I was born in 1972 in the east-Bulgarian town of Karnobat and grew up in the small town of Smolyan at an altitude of about 1000 m in the Rhodopi Mountains near the border with Greece. I began collecting butterflies in 1985 and am still keeping at it, if in a more limited and more scientific way. My father got me interested in amateur photography when I was a boy, and it plays an ever increasing role in my butterfly research and documentation. In 1993 I moved to Finland where I studied ecology and systematic biology at the University of Helsinki. I graduated with a Master's degree in ecology and environmental sciences.
My current biological research interests centre on the ecology and conservation of certain rare and threatened butterflies (especially those listed in the EU Habitats Directive), taxonomy of some challenging groups of Palearctic Lycaenidae, particularly the genera Phengaris (Maculinea), Plebeius, Polyommatus etc. In addition to using traditional taxonomic methods such as identifying morphological variation discontinuities and qualitative genital differences, I am also exploring the possibilities offered by karyology (the study of chromosomes) and quantitative morphometry (statistical analysis) of genital parameters. Another field of intense interest for me is biogeography with respect to the origin of the present-day Balkan butterfly fauna and especially its fascinating endemic taxa. Besides butterflies I am interested in, although at present not actively researching, moths of the families Noctuidae, Sesiidae and Zygaenidae; in fact my first species new to Bulgaria was the Noctuid Chersotis anatolica (Draudt, 1936)
My studies on Bulgarian butterflies have brought remarkable and unparallelled (in the past half-century) results: since 1993 to the discovery of six species (Euchloe penia, Plebeius nephohiptamenos, P. aroaniensis, P. andronicus, Muschampia cribrellum) and most recently Gegenes pumilio) (text page shall be added shortly) as new to Bulgaria. Moreover, my research on a taxonomically difficult group of Lycaenidae, called popularly the brown Agrodiaetus, resulted in the discovery and description of a Balkan endemic species new to science, Plebeius orphicus (Kolev, 2005). Some other significant results of mine include 1) the confirmation of the species status of the lycaenids Plebeius dardanus (Kolev, in print) and the Balkan endemic Plebeius andronicus; 2) the establishing of larval host-plants for Phengaris rebeli and Plebeius idas baldur which is of significance in determining the taxonomic status of these taxa; 3) a discovery of an ecologically unusual (xerothermic) locality for the normally hygrophilous Brenthis ino; 4) the first studies on the habitat preference of the very rare and endangered Phengaris nausithous in Bulgaria; and 5) the discovery of two new populations of the very local and rare Pararge climene and detailed study of its behaviour and habitat preferences. For more details, see my List of publications.
Environmental management and practical nature conservation
Ever since my studies at the University of Agriculture in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, in 1990-1993 (where I completed 5 semesters in the Master's programme in agroecology) I have been interested in the practical aspects of biology, ecology and the environmental impact of humans. My research on butterflies and moths, as well as my post-graduation professional development, has increasingly included these aspects. My research and other working experience in the field of ecology and environmental management can be summarized as follows (most recent first):
- Beginning in 2010, I have been employed as a Project Manager at Ekokem-Palvelu Oy, a subsidiary of Finland's leading environmental management company, EKOKEM Oy. Ekokem-Palvelu Oy's business area is the construction of waste management infrastructure (waste treatment centres, landfills for municipal, hazardous and industrial waste). My job mainly concerns the Bulgarian operations of the company, although in my capacity as an ecologist I have also been tasked with e.g. designing a biological leachate treatment system for a landfill remediation project in Ethiopia. Company website: http://www.ekokem.fi/en.
- From 2004 to 2010 I worked as a key expert and a consultant for the Finnish environmental consultancy company Luontotieto Keiron Oy. I was involved in two projects for habitat protection and management in the course of construction works at two landfills for municipal waste (in Vuosaari and Tali districts of Helsinki). The plans to remodel the vegetation or execute new earthworks over the landfill areas were threatening several species of rare and protected butterflies and moths, most notably the protected butterfly Large Copper (Lycaena dispar), a species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive. My expert role was to assess the exact habitat requirements of these species and suggest mitigation and management measures to be incorporated in future works on the landfill, as well as conduct a several-year monitoring on-site. The Client for these assessments was the Construction Board of the city of Helsinki (HKR). Professional certificate: here.
