INTERNATIONAL DAY OF BIODIVERSITY 2010
 

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Slovakia: Three-dimensional discoveries

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Biodiversity in St Martin's Forest

All theory is grey

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Announcement

Original announcement of the event on this website (April 2010)


For the GEO article in Slovakian language, please go to the downloads section.


Biodiversity in St Martin's Forest

Firsthand research in nature – this might be routine for scientists, but for scholars it certainly is something special. The stage for the first „Biodiversity Action Day“ in Slovakia was the Martinský, The „St Martin's Forest“, some 25 kilometres northeast of Bratislava, the country's capital. It was planned and organized by GEO-Slavakia in cooperation with the Department of Conservation Biology of Bratislava University.


June 3, 2010: Eventually it has stopped raining. About two dozen scientists and more than 60 students and teachers, from high school as well as from higher grades of elementary school, have come by bus from the nearby town of Senec and from Blatné village. After a 30-minutes march from the bus stop, they are assigned to their challenge for the next hours: how many species of flora and fauna are living in this forest? Easy to ask, difficult to find out.


Of all ecosystems, a forest may be the most complex one. Other than grasslands or bogs it is three-dimensional and is arranged in so-called „floors“ from ground level to the tree tops. Scientists reckon that St Martin's Forest is the last of its kind in Central Europe. Because of the abundance of various oak tree species as well as a great many protected plants and animals, biologists, especially botanists, have had their sights on it for about 50 years already. Unfortunately, several initiatives asking for state protection have failed. Nevertheless, people pretty much avoid going into the woods, since it shelters lots of ticks, carriers of encephalitis and borreliosis.


„St Martin's Forest is a singular, precious tanbark forest growing on loess,“ explains biologist Dr. Peter Fedor. Todays 574 hectar are just a small fraction of a once huge oak forest ranging over the Trnava loess hights, which was formed over a period of thousands of years by quaternary loess deposits. But economic activities and increasing urbanisation, oftentimes inconsiderate, have seriously affected this natural treasure. Large areas were converted into cropland, cutting through outstanding coherent ecosystems, thus isolating populations of species from each other.


But still there is to find and count: At five stations, traps had been arranged hours before. So some species have already been caught, much more are now collected. Experts help with their classification. Botanist Jana Ruzicková turns the identification of plants into a quiz, which greatly enthuses the scholars.


At one of the stations, entomologist Dr. Martina Doricova is collecting soil samples from low depth, searching for organisms living in the soil. Using a binocular loupe she identifies severall species of centipedes (Chilopoda), millipedes (Diplopoda), springtails (Collembola), two-pronged bristletails (Diplura) and mites (Acarina).


Photo-eclectors, special traps for insects, make those animals visible, which live on and under the tree bark. Only minuscule specimen find cover and nourishment in the corrugated bark, some species of thrips (Thysanoptera) for instance feed on microscopically tiny mushrooms. On previous excursions Dr. Fedor and his team have already discovered 10 species of thrips, which had not been known in Slovakia before.


Organisms living within a confined section of a habitat form highly dynamic communities. Traps have proved helpful in gaining insight into these seasonal and migrational changes. The exploration of tree tops, for instance, is extremely difficult. But by spreading a cloth on the floor and than shaking the tree, experts are able to catch species falling down from different levels of it. Dr. Michael Dubovsky thus catches not only caterpillars, but caterpillar hunters (Calosoma) as well earwigs (Dermaptera) and Orthoptera.


And there is intense monitoring at the pond, too. Hydrobiologist Mag. Daniel Grula, wearing a watertight outfit and carrying a special dip net, is wading through the shallow water. He is searching for living proof of aquatic fauna. Bingo – an agile frog (Rana dalmatina) is his first catch. Larvae of the common spadefoot (Pelobates fuscus) and numerous water striders (Gerris) are next.


Nearby, some girls are shrieking: herpetologist Dr. Lukáš Varga shows them two reptiles at once, the blind worm (Anguis fragilis) and the grass snake (Natrix natrix).


Ornithologists are successful as well. A blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), some song thrushes (Turdus philomelos) and a pair of chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) are caught in the net. The birds are classified with the help of Mag. Ján Dobšovič - later the students are happy to set them free again.


All theory is grey

The biodiversity of St Martin’s Forest is impressive. Just this one day in June could of course not suffice to fully discover this wealth. Nevertheless, more than 200 species were observed and classified. Of many of these, only scientific names are known, others need special protection, since they are registered in the Red List of Threatened Species.


The motto of this day was „Get to know and help protect St Martin's Forest“. But will the experience of having touched and watched plants and animals, of having identified them guided by dedicated experts, change the scale of values of the young ones? Awareness always is a small step forward, the students certainly have spent a memorable day. And what about the scientists, the experts? They will now fully appreciate the well-known phrase: „All theory is grey and green the golden tree of life“.


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Slovakia_Biodiversity_October_2010.pdf

GEO coverage of Biodiversity Action Day in Martinský les Forest and the world (GEO Slovakia, October 2010, in Slovakian)

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Photos: PANER