Alarm called over endangered Moravian Amazon

Woodlands along Dyje river, photo: Filip Černý

The Moravian Amazon, an area along the lower parts of Morava and Dyje rivers in the southern part of the Czech Republic, is considered to be one of the richest habitats in Central Europe. But scientists are ringing alarm bells, warning that the number of old trees in the UNESCO Biosphere area which provide a home to rare species of beetles, are being crowded out and their numbers are rapidly declining.

Woodlands along Dyje river,  photo: Filip Černý
The open woodlands along the lower Morava and Dyje rivers in the southern tip of the country has been extremely rich in old oaks, elms and other trees providing a valuable refuge of biodiversity.

But according to a recent study by a team of Czech biologists published in a prestigious magazine Diversity and Distributions, the magnitude of the open woodland loss equals that of the most endangered tropical habitats.

To map the extent of open woodland loss, scientists compared two sets of aerial photos of the region, from 1938 and 2009. In 1938 about half of the area was covered by an open forest, which looked a bit like savannah. Now, it is only about five percent and the rest is covered mainly by dark, closed-canopy forest.

Lukáš Čížek is one of the members on the research team:

“We discovered that the large trees and the endangered beetles associated with them are found today mainly in the places that are still open. But we also found out that within the closed forest, these old trees and the rare beetles are found in places that used to be open back in the 1930s. The incidence of rare trees and beetles is much lower in the closed-canopy forest.”

Scientists also discovered that the mortality of trees is much higher in the closed canopy forest than in the open conditions. The old trees growing up in open forest usually climb to 20 or 25 metres. In the closed-canopy forests, they are usually overgrown and eventually killed by younger, taller and more vigorous species.

According to Lukáš Čížek, changing the situation would require a partial cutting of the forest to make space around the old tress as well as changes in the forest management.

Podyjí,  photo: Martin Vavřík,  Public Domain
“The Moravian Amazon is biologically richest forest in the Czech Republic and probably in all of Central Europe. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and it is protected by the NATURA 2000 programme, but the problem is that none of these recognitions have any real effect.

“The forests are managed by state forest enterprise. They are being extremely rapidly logged out and their age is decreasing.”

“Currently only about two percent of the area is covered by nature reserves. So it is necessary to declare much more of the area as a protected space that really allows decisions concerning nature conservation to be taken on the spot.”

Another step to prevent the overgrowing of open woodlands is the introduction of large herbivores, such as cattle and bison, which used to graze there in the past.