It is the time of year when most of us go on holiday; some of us travelling far, some only short distances but most people go somewhere. Wherever we go, we like to connect with local culture, see different scenery and observe exotic and rare nature including birds, mammals and plants. Whenever I go places, I am always astonished about the flora and fauna the new place shares with what is familiar to me from the place I currently call home. Places we travel to often share a subset of the same species, but more often than not it might actually be the same individual that we have seen at home in a different season. Migratory species, most often birds, have fascinated almost every human being but especially ecologists and hobby naturalists. However, species on the move are hard to study, manage and conserve. While many species are studied intensively in one place, it is often harder in other places. Similarly, while we create protected areas in one place, it may be much harder to protect species in another place along their route.
Together with colleagues Lovisa Nilsson, Johan Månsson and Jens Persson we study the Eurasian crane in an area in central Sweden where numbers have increased from 1,000 to just under 20,000 cranes in the autumn staging area of lake Kvismaren during the last 20 years. This is a great conservation success as long as the government is happy to pay farmers in the area compensation for the damage these cranes do and farmers are happy to produce cranes rather than tasty food for people. Along their migration flyway, Swedish, German and Spanish governments are currently funding research projects to explore future scenarios of land management for a sustainable future both for local farmers and for the cranes. To the best of my knowledge, no research project currently exists that investigates the linkages between summer, winter and staging areas and the effectiveness of international and national protection. Even if we like to visit Spain for holidays to see amazing landscapes, local culture and nature, it is unclear what the future holds for the interlinked cranes and local people in these areas.
While many of us are aware of the great natural wonders around the world, such as the Serengeti wildebeest migration in Africa, it seems much harder to promote the natural beauty around Europe. In an initiative by the European Environment Agency, called Our Natural Europe (ONE), Gordon McInnes has visited places in Europe where biodiversity, culture and socio-economics of the local people meet and cross country borders. For example, the Pannonia region encompasses parts of Romania, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, Czech Republic, Serbia and Croatia. It is home to a diverse range of species including the red-footed falcon (IUCN near threatened) that has suffered from agricultural intensification in the region. Even though conservation efforts have paid off for the red-footed falcon in Pannonia, the situation in the overwintering areas in Southern Africa is uncertain. Other ONE places of magnificent natural and cultural diversity include the iconic Bialowieza forest in Poland, the Koster Sea in Sweden and Lake Tuz in Turkey. It becomes clear from the different stories that the relationship between biodiversity and people is complex and multifaceted. Biodiversity is crucial to keep ecosystems intact to feed people or to attract tourists but species generally disappear with further agricultural intensification while others damage crops and reduce economic profits.
More research is needed to understand and to manage future landscapes for the benefit of biodiversity and people taking into account that these landscapes are interconnected through migratory species and people (e.g. tourism). Check out movebank.org for totally awesome online and free tracking data of hundreds of species. The European Union occasionally funds large-scale projects that encompass ecological, social and economic research; for example the FP7 project HUNTing for Sustainability that included 8 countries in Europe and Africa (albeit on hunting and not on migration). There is a need to make funding available for smaller projects that connect already available Movebank type tracking data to land use change and climate change to be able to understand the fundamental mechanisms of migration in relation to environmental and socio-economic change.
Next time you go on holiday, think local and visit one of Europe’s beautiful areas that are full of cultural and biological diversity. And the great thing is that many species will travel all the way from the Arctic or from Africa for you. If we want to sustainably manage biodiversity in Europe, we need to take local stakeholders into account and we need to make funding available that crosses borders as easily as we get on a train or plane to go on holiday.