History of the Laboratory of Ornithology and Herpetology

The Ornithology Laboratory is the oldest scientific division within the structure of the Institute of Zoology. A group of ornithologists – L.M. Shulpin, M.A. Kuzmina, S.L. Snigirevsky, and I.A. Dolgushin – was formed as part of the Zoological Section of the Kazakh Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences back in 1932. The first head of the section of birds in 1932-33 was S.I.Snigirevsky, and from 1933 to 1967 the section (since 1946, the Laboratory) was headed by I.A.Dolgushin, who is rightly considered the founder of ornithological research in Kazakhstan.

The ornithological group received the status of a laboratory in 1946, when the Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan was established; in the same year the first ornithologist, K. P. Paraskiv, appeared there. Before 1967 it was called Laboratory of Birds, Amphibians and Reptiles, from 1967 to 2007 it was called Laboratory of Ornithology, and since the end of 2007 it has actually recovered its former name of Ornithology and Herpetology. After Dolgushin’s untimely death in 1966 the Laboratory was headed by his pupils E.I. Gavrilov (1967-1990) and A.F. Kovshar (1994-2007), and in 1991-1994 and since 2007 by S. N. Erokhov.

In 1980, employees of the Ornithology laboratories (A.F. Kovshar, B.M. Gubin, A.S. Levin, R.G. Pfeffer, Z.K. Brushko, R.A. Kubikin; laboratory assistants V.V. Lopatina, O.V. Belyalova and E. E. E. Anokhina) and theriology (E. I. Stroutman, V. N. Mazin, V. N. Murzov) a new Laboratory for Problems of Wild Animals Protection (headed by A. F. Kovshar) was formed within the Institute of Zoology, which studied rare terrestrial vertebrates for 15 years.

After merging of these laboratories in 1995 part of the staff (E. I. Gavrilov, A. M. Sema, Y. N. Grachev, and A. E. Gavrilov) formed the Center for Tagging of Wild Animals.

At present 10 employees work in the Laboratory (head, 1 SNS, 5 SNS, 2 MNS, 1 senior engineer), including 6 ornithologists and 3 herpetologists, including one doctor of sciences and 6 candidates of sciences.

The main stages and directions of ornithologists’ activities

1. The faunistic stage ended with the publication of a 5-volume monographic summary “Birds of Kazakhstan” (1960-1974). Over 35 years, thanks to the efforts of I.A. Dolgushin and the school created by him, the vast territory of the republic was surveyed and all the scattered knowledge about the fauna of birds inhabiting it was brought together. Materials on distribution, biology and economic importance of more than 470 species of birds contained in the “Birds of Kazakhstan” are the basis for further development of the most important areas of ornithological research in the republic. Each of the five volumes of this publication has become a reference book for ornithologists of Kazakhstan and neighboring countries of Central Asia for many years. The collective of authors of the monograph composed of Dolgushin I.A., Korelov M.N., Kuzmina M.A., Gavrilov E.I., Gavrin V.F., and Kovshar A.F. was awarded the Republic of Kazakhstan State Prize for Science in 1978.

2. ecological morphology of birds. Parallel to the faunistic stage, starting from the late 1940s, M.A. Kuzmina studied ecology of chicken birds, mainly of mountain species, using morpho-ecological methods. In 50-60s she successfully studied features of structure and functions of locomotive apparatus of grouse and pheasant birds of the USSR in relation to conditions of their existence. The result of these many years of research was the monograph “Grouse and Pheasants of the USSR. Ecological and morphological characteristics” (1977), secondary published in English in USA (Washington, 1992).