- Between 2007 and 2010, I worked on a three-year research project at the Zoological Museum of the University of Helsinki financed by the KONE Foundation. The research topic was the evaluation of physiological and ecological effects of airborne particulate pollution through a survey of the phenomenon of industrial melanism in the Helsinki metropolitan area. This phenomenon manifests itself in many moth species, but for my study I focused on two species of Oligia moths. These are externally very similar but the fascinating fact is that the incidence of industrial melanism in the same areas is mostly markedly different between the species. This calls into question the classical theory of the adaptive significance of industrial melanism in these species (dark specimens avoiding predation by blending in with an environment darkened by airborne pollution), and strongly suggests that the melanism ratios in these species are determined by completely different factors, such as physiological benefits of melanin synthesis in autoimmune reactions, which buffer the impact of a polluted environment. In the course of my research I found first-ever evidence that this indeed may be the case; these findings shall be published in due course. Link to the project: https://tuhat.halvi.helsinki.fi/portal/en/activities/cosupervisor-of-doc(b891a5c7-f6ec-4a0f-a6bd-50dc2b9b7c90).html.
- In 1997 I received funding from the University of Helsinki to research the effect of bog drainage on the specialized boreal bog vegetation and hence on the indigenous butterfly fauna in the Kainuu province, home to some spectacular bog networks of the boreal aapa mire - type. I compared natural-state and drained bogs, their vegetation in selected plots and did butterfly transect counts in both habitat types. My study, which eventually became my Master's Thesis, revealed that contrary to the situation in southern Finland, where drainage of isolated bogs has obliterated a large part of the bog butterfly populations from vast territories, in my study region in eastern Finland the situation is much less dire. Differences in butterfly abundance between the natural-state and drained bogs did exist but local extinctions were not observed. Moreover, several of the particularly vulnerable to drainage bog butterflies did not experience marked decline in my study region. The main factors for the far lesser effect on bog drainage appear to be the low efficiency of drainage, i.e. its failure to significantly lower the water table, and the strongly interconnected bog network, the latter facilitating the dispersal of butterflies to even the most strongly affected habitats. Company website: http://www.helsinki.fi/university/.
- In 1996 I participated in a University of Helsinki pilot project which was commissioned by the National Road Authority, the porpose of which was to consider the possibility of managing the slopes cut into sandy eskers by road construction as suitable habitats for threatened insects, most notably the extremely endangered in Finland Phengaris arion. In Finland, the natural habitat for such species has shrunk to nearly non-existent within the past century thanks to unchecked reforestation, efficient prevention of forest fires, and general overgrowing of early-successional habitats required by many insect species. Thus the importance of man-made habitats such as gravel pits, railroad shoulders, roadsides and even artillery ranges has become exceptionally great for the survival of such species in Finland. Company website: http://www.helsinki.fi/university/.
Biological design and illustration
In the past 20 years I have gained extensive experience and executed numerous commissions in the fascinating field of biological illustration. This included various assignments from classical black-and-white scientific illustration (with clients such as Stanford University, University of Helsinki, Werner-Soederstroem Publishers, etc.), lifelike illustrations for magazines and books intended for general audiences or educational purposes (clients such as Helsinki Media, Weilin+Goes Publishers, Werner-Soederstroem Publishers, Ministry of Environment of Finland - Arctic Group CAFF), and reaching at the other extreme the fascinating world of design and execution of educational exhibition pieces, which I was commissioned to do for the Finnish Science Centre Heureka (notably the exhibitions "You and I" and "Flight!").
An interesting project combining my expertise as a biologist and an illustrator was to research and plan the route of a nature path in the Uutela protected area of eastern Helsinki, and produce the illustrations for the path's guidebook (link below).
Some of my artwork may be found under the following links:
Cooperative Strategy for Conservation of Arctic Biodiversity
Heureka: International Exhibition "Flight!"
Ecopath Uutela (eastern Helsinki): Guidebook
Scientific illustrations from the Stanford University book "On the wings of Checkerspots": 1, 2"