Where to target conservation efforts in Central Romania?

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.

The corncrake … quite common 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.

4 thoughts on “Where to target conservation efforts in Central Romania?

  1. Thanks for posting this! Many years ago when we surveyed with my friend Cosmin to make the documents for protected areas, we indeed documented many species of plants and animals of conservation interest ‘everywhere’. I even suggested to the NGO`s at those times that what we need is a clever ‘destruction plan’ for those species which are strictly protected (we adopted EU legislation…) according to international regulations but locally still very abundant. These species basically hampers developement: if we strictly apply the law, then people should ‘forget’ about developement (I am very simplistic, I know). E.g. just an innocent dirt road pavation to connect two villages (e.g. Sapartoc to Albesti) would destroy the best toad habitats from the valley. Not to talk about pavation of the many dirt roads in the forests and allowing people to go there for jogging, walking – bears will not like that for sure!

    Prioritization will probably result in land sparing. More I think, more I realize that the ‘sparing land for land sharing’, even if it look and sound stupid, may be worth addressing for that region, if the desire is to maintain the many ‘sharing characteristic’ habitats and species. If I would be somewhere up in the EU policy / decision makers, I would urge a huge, continental level sparing for land sharing and Transylvania would be one candidate for this (see also the recent PNAS paper on extinction debt which can offer arguments for this idea from an other perspective). These spared regions can act as reservoirs for biodiversity and peace for people.

    There are many rare species and habitats even for Southern Transylvania – just one need to search for them. E.g. Lanius minor (brd), Hyacinthella leucophaea (small plant), Trollius europaeus (plant), even amphibians like Pelobates fuscus or the firesalamander etc. The funniest example is with the poisonous snake, Vipera berus. I search for it like a crazy for the past years, and even go in the mountains just to check if it is something wrong with my eyes…My friend Kuno catched and preserved one specimen just near Sighisoara few years ago! Many of my romanian ecologist friends and colleagues are in fact worried about these ‘true’ rarities – these may disappear so quickly even with a small human perturbation, much before the common, formally ‘rare’ species. See for example the plant Hyacinthella can be counted – it is so rare in the region (known in very few places of Romania). Actually affected by overgrazing.

  2. I see this as an interesting post, important not only for Central Romania, but for most of territories in Europe.

    I think the places that urgently need protection are those that harbor red-listed species for Romania. For plant species for example, there is a good recent book, Dihoru & Negrean, 2009, Red Book of Vascular Plants of Romania. I think Galanthus nivalis doesn’t need conservation measures now (as an example of species listed in EU species directive), as it is a very common here, but others, that are red-listed in RO and are more likely to disappear in the near future. This is in fact what Tibor Hartel already say about the “true” rarities vs. formally “rare” species.

    And with respect to ecosystems, my opinion is that we need:
    1. To identify specific habitats for Romania and put very strict regulations for them, e.g. particular alpine rocks and grasslands of the Carpathians harboring lots of endemics, old-growth forests with Dacian species, old-growth trees and bears, primary rocky dry-grasslands in Transylvania with endemics, the Danube Delta etc. (these are all being very threatened at the moment);
    2. To delimit areas with secondary ecosystems that are so common here (e.g. semi-natural grasslands – meadows), because they can still have less contaminated soils, still provide space for traditional activities, form eye-catching landscapes that people like etc. These kind of ecosystems generally don’t harbor rare species, and this topic doesn’t fit well here (with some exceptions of course, but relatively few than in the first case).

    As a conclusion, I would say that we need to focus less on species and habitats listed by EU in other countries of Western Europe, and prioritize those that are now close to extinction here.

  3. Great post – of course, the question is not which bits are most important for certain species, but which are most threatened by land use change and intensification. If there’s a bit of everything everywhere, making sure there’s a bit of everything remaining while not losing too much of anything as the landscape changes will probably be your best bet! I love Tibi’s idea of prioritising for land sharing too: it really is a wonderfully different way of looking at the problem, to think about which bits of the landscape are “optimal” for sharing… and the name corncrake still makes me hungry – nom nom 😉

  4. Pingback: English corncrake news | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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