3. Migrations of birds. In the second half of the 1960s, when work on the 5-volume summary was still in progress, the laboratory staff began to develop new directions, the most relevant for that period. The studies of bird migrations were headed by E. I. Gavrilov. Large-scale studies including assessment of visible migrations (species composition, seasonal dynamics of migration, direction and altitude distribution) were carried out in different locations in Kazakhstan, primarily in the Chokpak Pass (Western Tien Shan), as well as in the lower reaches of the Turgai River, the eastern coast of the Aral Sea, in the valleys of the Ural and Sarysu Rivers, on lakes of Teniz-Korgalzhyn and Alakol-Sasykkol systems, the Sorbulak waste water reservoir near Almaty. The method of ringing of migrating birds was widely used. One of the main results of these studies was E.I. Gavrilov’s monograph “Seasonal migrations of birds in Kazakhstan” (1979), on which he defended his doctoral thesis (1980). The data obtained from bird ringing allowed characterizing geographical connections and territorial distribution of migrating birds, the direction and speed of migration. For a number of species, especially colonially nesting species, demographic parameters – survival rate, mortality, longevity, long-term trends of population changes were calculated according to the materials of 70-90s (Gavrilov, Borodikhin, Sema, Auezov, Berezovsky, Erokhov). At the same time, some private questions of migration subjects, such as observation of nocturnal migrations against the background of the moon disk (Gissov, Shimov), bioenergetics of migrations of killer swallows and shorebirds (Mirkhashimov), questions of coincidence of molting with the migration period (Sabalieva, Savin, Gryaznov, Brokhovich) and others were also developed. Along with private articles, a monograph was published on the materials of the Chokpak station (Gavrilov and Gissov, 1985).

4. Breeding biology of mountain birds. Decades of stationary research in the high mountains of the Northern Tien Shan (1971-1980), which was a continuation of similar work that began there in 1964-1965 (Dolgushin, Gavrilov, Rodionov) and in the Talas Alatau in 1960-1966 (Kovshar. (Kovshar), were conducted at the ornithological station “Big Almaty Lake” by a group of ornithologists (Levin, Zhuiko, Pfeffer, Lopatin, Belyalov) headed by A.F. Kovshar. Here, the breeding peculiarities of passerine birds in the subhighlands of the Tien Shan were studied. Using the method of color marking of adult birds and chicks, the polycyclic nature of breeding has been proved and some mechanisms of this process under the influence of climatic factors of the highlands have been revealed, in particular – the superposition in time of the neighboring phases of the reproductive cycle. The presence of the hypsomorphic effect – reduction of clutch size in several species of insectivorous birds with an increase in absolute altitude – was also confirmed. As a result of these studies A.F. Kovshar published two monographs “Songbirds in the subhighlands of the Tien Shan” (1979) and “Features of bird reproduction in the subhighlands” (1981). The first of them was awarded the laureate diploma by the Moscow Society of Nature Testers in 1980. On materials of these researches the doctoral dissertation was defended in 1980

5. Applied research. Along with fundamental, in the second half of the XX century the applied ornithological research, first of all, population condition studying and stock estimation of waterfowl hunting birds, was considerably developed in the Laboratory. Implementation of these works is mainly connected with the name of V.F. Gavrin. Under his leadership in Kazakhstan in the 60s, the number of waterfowl and near-water birds, primarily hunting species – geese and ducks, as well as the biology and ecology of individual species, in particular the pintail, was assessed for the first time. Ways of attracting ducks to breeding grounds in hunting farms were developed, recommendations on stock assessment and norms of waterfowl hunting were elaborated, and prohibition for some rare species (bustard, jack), regulation of shooting the bustard was justified. Subsequently, in the 70-80s, ground and aerial surveys of waterfowl were continued by E.M. Auezov, and from the mid-90s and up to the present time they are conducted under the leadership of S. N. Erokhov

6. Protection of birds (conservation of diversity). This line of research has become especially urgent since the mid-1970s, when, after the meeting “Disappearing and rare animals and birds of Kazakhstan, measures for their protection and reproduction” (1973), the “List of vertebrate animals in need of special protection measures” was made, which laid the foundation for the Red Book of the Kazakh USSR. The first edition of the Red Book was published in early 1979, and ornithologists of the laboratory were the authors of sketches about 56 species of birds, included in this edition. Later ornithologists of the above mentioned laboratory of wild animals conservation (1980-1995) were collecting information for the 2nd and 3rd editions of the Red Data Book (1991, 1996). The results of these studies published in numerous articles are sufficiently well studied biology of the following rare species of birds: Red-breasted bustard (Gubin, Sklyarenko), Saker falcon (Pfeffer, Levin), Relict gull (Auezov), Red-crowned crane (Kovshar, Berezovikov), Strepet (Gubin, Karpov), sicklewhite (Kovshar, Gubin), gyrfalcon (Khrokov), pelicans – curly and pink (Zhatkanbaev, Auezov, Berezovikov), saxaul jay (Gubin, Kovshar, Levin). The last major achievement in the study of rare bird species was the publication of a monograph by B. M. Gubin’s monograph “Bustard Bustard” (2004), which has been translated into English and is now in print.

