The Conservation Value of Traditional Rural Landscapes: The Case of Woodpeckers in Transylvania, Romania

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Land use change is a major threat to global biodiversity. Forest species face the dual threats of deforestation and intensification of forest management. In regions where forests are under threat, rural landscapes that retain structural components of mature forests potentially provide valuable additional habitat for some forest species. Here, we illustrate the habitat value of traditional wood pastures for a woodpecker assemblage of six species in southern Transylvania, Romania. Wood pastures are created by long-term stable silvo-pastoral management practices, and are composed of open grassland with scattered large, old trees. Because of their demanding habitat requirements, woodpeckers share habitat with many other bird species, and have been considered as possible indicator species for bird species diversity. We first compared woodpecker assemblages between forests and wood pastures. Second, we grouped features of wood pastures into three spatial contexts and addressed how these features related to the occurrence of three woodpecker species that are formally protected. Woodpecker species composition, but not the number of species, differed between forests and wood pastures, with the green woodpecker occurring more commonly in wood pastures, and the lesser spotted woodpecker more commonly in forests. Within wood pastures, the intermediate context (especially surrounding forest cover) best explained the presence of the grey-headed and middle spotted woodpecker. By contrast, variables describing local vegetation structure and characteristics of the surrounding landscape did not affect woodpecker occurrence in wood pastures. In contrast to many other parts of Europe, in which several species of woodpeckers have declined, the traditional rural landscape of Transylvania continues to provide habitat for several woodpecker species, both in forests and wood pastures. Given the apparent habitat value of wood pastures for woodpeckers we recommend wood pastures be explicitly considered in relevant policies of the European Union, namely the Habitats Directive and the EU Common Agricultural Policy.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere65236
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 19.06.2013