the California Academy of Sciences in the United States.  Research results from our work in Mongolia continue to be submitted and published in traditional format and on this website.