7. Ornithological studies in the 21st century. Faunistic studies continue, which become especially urgent due to permanent changes in the living conditions of animals, including anthropogenic transformations of birds’ habitats; the most important tasks are tracking dynamic processes in ornithofauna, first of all, the state of ornithofauna in separate areas, changes in birds’ ranges, dynamics of their number, etc.

Publications. Over the years of the Laboratory existence, about 2500 scientific articles (1200, by the present staff only) and more than 20 monographs have been published by its staff in various national and foreign journals. The names of the most important of them are given in the previous sections of this essay.

Popularization of scientific knowledge.

At all stages of the Laboratory activity its staff have carried out great work on popularization of scientific knowledge about birds.

A clear evidence of that is the publication of 40 popular books about birds, including “Songbirds” (1983), “Birds on the Arm” (1985), “Saker Falcon” (1987), “The World of Birds of Kazakhstan” (1988), “The Animal World of Kazakhstan” (2003) and the volume of the School Encyclopedia “Birds” (2006). Employees of the laboratory were often scientific consultants for films about nature and birds of the famous Kazakh film studio “Kazakhfilm”, the laureate of the State Prize of Kazakhstan V. A. Belyalov: “In the Mountains and Deserts of Kazakhstan” (1975, Kovshar), “Golden Eagles” (1976), “Home for the sicklewhale” (1980, Kovshar, Gubin), “Handsome Jack” (1988, Gubin), “Flamingo” (1989), “Pelicans” (1990, Zhatkanbaev), and others. Subsequently, since the late 1980s, A. Zhatkanbaev has been engaged in making popular science films about birds, and he has shot about 20 short films since then. His last achievement was a full-length film about saxaul jay (2006) with a text in English. In addition to birds, the laboratory staff conducts a lot of propaganda on nature conservation, in particular about the nature reserves of Kazakhstan. So, in 2003 “Unika-Film” studio (Astana) shot a popular science film “Aksu-Jabagly – the depository of life” (consultant A.F. Kovshar). Ornithologists of the Laboratory actively participate in preparing and holding the “Bird Day” holiday, held annually together with the Almaty Zoo on its territory. In recent years, a colorful poster “Bird of the Year” has been published for this holiday.

The main stages and directions of herpetologists’ activity

Herpetological research at the Institute of Zoology began in 1946 with the appearance of a specialist herpetologist K. P. Paraskiv in the laboratory. From 1946 to 1959. From 1946 to 1956 K.P. Paraskiv with expeditionary trips visited different poorly explored regions of Kazakhstan, including the Betpak-Dala desert, the sands of Muyun-Kumy and Kyzylkum, Mangyshlak, the Volga-Ural interfluves, Zaili and Dzungarian Alatau, where he collected a rich faunistic and ecological material. These data became a basis of the candidate dissertation of K.P.Paraskiv “Reptiles of Kazakhstan”, defended by him in 1953. The monograph of the same name, the first summary on a species composition, distribution and ecology of reptiles of the republic, was issued in 1956 and quickly became a bibliographic rarity. In 1949-1959, K.I. Iskakova studied amphibians of Kazakhstan. The results of her studies were published in her monograph “The Amphibians of Kazakhstan” (1959), and three years later she defended her master’s thesis. Thus, by the end of the fifties. The general idea about the distribution of amphibians and reptiles in Kazakhstan was compiled, the biology of some representatives was studied, the species having economic importance were identified and the promising directions for further development of herpetology in the country were outlined.

After the untimely death of K.P. Paraskiv in 1959, there were no herpetologists at the Institute for a long time. Only in 1976, research on this group of vertebrates was finally resumed. A group of two researchers, Z.K. Brushko, Candidate of Biology, Senior Researcher, and R.A. Kubikin, Junior Researcher, and a laboratory assistant, was formed at the Laboratory of Ornithology. The group began active work on the theme: “Ecology of mass species of reptiles of South-Eastern Kazakhstan. The research was based on the ecological direction. In stationary conditions, which during this period paid great attention, the features of distribution and biology of the Central Asian tortoise – a valuable commercial species of the Republic, many species of lizards, and a number of snake species were studied in detail. In addition to the main theme, Z.K. Brushko and R.A. Kubikin paid special attention to the study of rare and endangered species of amphibians and reptiles.

