Daskalova Gergana 2880x880px

Gergana Daskalova

As a Branco Weiss Fellow, Dr. Gergana Daskalova will use ecological, sociological, and psychological approaches to determine the ecological and human fingerprints of land abandonment. Focusing on both local and global scales, Dr. Daskalova’s research will reveal what happens to nature when people leave and how we can best use the land left behind.



Academic Career

  • PhD in Global Change Ecology, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, 2017-2021
  • BSc in Ecology and Environmental Science, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, 2012-2016

Major Awards

  • Schmidt Science Fellowship 2021
  • Anne Keymer Student Talk Prize (Overall winner) 2020
  • National Geographic Society Early Career Grant 2019
  • Carnegie-Caledonian PhD Scholarship 2017


Branco Weiss Fellow Since

Research Category
Global Change Ecology, Data Science

Research Location
Department of Conservation Biology, University of Goettingen, Germany


From the tropics to the poles, biodiversity is changing as a direct consequence of human activities such as land-use change, climate change and pollution. Against a backdrop of accelerating global change, two increasingly common, yet often unnoticed, socio-demographic processes are emerging as potential major forces in reshaping our planet. The rates of land abandonment have more than doubled in the last fifty years, with an area roughly half the size of Australia estimated to have been abandoned over the past half century. This large-scale abandonment is often paralleled with rural depopulation which in turn alters the structure of human society and threatens to erode cultural landscapes, erase traditions, and decrease economic value of land and quality of life.


Land abandonment and human depopulation are a modern-day wildcard when it comes to their potential to conserve biodiversity, capture carbon, and help mitigate two of the biggest ongoing societal crises – climate change and biodiversity loss. Changes in land-use and in human demographic trends influence both nature and society, additionally interacting with human traditions and values. Now is the time to take an interdisciplinary look at land abandonment, human depopulation, and biodiversity to find new opportunities for protecting nature and revitalizing cultural landscapes.

Details of Research

We are living amidst humanity’s largest ever migration, with more people leaving rural areas for urban centers than ever before. In less than 50 years, rural populations have decreased by 25%, creating demographic deserts and land no longer cultivated, with unknown consequences for nature and society. Dr. Gergana Daskalova’s research will bring together ecology, data science, remote sensing, sociology, anthropology, and psychology to shed new light on the interactions between humans and biodiversity. Her research will reveal how human migration and changing values and traditions influence biodiversity and what that means for nature conservation, human quality of life and likelihood of re-migration to rural areas. First, Dr. Daskalova will focus on Bulgaria – the quickest depopulating country in the world with a decrease of 9 to 6.5 million people between 1990 and 2021 – to conduct field studies across 30 villages spanning a gradient of depopulation. Second, she will mobilize and collate open-access data to lead a global synthesis of the impacts of changing socio-economics, such as aging rural populations, political shifts, and human conflict, on biodiversity change over space and time. The outputs of her research will capture both detailed relationships among abandonment, human culture and biodiversity, and broad-scale biodiversity patterns in a rapidly changing world.