CMarZ researcher Ahmet Kideys loves his work so much that he jokes that he would be willing to pay for what he sees and experiences. He studies the impact of invasive ctenophores on plankton and other major ecosystem groups in the Black and Caspian Seas.
Where were you educated? What did you study?
After graduating from the Biology Department of Selcuk University, Konya (a Turkish city famous for the mystic whirling dervish ceremony), I completed my Masters degree at the Institute of Marine Sciences of the Middle East Technical University (IMS-METU) in Erdemli, Turkey, working on the phytoplankton of the eastern Mediterranean. I did my PhD at Port Erin Marine Laboratory of Liverpool University, on benthic ecology. Since returning to IMS-METU in 1992, I have been working on ecosystems in general, and in particular plankton of the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Caspian Seas (the latter having no coast in Turkey!)
How did you become interested in the ocean?
It was just a coincidence really. I mean it was not intentional, even when I was greatly enjoying watching Cousteau movies on the TV, I never thought I would be a marine ecologist one day. I guess it did not occur to me then that those interesting events shown in these TV series could actually take place in our coasts, too! However, since the first time I looked at live plankton under the microscope, I loved it and, have become ever more interested over the years.
What do you study and why is it important?
Although I have worked on a wide diversity of different aspects of marine ecology, my main work is based on the impact of invasive ctenophores on plankton and other major groups in the ecosystem of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. One specific ctenophore (Mnemiopsis leidyi or ML) was transported (possibly) from the eastern US coasts to the Black Sea, accidentally via ballast waters. This hermaphroditic zooplankton species increased from one or a few individuals (average weight of each around 10 g) to a total of 1 billion (109) tons in the entire Black Sea at the end of the 1980s, at the expense of the native zooplankton, which constitute the food for small pelagic fishes. The result was devastating for the fishery and all compartments of marine life. After, the predator of ML, another ctenophore Beroe ovata helped ecosystem recovery in the Black Sea by voraciously feeding on the initial predator ML.
The ctenophore Bero ovata of the Black Sea. The specimen on the left has no food in its stomach which comprises most of the body cavity. The specimen on the right has a half-digested Mnemiopsis leidyi in its stomach.
Similar adverse events were repeated when ML was transported to the neighboring enclosed Caspian Sea by the end of the 1990s. The biodiversity of zooplankton here was also badly affected. No Beroe have been found in the Caspian Sea as yet, and there seems to be no improvement in the situation on its own. Within the framework of the CMarZ (Census of Marine Zooplankton) project, I am investigating the impact of ctenophores on the biodiversity and abundance of zooplankton and other components of the ecosystem of these seas, which is helping us to create and test several hypotheses on marine ecology.
What do you enjoy about your work?
Its liveliness. I enjoy my work so much that if I was not a marine scientist, I would be willing to pay to see or to experience the things that I do-- really! I guess biology and particularly marine biology is something most people would enjoy, and studying marine organisms and their environment (i.e. marine ecology) is even more enticing. Traveling and meeting people, some of whom I may develop new ideas & together initiate new studies, are the other things about my job that I enjoy. (Photo: At the lab (Sinop, Turkey) with ctenophore culturing system).
What are some of the challenges you face?
I would like to contribute to the efforts being made towards reversing adverse events caused by human impact. And on the subject I am mostly working on, I felt this was possible. However, the heavy bureaucracy of some riparian countries was (and still is) a major obstacle.
What have you learned/discovered? What do you hope to learn?
I have learned, discovered and shown how fragile our ecosystems are when humans interfere, and how powerful some organisms can be. Even some seemingly unimportant species could be very important under certain conditions (e.g. when transported to a new environment).
How do you spend your spare time when not studying the ocean?
With my family! My family, particularly my elder daughter, is also very keenly interested in nature, and sometimes we enjoy small biological excursions together, marine or non-marine related.
My family on the beach (northern Cyprus) investigating a ghost crab.