Environmental determinants of the old oaks in wood-pastures from a changing traditional social–ecological system of Romania

Abstract

Large, old trees are keystone ecological structures, their decline having disproportional ecological consequences. There is virtually no information available regarding the status and occurrence of old trees in traditional cultural landscapes from Eastern Europe. In this study, we explore the environmental determinants of the old oaks found in wood-pastures from a changing traditional rural landscape from Central Romania. Both the old oaks and the wood-pastures harboring them have exceptional cultural, historical, and ecological values, yet are vulnerable to land-use change. We surveyed 41 wood-pastures from Southern Transylvania and counted the old oaks in them. We then related the number of old oaks from these wood-pastures to a set of local and landscape level variables related to wood-pastures. We found 490 old oaks in 25 wood-pastures. The number of old oaks was positively related to the size of the wood-pasture and the amount of pasture and forest around it (500 m buffer), and negatively related to the proximity of the village. Furthermore, we found a significant interaction between the effects of sheepfolds in the wood-pasture and the size of the wood-pasture on the number of old trees, indicating a negative influence of sheepfolds on the number of old trees in smaller sized wood-pastures. There is an increasing risk for losing old trees in the traditional cultural landscapes due to the lack of formal recognition of these trees. Therefore, while presenting the positive example of local initiatives and citizen science, we argue for an urgent development and implementation of conservation policies along with education strategies targeting the old trees and rural communities from the changing traditional cultural landscapes of Eastern Europe.

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Acknowledgments

The field research for this study was partly supported by the Mihai Eminescu Trust through the project ‘Conservation of wood-pastures with ancient oaks through the involvement of local communities’ funded by a Financiar Mechanism of the European Economic Area (EEA) grant (2009–2010). The research of TH was supported by an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship (2012–2013). We are grateful for Andra Pop, Árpád Szapanyos, Luminiţa Holban, Lucian Holban, Minodora Holban, Alexandru Goţa, Kuno Martini and Denise Bobeş for their dedication in inventorying ancient trees in the Saxon region of Transylvania. This research has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme under Grant Agreement No. 613520 (Project AGFORWARD), through TH and LR.

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Correspondence to Tibor Hartel.

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Moga, C.I., Samoilă, C., Öllerer, K. et al. Environmental determinants of the old oaks in wood-pastures from a changing traditional social–ecological system of Romania. Ambio 45, 480–489 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-015-0758-1

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Keywords

  • Old trees
  • Large trees
  • Rural landscape
  • Wood-pasture
  • Conservation
  • Romania
  • Transylvania
  • Citizen involvement