M. Valachovič: Forest is the most complicated ecosystem

26. 03. 2015

RNDr. Milan Valachovič, CSc. Interview with RNDr.  Milan Valachovič, CSc., from the Institute of Botany of the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava

Milan Valachovič (1956) was born in Skalica. Between 1976 and 1981, he studied at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the Comenius University in Bratislava. In 1982, he concluded his studies with a rigorous examination. Between 1984 and 1988, he was an expert operative at the Institute of Experimental Biology and Ecology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

He has been working at the Institute of Botany since its establishment. He is the head of the Department of Geobotany. Since 1992, he has gradually led a series of projects ‘Plant communities in Slovakia’, which are aimed at comprehensive overview of vegetation units. His main focus is devoted to the above mentioned activity and other activities related to cooperation with other countries are heading in the same direction. As a delegate to the first meeting of the European Fytocenologists – European Vegetation Survey in Rome (1992), he became a member of its working group and represents Slovak Republic at this forum almost every year. In Slovakia, he coordinates the process of unification of research methods and data processing to conform to the standard of EU countries.

Until 2006, he organized building-up of the national database. In 1995–1997, in collaboration with Dr. Rodwell (University of Lancaster), he participated in the preparation of the international project ‘Safeguarding the biodiversity of Eastern Europe’ in the framework of the DARWIN Initiative. In 2002 – 2005, he was actively involved (via direct participation in projects organized from abroad and with the help of PHARE fund) in the process of approximation of the Slovak Republic in the protection of habitats area – connecting Slovakia to the international network NATURA 2000 and to the unified classification system EUNIS. He was a member of the advisors board of the Minister of Environment in the area of nature and landscape protection, and a member of a working group for the European environmental legislation at the Ministry of Environment of the Slovak Republic. His other area of interest is flora and vegetation of the Balkans, East Asia and the Siberian part of Russia, where multiple of his expeditions headed and in relation to them also his publication activity.

Together with his team, he has published several books and dozens of scientific articles at home as well as abroad. He operates in the grant committees (VEGA member until 2008), he draws up expert reports and opponencies. As an adviser, he is involved in the education of young scientists. He is a member of the editorial boards of journal Biology and Phytocoenology. As a co-author of monograph ‘Plant Communities of Slovakia’, he received Prize of the Literary Fund of the Slovak Republic in 2001. He and his team received similar prize in 2008. 

RNDr. Milan Valachovič, CSc., is going to be (together with RNDr,. Ivan Jarolímek, CSc.) the guest of a meeting of the public with personalities of science and technology ‘with a cup of coffee’ in the Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information (SCSTI). This Science Café entitled Science in the CENTRE is organized by the National Centre for the Popularization of Science and Technology in Society within SCSTI. On this occasion, we asked RNDr. Valachovič for an interview.

What is the content of your lectureHow the Slovak forests change according to botanists’?

I want to talk about generally known phenomenon, which a forest unquestionably is. There are many definitions and views on the forest, as well as interests that are associated with it. However, I want to talk about the forest as the most complicated ecosystem and mainly about natural or nature-friendly forests.

Who or what inspired you to study at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the Comenius University in Bratislava?

I come from a forester family. My father, as a forest engineer, had been cultivating forest for his whole life and I literally grew up in it. I later operatively changed my initial interest in animals and ichthyology to botany and interest in vegetation. It was perhaps due to comfort, because the vegetation will not run away from me.

What was your path to science like?

It had been almost straightforward. I started at the secondary school in Malacky and then I studied at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the Comenius University and its Department of Botany. I am not counting the one year military episode in Šumava. After returning, I became an employee at the Department of Geobotany of the Slovak Academy of Sciences relatively quickly.

Which of your work achievements do you consider the most important?

I had the opportunity to get into the team, which was finalizing Geobotanical map of Slovakia, which had been a long-standing program of our colleagues. A little later, I had the opportunity to be at the start of another similar program – Overview of plant communities in Slovakia. We are going to end soon with the final volume of a multipart monograph, evently with a part, which is dedicated to forests.

You have been actively involved in international projects. What was their focus?

We coordinate the above mentioned program from the (1992) beginning with the European programme European Vegetation Survey (EVS). I have been representing Slovakia at all key stages, when the methodology, databases, criteria, etc. were being prepared and unified. This is how the time period brought it. All foreign projects were and are somehow connected to it. Even those dealing with Natura 2000, which is some form of basic research application and a way of legislative application of the knowledge in the EU countries.

One of your specializations is the flora and vegetation of the Balkans, East Asia and the Siberian part of Russia, as evidenced by your rich publication activity. Can you mention some curiosity?

These are areas that are close to us and similar vegetation-wise and we can draw from them information about the past of our vegetation, e.g. analogies from the character of vegetation of southern Siberia. Local nature shows the same forms and patterns such as before the arrival of men into Central Europe a few thousand years ago.  I had completely different feeling in subtropical Australia, where you do not know anything and everything works differently.

How do you relax?

I most likely relax in the nature, in the woods, in the mountains, at any time of the year.


Interview prepared by: PhDr. Marta Bartošovičová

, Popularization of Science and Technology

Natural sciences