The MET’s Landscape Ecology Group
Landscapes shaped by human activity - Rural landscapes are shaped by human activity. For centuries it is our landscapes that have provided us with our basic services, for example the provision of food (from crops to eggs, milk, cheese, fruits, medicinal plants and other vegetables), materials for house construction and maintenance, wood and fibre and fresh water, they have regulated floods and provided our water purification. Through landscape we have gained cultural values with respect to identity, aesthetics, education and recreation. In recent years human pressure on agricultural landscape has increased, mainly from the intensification of land use, the production of food has increased sharply, but a number of ecological problems have appeared in turn. These include landscape homogenization, loss of biodiversity, eutrophication of rivers and lakes, and the contamination of soils and the ground water. Yet increased agricultural land use will not only affect ecosystem structure and functioning, for example from the reduction in the resilience of ecosystems (the ability to recover after various shocks, and the ability to adapt to changing conditions), but it will also reduce many of the ecosystem services with severe consequences for human well-being.
The human impact on the environment in farmlands must not necessarily be negative. There are still many areas of Europe where farming creates and maintains highly diverse landscapes supporting high levels of biodiversity and ecosystem services. From a scientific perspective these areas, such as those in Eastern Europe, are largely absent from the ecological and conservation literature – showing a dramatic lack of research and understanding of these systems. Given the rapid rate of change in these countries, their ecologically highly valuable agro-ecosystems – often white spots on the imaginary knowledge map of Europe – are now under threat.
Why is it important to focus our research efforts on such landscapes? Firstly, they generate knowledge and from a science sustainability perspective they provide a unique opportunity to understand the century-long coexistence between humans and nature. Scientifically sound research therefore does three things:
1. It describes these systems of nature and people and generates valuable knowledge about how they function.
2. It describes the state of these systems and the main threats to it.
3. It makes this data accessible to the world and policy makers.
The Saxon landscapes from Southern Transylvania are very special for a number of reasons:
1. Over the past eight centuries they have been under continuous agricultural and forest management.
2. The environmental-friendly resource management made by the Saxons created and maintained dynamic and complex landscapes. The existence of many species and populations in these landscapes has depended on the traditional and environmentally-friendly land management (e.g. the green winged orchid - Orchis morio, the cotton grass - Eriophorum latifolium, the corncrake - Crex crex etc.). Human activity resulted in landscape elements such as the ancient wood pastures which are pastures scattered with old, sometimes ancient oak trees. Due to their critical importance for maintaining heterogeneous landscapes, traditional land management activities and techniques represents true ecological functions in these systems. Traditional farming is the first hand driver of resilient ecological systems and good quality ecosystem services.
The value of rural landscapes in maintaining biodiversity – These landscapes, shaped by human activity, represent an ideal environment for developing and testing models of sustainability. They are the result of interaction between people and eco-systems over centuries. Unfortunately the vast wealth of knowledge and skills accumulated in traditional rural communities is in danger of being lost forever as cross-border migration accelerates and traditional farming practices are abandoned. It is of crucial importance to record, understand and preserve this knowledge for our own benefit and that of future generations.
Local solutions answer global problems – Environmental crises affecting the wider world are often caused by a sum of many minor errors and wrong decisions at a local level. Biological conservation benefits from an understanding of local processes, trends and patterns in its attempt to protect ecosystems and, ultimately, human welfare.
In this context, the MET has established a Landscape Ecology Group to build on the experience of over ten years’ conservation work in the Saxon villages of Transylvania.
MISSION: to provide the scientific community, policy makers, local and regional authorities, businesses and local communities with the knowledge they need to manage habitats and eco-systems in such a way as to protect their biodiversity and enhance their contribution to human welfare.
To create a theoretical and practical framework for the long-term monitoring and conservation of landscapes and biodiversity in the Saxon landscapes of Transylvania, Romania.
1. To gather and share scientific data on temporal and spatial changes in eco-systems and their properties, and make future projections regarding their evolution and consequences on human welfare;
2. To inform and educate decision-makers and stakeholders at all levels about the importance of managing habitats and eco-systems sustainably, and to lobby for the inclusion of “maintenance and advancement of human welfare, health and eco-system productivity” as a key goal in all development strategies.
