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“Jugend forscht” - Student group experiences exciting national finals

Group of students supervised by IfAÖ presents exciting result at the national finals of “Jugend forscht”

A group of pupils from Rostock, supervised by the Institute for Applied Ecosystem Research GmbH (IfAÖ), just missed the placings at the national final of “Jugend forscht” (national science competition for young adults), but was able to present their results in a sustainable way. Isabel Zerfowski (17), Oscar Manolo Yucra (18) and Liam Hartmann (18) spent three years researching the topic "Neozoa in the Warnow". The project of the high school graduates is to be continued after the successful completion of the national finals.  

Discovery of the calcareous tubeworm 

"We are pleased that we were able to support the students in the research project. They can be proud of the result they achieved," says Lisa Schüler. The IfAÖ biologist, together with Dipl.-Biol. Frank Gloede, has provided technical support to the group over the past few years.   

Since 2018, the three students from Rostock have been studying aquatic species in the Warnow River that were introduced by humans into the foreign ecosystem - the so-called neozoa. The project aimed to find out whether the new species were displacing the native ones. For this purpose, the young researchers suspended vegetation plates made of PVC in the Warnow River for three months (more on the experimental setup the group is explaining HERE). The material was intended to simulate artificial hard substrate such as ship hulls and jetties.  As a result, the students found out that "Neozeon, such as migratory mussels, do not displace native species, but occupy free niches in the brackish water ecosystem of the Warnow", Liam Hartmann explains summarizing the technical work. A highlight was the discovery of the calcareous tubeworm in the examined water body. This is considered an invasive species among the neozoa, as it massively influences the native organisms in its environment by building its lime tubes. "For us, it is a great success to be the first research team to have made this discovery in a native water body," the students are pleased to say. 

Research project to continue after "Jugend forscht" competition 

Oscar Manolo Yucra already sees "future potential for the project." Together with his teammate Liam Hartmann, he will begin studying at the University of Rostock in the winter semester. Both would then like to explore the topic further. Isabel Zerfowski also doesn't want to lose sight of the topic: "I can also imagine taking up studies in the field after I graduate from high school and working in the field later!" 

IfAÖ is committed to promoting young talent 

"Having a partner like IfAÖ at our side was very important for us," says Isabel Zerfowski. With the help of the IfAÖ experts, the young research team was able to comprehensively acquire specialist knowledge on the identification of neozoan species. In addition, the supervisors helped with the construction of the vegetation plates, which were enormously important for the current project. For the IfAÖ team, this was not the first time they had supervised a research project of young scientists. For more than ten years now, the experts have been supporting classes as part of the "Schüler staunen..." program run by the State Office for Agriculture and the Environment of Central Mecklenburg. "For us, it is important to introduce young students to scientific topics," explains Frank Gloede, "on the one hand, they learn how to implement extensive research projects and, on the other hand, we can show them the exciting sides of our daily activities." In this way, IfAÖ colleagues stay in close contact with their teams after each competition, and opportunities for collaboration may arise at a later date.

Isabel Zerfowski examining the neozoa under the microscope.

PVC fouling panels stocked with mussels. After an analysis, it was found that the new species did not affect the native ones in the Warnow.