Over the mid-year holiday, I spent two weeks as a research assistant in Transylvania, Romania. I was helping a team of researchers from a UK non-profit conservation organization called Operation Wallacea. Operation Wallacea has been working in the area for the past six years collecting data for a long-term monitoring project that measures the biodiversity of high nature value hay meadows. These meadows are ecologically significant because Transylvanian farmers have been using the same agricultural practices for centuries and continue to refrain from using herbicides and pesticides. This has created a rich collection of biodiversity within an agricultural landscape that is increasingly rare in Europe. The project uses transects in six villages in the Tarnava Mare valley to monitor the abundance and diversity of bats, birds, large mammals, small mammals, butterflies, and indicator wildflower species. Changes in these values are paired with data from interviews conducted with local farmers to see how biodiversity is changing in response to changes in agricultural techniques.
Despite all the hype and Dracula memorabilia sold in tourist shops, there are no vampire bats in Transylvania. There are, however, plenty of harmless and very cute insectivorous bats. To survey these bat populations, we set out each night around dusk and set up a series of mist nets and harp traps along potential flight corridors. We checked the traps every fifteen minutes and for every bat we caught we recorded the species and took some measurements. My favorite species was the brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus) that has adapted extremely large ears to hear prey movement in dense vegetation where physical clutter often interferes with echolocation (Figure 2).
Bird surveys involved getting up well before sunrise to open our mist nets. We had a transect with six nets that we checked at 30-minute intervals. Each bird we caught was banded with a unique number and country code that is entered in an online database. If these birds were recaptured at another location the identifier code could be linked to our data. The most common species we caught was the Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) (Figure 4).
Figure 5: Adult Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dryobates minor)
Our large mammal surveys involved setting camera traps (Figure 6) and identifying tracks and signs. We set our traps along clearings and natural paths through the woods because large mammals often use these for quick and easy passage through dense vegetation. We also used tracks (Figure 7) and scat to identify which species were in the area.
I have always considered agriculture and biodiversity to be at odds with one another. Spending time in Romania was so refreshing because it reminded me that this doesn’t always have to be the case. In 2008 the Tarnava Mare region became protected under the European Union’s Natura 2000 program. This means local farmers are being paid to maintain traditional agricultural practices instead of intensifying, allowing both biodiversity and tradition to survive in the modern world.
Akeroyd, J. R., 2011. Conservation of High Nature Value (HNV) grassland in a farmed landscape in Transylvania, Romania.
Akeroyd, J. R. and Page, N., 2006. The Saxon villages of southern Transylvania: conserving biodiversity in a historic landscape, In Nature conservationSpringer, pp. 199-210.
Bullock, J. M., Pywell, R. F. and Walker, K. J., 2007. Long‐term enhancement of agricultural production by restoration of biodiversity, Journal of Applied Ecology,44(1): 6-12.