3. To implement specific landscape conservation measures.
Tibor Hartel - (Link)
Cosmin Ioan Moga - (CV)
Kinga Öllerer - (CV)
External contributors (biologists from Romania):
Dan Cogălniceanu - (Link)
Iuliana Gheorghe - (CV)
Szilard Nemes (Statistician) - (CV)
Laszló Demeter - (CV)
Csergő Anna-Mária - (CV)
Alin David - (CV)
Rodica Plăiasu - (CV)
Raluca Băncilă - (CV)
Balog Adalbert - (CV)
Dorel Rusti - (CV)
Cosmin Manci - (CV)
Ciprian Samoilă - (CV)
András Báldi - (Link)
Rainer Barthel - (Link)
Ioan Fazey - (Link)
Joern Fischer - (Link)
David Lesbarreres - (Link)
Oliver Schweiger - (Link)
The need for a landscape ecology approach
Conservation practitioners are often faced with apparently inevitable tradeoffs when dealing with management proposals for the conservation of different species and habitats within clearly delineated spaces (protected areas, nature reserves, Natura 2000 sites etc.). From a very specific and local point of view, what benefits one species may harm another. For example, in the Saxon villages of Transylvania, the proliferation of reeds (Phragmites sp.) after land management is abandoned may lead to the local disappearance of some plant species, but may create a favourable habitat for many birds and other animals.
The only way to reconcile the different and sometimes opposing conservation needs of various species and habitats is to approach the problem at landscape level.
The border between managed (i.e. scythed) and abandoned land is clearly visible, with
Cotton Grass growing only in the managed part.
Landscape ecology is a relatively new and still developing science. It looks at spatial and temporal patterns of heterogeneity (including culture and land-use history) in order to achieve a better understanding of the dynamic and persistence of populations, species and biodiversity in rural landscapes. (Spatial heterogeneity in ecology refers to a large variety of ecological conditions in a given area)
The Saxon landscapes of Southern Transylvania
The landscape of the Saxon villages of Transylvania is the product of interaction between local human communities and nature over centuries. Traditional land uses, maintained until recently and – in some areas – even today, have created biodiversity-rich, un-fragmented landscapes with a high spatial heterogeneity. Although this area has been relatively well researched compared to other regions of Romania, there is still a lack of hard, scientific facts about the relationship between traditional land use patterns and biodiversity, obtained with modern scientific methods.
To address the need for more information, the MET has supported various studies of the Saxon landscapes by local researchers over the past years. The results of these studies have been published in Romanian and international journals, presented at conferences, used to support the creation of protected areas and applied in biodiversity management (for example in the habitat restoration measures implemented in the Breite Ancient Oak Tree Reserve). For more details, please see the attached report. PDF
PLAN OF ACTION
A. ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH PROJECTS
For our ecological research we selected a number of target species, groups, habitats and landscapes, chosen because they are:
(i) Highly dynamic.
(ii) Sensitive to environmental change (including human impact).
(iii) Ecologically diverse groups.
(iv) Representative for the Saxon landscapes.
(v) Under different management regimes, or because they pose potential threats to native biodiversity (invasive species).
1. The study of local and landscape determinants of biodiversity patterns. - Aims
2. The inventory and monitoring of wetlands. - Aims
3. The study of the spatial and temporal dynamics of populations and communities. - Aims
4. The study of invasive species: their ecology, spreading, impact on local biota and potential mitigation measures. - Aims
5. The impact of human activity on landscape structure. - Aims
B. VOLUNTEERING OPPORTUNITIES
As part of our ongoing landscape ecology research and monitoring, we can offer a number of volunteering opportunities for postgraduate and PhD students. All proposed sites are easily accessible.
For more details see: Volunteers
C. DISSEMINATION OF RESULTS
To provide key stakeholders and decision-makers with important facts, which will enable them to manage habitats and eco-systems in such a way as to protect their biodiversity and enhance their contribution to human welfare, we will:
1. Distribute periodical reports outlining the most important conclusions and recommendations resulting from the group’s research.
2. Launch of a special Landscape Ecology website in Romanian and English.
Please come back to this page in the coming weeks to see more about the future research programme, information and conservation activities and volunteering opportunities of our Landscape Ecology Group.
UK Registered Charity No: 1107300
© Mihai Eminescu Trust 2002