The materials on the distribution and ecology of the Semirechensk frog, Central Asian frog, mottled round-headed head, red-breasted goose, and others were richly collected. Faunistic studies also continued, and their geography considerably expanded. Expedition trips covered Ustyurt, Zaisan hollow, Southern Pribalkhash, Ili hollow, Dzungarian Alatau, Karatau mountains and Kyzylkum desert. During faunistic works a lot of interesting finds for Kazakhstan were made, including the description of a new species of lizards for the fauna of Kazakhstan – the Central Asian lizard. For more than 20 years of fruitful joint work Zoya Karpovna and Rudolf Aleksandrovich published an impressive quantity of scientific works. Z.K.Brushko is the author of more than 80 publications, including the well-known monograph “Desert Lizards of Kazakhstan” (1995). About 70 scientific works were published by R. A. Kubikin. They are the compilers of sketches on amphibians and reptiles for the Red Book of Kazakhstan of all three editions (1978, 1991, 1996), and also the collection “Rare animals of Kazakhstan” (1986) and collective monographies “Vertebrate animals of Almaty” (1988) and “Rare desert animals” (1990). In different years of this period the group had several laboratory assistants, including E. E. Anokhina, I.M. Kirienko, T.N. Matveeva, who did the sometimes very labor-intensive work of creating and maintaining the collection of amphibians and reptiles.

After Z.K. Brushko’s retirement and R.A. Kubukin’s untimely death since 2001 the principal performer of the herpetological section was T.N. Duisebayeva (Matveyeva). Her interests include questions of comparative and evolutionary morphology, ecology, systematics and phylogeny of amphibians and reptiles; one of the main activities is the study of fauna and conservation of biodiversity of amphibians and reptiles of Kazakhstan. She is a participant of several programs to study the herpetofauna of Central Asia, including rare and poorly studied species, an active researcher of fauna of amphibians and reptiles of protected areas and other specially protected natural areas. At present Duisebayeva supervises the work on preparation for the publication of the volume “Reptiles” from the series “Fauna of Kazakhstan” and works on the “Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles of Kazakhstan”.

In 2002-2006 the herpetological team of the Ornithology Laboratory was enlarged by two young specialists. In 2004 M.A. Chirikova finished postgraduate study at the Institute of Zoology and after defending in 2007 her doctoral dissertation “Lizards of the family Lacertidae in Kazakhstan (distribution, morphology, systematics)” continues to research morphological variability and systematics of lizards of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Since 2006 Y.A. Zima has been working in the group, whose interests lie in the field of study of venomous snakes of Kazakhstan.

At the present time the main directions in the work of the herpetological group of the Ornithology laboratory are an inventory of herpetofauna of Kazakhstan, including the protected and specially protected natural areas, the study of rare, endangered and/or minor amphibian and reptile species and fundamental research in the field of systematics and phylogeny of the most problem taxa of amphibians and reptiles. The geography of field trips of herpetologists includes Southern Altai, Saur-Tarbagatai mountain system, Alakol and Zaisan hollows in Eastern Kazakhstan, Balkhash-Ili basin and Central Tien Shan – in South-Eastern Priaralie and Ustyurt – in Western Kazakhstan. The group conducts its scientific researches in close collaboration with colleagues from more than 10 countries of near and far abroad. Specialists are trained in leading scientific centers of Russia and Germany, learning advanced methods of morphological and genetic analysis.

All in all herpetologists of the Laboratory have published about 200 scientific works, including 2 monographies, and a significant number of popular science essays about amphibians and reptiles, especially in the collections “The Living Treasures of Kazakhstan” (1979) and “Paths into the Mysterious World” (1988), which received a diploma of the All-Union Society “Knowledge”. Now the next volume of the school encyclopedia, devoted to amphibians and reptiles is prepared. In addition, R. A. Kubikin was the scientific adviser of the film about Semirechensk frog-toothed frog, filmed at the studio “Kazakhfilm” by V. A. Belyalov.