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The Green Belt as a European Ecological Network strengths and gaps

The Green Belt as a European Ecological Network strengths and gaps

Marco Neubert, Sylvi

Marco Neubert, Sylvi Bianchin DETECTING GAPS – GIS-BASED INVENTORY OF ECOLOGICAL NETWORKS IN SELECTED CENTRAL EUROPEAN BORDER REGIONS DETECTING GAPS – GIS-BASED INVENTORY OF ECOLOGICAL NETWORKS IN SELECTED CENTRAL EUROPEAN BORDER REGIONS ABSTRACT Marco Neubert, Sylvi Bianchin Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IOER) Weberplatz 1, 01217 Dresden, Germany m.neubert@ioer.de, s.bianchin@ioer.de Within the project TransEcoNet (Transnational Ecological Networks in Central Europe, http://www.transeconet.eu/) the transnational network of ecological important areas in border regions within Central and Eastern Europe is analysed. The area under investigation stretches from the Baltic Sea to the Ukraine and to the Adriatic Sea, covering the NUTS3 regions (Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics, level 3) adjoining selected inner Central European national boundaries. The analyses are based on spatial data and are performed using a Geographical Information System (GIS). After collecting and harmonising national data as well as European data sets of protected areas all areas were classified according to the international standard provided by the categories of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Following these basic data preparation steps, a gap analysis was performed. Within the TransEcoNet project gaps were defined as unprotected areas with high natural value (oligotroph and selected mesohemerobe land use types). The methodology is based on an unspecified species approach and the detection of potential habitat corridors. The aim was to include valuable areas into the ecological network through the enlargement of protected areas and the protection of stepping stones and therefore to improve the connectivity of protected sites among each other. The performed analysis shows a way of how to connect protected areas across borders with each other, because they are often too small to allow for the persistence of viable population of species. Connecting networks of protected sites may increase species’ persistence; therefore, the need to recover endangered species and rare habitat types has driven the demand for habitat connectivity. One of the solutions is to maintain and restore habitats that will provide connections between protected areas. For that reason our gap analysis focuses on connecting protected areas via potential suitable habitat corridors and potential corridors of protected areas. In a further step existing European, national and regional network plans for ecological networks were identified and overlaid with the allocated gaps. The results of the latter analyses are highlighted within this paper. 1 INTRODUCTION Protected areas such as national parks, nature parks and biosphere reserves are often isolated “islands” for protecting the world’s biodiversity. They are separated by weakly protected and unprotected landscapes, traffic corridors as well as settlements. It is often the case that animal and plant species dispose of less space for migration, dispersion and reproduction than necessary. To preserve both natural and cultural heritage in the long run, the TransEcoNet project is thus striving for a better connection of protected landscapes with those that are weakly protected and unprotected across national borders. Ecological networks and corridors represent one of the most widely applied concepts in contemporary approaches to nature conservation. The basic idea is to link ecosystems of one 72

Marco Neubert, Sylvi Bianchin DETECTING GAPS – GIS-BASED INVENTORY OF ECOLOGICAL NETWORKS IN SELECTED CENTRAL EUROPEAN BORDER REGIONS type into a spatially coherent system through flows of organisms, and to consider also the interactions with the matrix in which they are embedded [1]. The performed analysis shows a way of how to connect protected areas across borders, because they are often too small to allow for the persistence of viable population of species. Connecting networks of protected sites may increase species’ persistence; therefore, the need to recover endangered species and rare habitat types has driven the demand for habitat connectivity. One of the solutions is to maintain and restore habitats that will provide connections between protected areas [2]. For that reason our gap analysis focuses on connecting protected areas via potential suitable habitat corridors and potential corridors of protected areas. Corridors are understood as any space identifiable by species using it; and any space that facilitates the movement of animals or plants over time between two or more patches of otherwise disjunct habitats [3]. A gap analysis is a method to identify biodiversity (i.e. species, ecosystems and ecological processes) not adequately conserved within a protected area network. Within this study we define gaps as areas with high natural value (oligotroph and selected mesohemerobe land use types) according to the definition of Dudley and Parish [4]. The aim is to embed valuable areas into the ecological network through the enlargement of protected areas and the protection of stepping stones and therefore to improve the connectivity. Because most of the relevant areas concerns less productive areas it should be easier to extensify these areas and incorporate them into the ecological network as a crucial part for increasing the connectivity. The gap analysis is usually applied to fairly large areas, because this allows decisions about conservation to be made with the best available information and on the basis of ecological rather than political boundaries [4]. 1.1 Study area and database The project’s study area is situated within or rather between the wide-ranging ecological networks of the Alps, Carpathians and the European Green Belt. The investigation area (figure 1) consists of NUTS 3 regions that adjoin the borders between Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and Croatia. Since the database serves as the basis for the analysis, an attempt was made to collect the national databases on protected areas from the relevant countries. For the Natura 2000 sites we used the databases from the European Environment Agency [5] as well as for the countries where we could not obtain a national dataset. In the case of Ukraine, we used the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). During the data preparation process, we combined the national, European and WDPA datasets and harmonised them along the borders using GIS methods. Further data from the European Environment Agency (EEA) (CORINE landcover data), the IUCN (species data - mammals, reptiles and amphibians, [6]) and Birdlife International (species data – birds, [7]). 73

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The Green Belt as a European Ecological Network strengths and gaps
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