Marlene Roellig, Ine Dorresteijn, Henrik von Wehrden, Tibor Hartel, Joern Fischer, URSUS 25(1): 34-52
In Romania two things have survived that are otherwise quite rare in Europe nowadays. The first is a stable – and Europe’s biggest – bear population and the second a traditional way of extensive farming. Among this traditional farming practice we can find wood-pastures. Wood-pastures combine a semi-natural and a semi-open character due to the combination of extensive grazing, no fertilizer and woody vegetation such as scattered trees or groups of trees. In Southern Transylvania we have, thanks to Tibor Hartel other colleagues, a very detailed description of these wood-pastures
(Paper led by Tibor Hartel you can find here)
Wood-pastures are well known for supporting biodiversity. This includes diverse communities of plants due to the mixture of shade and light, mosses and lichen on old trees, all kinds of invertebrates which are dependent on the occurrence of dead wood and also birds feeding on these insects or using veteran (hollowed) or free standing trees to nest. Nevertheless, there is only little knowledge of the use of wood-pastures by large mammals, especially large carnivores. It is know that in Spain the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) uses the Dehesas as habitat, but otherwise there is no existing literature about wood-pastures and large carnivores.
Therefore we were interested in how bears are using wood-pastures in Southern Transylvania and if this usage also depends on other environmental variables.
We used a method developed to detect bear activity by the mammal conservation working group of the Milvus group, based in Transylvania. As an index of bear activity, we measured the proportion of anthills that were destroyed by bears during foraging. Therefore we were able to assess the level of activity of brown bears (Ursus arctos) in 54 wood-pastures in Southern Transylvania in summer 2012. We were also interested on which scale the variables might have an influence on bear activity, therefore the variables were combined in 3 groups (anthropogenic effects, local variables, and landscape context) to test which group most strongly influenced bear activity.
We found bear activity in almost all wood-pastures (87%), showing the use of wood-pastures by bears. Within the pastures (local scale) it made no difference how far away the anthills were placed to the nearest forest edge or how many ant hills were present. Also the anthropogenic effects such as distance to roads and settlements seem not to influence bear activity in wood-pastures. Nevertheless the landscape scale (distance to the Carpathian Mountains, terrain ruggedness, and amount of surrounding woody vegetation) positively related to bear activity.
Our findings show, even though bears need large and undisturbed areas (such as the Carpathian Mountains), they can also use cultural landscapes. Therefore in Romania, bear conservation is also facilitated by protecting traditional farmed habitats such as wood-pastures. But for this wood-pastures need to be considered in national nature conservation policies and in major European Union (EU) policies such as the EU Habitats Directive.
You can find the full paper here