Networking habitats to protect and enhance biodiversity


Courtesy of European Commission, Environment DG

Biodiversity is influenced by how different habitats within a given region are connected. A new project in the Alps has made initial progress in establishing an ecological network to promote and enhance biodiversity within Alpine regions. Additionally, the project aims to raise awareness among policymakers of the importance of ecological connectivity.

The Alps are the largest natural region left in Europe and are therefore critically important to biodiversity. However, biodiversity in Alpine regions is threatened by intensive agriculture, pollution and climate change. As environmental policies affecting these regions are controlled not just by one government, but by seven, it is important for Alpine countries to work together and develop strategies for conserving biodiversity.

The project has made progress in establishing a joint methodology for protecting and enhancing biodiversity. Connections between habitats, such as field ditches, rock piles, forest edges and streams are important because they allow flora and fauna to move between different spaces, promoting exchange of genetic information between different populations of the same species. Small, isolated populations are less able to survive because they lack the genetic variability needed to adapt to changing conditions such as climate change or disease. These connections all help to strengthen an ecological network, but the cooperation of local authorities and land users, such as farmers and foresters, is required to keep these connecting elements in place.

The project consortium hope to engage policymakers at local, national, regional and international levels in the importance of ecological networks for biodiversity. They are working closely with the Ecological Network Platform, the organisation set up under the Alpine Convention, to help achieve its goal of promoting and supporting ecological networks in Alpine regions. The platform’s members include representatives from the governments of all Alpine nations.

In the first stage of the project, which has already been completed, experts assessed four different approaches to building ecological networks. The consortium plans to develop their joint methodology based on the outcomes of this assessment. During the early stages, four pilot regions were also established:

  1. The Salzburg cross-boundary region on the Germany-Austria border
  2. The French Departement Isère
  3. The Eastern Austrian region around the Kalkalpen and Gesäuse national parks
  4. The Italian Adige Valley and nearby protected areas in Switzerland and Austria.

As well as habitats that can be connected by relatively short passages, these areas cover large scale migration routes such as those for birds and bears. Pilot activities, which will begin in 2009, will involve the creation of new ecological corridors and making sustainable land use agreements with land users.

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