Problems to be solved
It is every day experience in many European countries that the landscape is changing rapidly because of the multiplicity of demands on space made by e.g. agriculture, transport, recreation, city expansion. These human activities often develop at the expense of the habitats of wild plants and animals and their chances for survival resulting in a worldwide decline in biodiversity. These conflicting demands on space require national but also European measures for the conservation of wildlife as detailed in the EU Habitats Directive and the Flora and Fauna Directive. A lot of conservation effort goes into restoring habitat quality, but we are now beginning to see that this is not enough to save rare and threatened species. This is simply because threatened species have dispersal problems in fragmented habitats. The remnant populations have become too small and too widely dispersed and these species therefore are unable to re-colonise the improved habitats. This is especially true for sessile long-lived organisms such as most plants. As a consequence an alarming, steadily increasing number of plant species appear on national red-data lists. What is lacking however is an evaluation of the status of endangered plants on a European scale, considering their area of distribution as a whole, as plants have no nationality, in combination with an assessment of the chances for re-introduction as a conservation measure. Such a combination can help to make better environmental impact assessments and to reconcile conflicting demands on space.
Scientific objectives and approach
The scientific objectives of the TRANSPLANT program are twofold: to investigate the extinction risks of plant species in fragmenting landscapes across Europe and secondly to develop scientifically sound re-introduction schemes and test their effectiveness. To achieve these goals, we will use a selected number of plant species that differ in their capacity to move across landscapes. This depends on two crucial traits: the longevity of adults and the dispersal capacity of seeds. The first trait determines the capacity to hold territory and function as a source of seeds in the landscape. The second trait affects the capacity to colonise new territory and settle elsewhere. Using these species as our guinea pigs we will build our expertise in a hierarchical, step-like fashion. First we need to know how isolation and small population size in remnants of these species have affected their genetic variation or in other words their capacity to adapt to changing environments. Than we will go on and measure longevity and dispersal capacity in the field in populations that differ in size and degree of isolation across their area of distribution. These populations thus characterised will than be used in large-scale transplant experiments to test for survival under conditions of re-introduction. The last step will be to develop GIS based scenario's for extinction risks given various landscape configurations that differ in degree of fragmentation.
A better understanding of the role of fragmentation for the extinction risks of plants on a European scale, will help to critically evaluate national red data lists and integrate these into a wider framework. At the same time we will know whether extinction risks can be alleviated by skilful re-introductions and we will be able to provide standardised European guidelines how to go about it. This way it becomes possible to better assess the environmental impact of European scale developments in agriculture, transport and industrial developments that affect the degree of landscape fragmentation, based on a European scale understanding of extinction risks and of the effectiveness of re-introduction schemes.
Funding SchemeCSC - Cost-sharing contracts
106 91 Stockholm
BN1 9QG Brighton
6708 PD Wageningen