By Joern Fischer
A major branch in conservation biology deals with the question of where to put conservation efforts. No matter what kind of spatial prioritisation one undertakes (formal or informal) — ultimately some places get more conservation attention than others. In Central Romania, we find there is a large set of connected Natura 2000 sites. But despite formal protection, it should be clear that not all locations (even within the “proctected areas”) will be receive equal treatment. So, some kind of prioritisation will take place, whether we like it or not. Will hay meadows get a lot of attention? Or forests? Or communally managed pastures? (Of course it would be good to create a somewhat holistic vision for the region; my point is simply that conservation happens in some places more than others, no matter what we do.)
With respect to the question of “where to put one’s efforts”, Central Romania has puzzled me a few times. There is a strange problem with respect to spatial prioritisation here … it’s simply not obvious where is most important! For example, we hear the corncrake in many places. It’s a rare species in Western Europe but seems to be just about everywhere in Central Romania.
And the corncrake isn’t the only species. The yellow-bellied toad is also everywhere (well, just about) according to a recent paper, we see rare butterflies everywhere (so it seems), and bear encounters are quite common, too. With a situation like that, how do we prioritise? How can Eastern Europe use some kind of foresight planning to avoid repeating the mistakes that Western Europe made long ago?
Are our (conceptual, statistical, or mental) models too poor, and in fact, species are not “everywhere”? Can (or should) we simply assume that the kinds of places that are now core habitat for species in Western Europe (where they have already declined) will be the most important? Where are the most important places for species which currently appear to be everywhere? Or is this a threshold phenomenon, where right now, everything is everywhere, and then it will — quite suddenly — become fragmented and there will be sudden major declines of multiple species? If that’s the case, where will the most important patches for a given species be in the future?
I’m not really sure, but somehow we have to get a grip of this, so that Eastern Europe won’t just follow Western Europe in terms of major biodiversity declines caused by haphazard development. The question of “where” is something that I have found puzzling for a while when moving around our study area in Romania… if you have any thoughts, you’re welcome to share them.