Meet Marija Milicic
A researcher whose work contributes to the preservation of biodiversity and harmony between man and nature
- Can it be said that BioSense is an Institute in the world and the whole world in one Institute? What is it like to work at a place that is evolving rapidly?
Of course, it can. Although it was founded only a few years ago, the BioSense Institute represents an important point on the map of European scientific institutions that dictate trends in science with their work, while at the same time working to translate scientific results into practical application, the ultimate goal of which is to create a modern, sustainable agroecosystem. However, I would say that there are more small worlds in BioSense. Although what the Institute is most recognizable for is modern agriculture, research is also carried out in other fields, which certainly contribute to the mission and vision of BioSense. That’s how I, as someone with a PhD in Ecology, found my place at the Institute, where I can do what I love in a scientific sense but also work in an international environment, even though I live in Serbia, considering that we have a lot of colleagues who come from outside the borders.
- What projects are you involved in and what is your role in them?
Currently, the project Serbian Pollinator Advice Strategy, financed by the Science Fund of the Republic of Serbia, is the focus. As part of this project, together with colleagues from the Faculty of Sciences, during this and the next two years, we will monitor wild bees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hoverflies, as well as the plant species they visit, in order to gain insight into the current situation and to predict the future trend of abundance and diversity of pollinating insects in Serbia. We conduct research during three seasons (spring, summer, and autumn) at 30 locations throughout Serbia. The idea is for this to be the first step towards the establishment of continuous monitoring of pollinators, which is already mandatory for the member states of the European Union. As part of this project, in addition to participating in field activities, I am the leader of the work package that deals with data processing. Also, I worked on the project of creating the first Red List of hoverflies, which is an assessment of the extinction risk of all species of these insects recorded in Europe. This was followed by a project aimed at creating a practical conservation plan for endangered species of hoverflies. In addition, as an external associate, I am currently involved in two international projects that deal with the topic of pollinator conservation and the systematization of available knowledge about them at the European level.
- Will your research contribute to the preservation of biodiversity and the improvement of harmony between man and nature? In what way?
The focus of my research is hoverflies, an important group of insect pollinators, which have also shown potential for use in biological pest control. Since I am an ecologist, I am most interested in researching the distribution patterns of these species, studying their roles in the ecosystem, finding answers to the question of which traits make them sensitive to changes in the environment, and all this with the aim of their protection and conservation. Since the entire food chain, with man at the top, would collapse if pollinators disappeared, it is clear that we must do everything in our power to prevent this from happening, and the first step in conservation is to gain as much knowledge as possible about the species that we want to save. I consider it one of the most important tasks of scientists in this field to bring closer the importance of pollinators to people, as well as to explain how small things they do themselves can contribute to pollinator preservation.
- In science, it is not rare that you dedicate yourself to something for months, years, and the results are not immediately visible. How do you stay motivated to continue your research, to persevere?
Indeed, it is easy to lose motivation when the desired result does not come immediately. I find the cure for that where all my scientific work begins – in nature. Going to a place that has not been anthropogenically altered (which is unfortunately increasingly difficult to find nowadays), where I have the opportunity to see nature and all its beauty in its full glory, reminds me why I do this job, despite the many challenges it brings with it. Simply, I like the fact that by choosing the vocation of a scientist, I contribute to the preservation of the most valuable resource that we as humans have.
- What are the wrong perceptions about science, about ecology that people have, and you would like them to change? How does the entire BioSense team work on this?
I think people often don’t believe scientifically proven facts. This is a problem that is, unfortunately, becoming more prevalent, so there are entire movements of people who believe that climate change is a conspiracy by green movements that want to enslave humanity, or those who deny the existence of human influence on climate change. On the other hand, scientifically proven and verifiable facts are that today the world is about one degree Celsius warmer than it was before widespread industrialization, that the 20 warmest recorded years in history happened in the last 22 years. Satellite images show a dramatic decline in Arctic Sea ice over the past 40 years or so, while the Greenland ice sheet has experienced record melting in recent years. The entire BioSense team, although very diversified in terms of research topics, contributes to the discovery of relevant scientific facts, each in their own field, as well as to the active demonstration of scientific discoveries, which I believe is the best way to popularize science and restore faith in it.
- You are a member of the Advisory Board of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) specialist group for hoverflies and an associate researcher at the Laboratory for Integrative Biodiversity Research (LIBRe) in Helsinki. What have you concluded, where is Serbia on the world map of science? Are we keeping up with the world?
That’s right, I was lucky enough to work closely with a large number of foreign experts in my field during my research. I would say that Serbia is generally on the right track to reach the level of the world’s leading scientific institutions in one moment. Investing in the development of promising and ambitious young scientists on one hand, and institutions like BioSense, which have a vision for solving some of the global problems, on the other hand, is the only way to stay on that path.