Abstract: Understanding the present situation and condition of our environmental values often requires the historical knowledge of prior events and processes. For this reason, it is important to sum up the land use history of the region, focusing on the key factors that affected the landscape and its wildlife.
The available historical records and maps of the area clearly indicate a not too intensive land use up until the 1700’s. Smaller villages were sometimes depopulated or even abandoned for decades, which also meant a decrease in cultivated or grazed areas. After the Turkish occupation, however, Győr had changed to a major cultural and industrial centre, boosting the development of its agglomeration too. The price of this still ongoing development is that the city consumes its natural environment, with the surrounding grasslands and forests being converted to industrial and urban zones. Beginning with the early 1700’s, agricultural use of the land in the region became more and more intensive, grazing was gradually replaced by arable farming and, from the 1800’s onwards, large areas were forested. As a result, fragments of the original sand steppe vegetation could survive mainly in military areas only.
Abstract: The systematic faunistic and botanical research of the Győr-Gönyű calcareous sand steppes has been going on for over a decade now. For the assessment of this intensive ongoing work, driven mainly by environmental protection concerns, it is necessary to overview the research history of the area. The present book summarizes the prior researches and their results and also includes a list of scientific publications on the region. This comprehensive bibliography contains not only the studies and articles published in scientific journals but the relevant research reports and thesis papers, which are usually not accessible to the general public, as well.
Abstract: The Győr-Gönyű calcareous sand dune region in the centre of the Little Hungarian Plane is the westernmost occurrence of forest steppe vegetation in the Carpathian Basin. Excessive land drainage and water management, deforestation and the appearance of invasive plants together with the abandonment of traditional land-use practices resulted in a significant degradation and fragmentation of the remaining habitats. Yet, mainly because of the long ongoing military use of certain sites, all key habitat types that were typical in the region two centuries ago have managed to survive and the forest steppe ecosystem is still sustainable in these refugia.
The importance of the floristic and coenological research conducted within the LIFE+ habitat restoration project is twofold. On the one hand, due to the detailed base survey, the area has become one of Hungary’s botanically most well-researched regions and the huge amount of data gathered can serve as a basis for years of scientific study. On the other hand, the pre-restoration survey along with the post-restoration monitoring casts light on the interplay of land-use and ecological succession, which knowledge can be directly utilized in environmental protection.
Based on the comprehensive biotic database and by testing a number of environmental management techniques and possibilities, hopefully we could be able to sustain the diverse flora and habitats of the Győr-Gönyű sand steppes in the future too. To achieve this requires active intervention from our part (e.g. in case of certain plant species) and a wide-scale understanding and support from the community (e.g. to improve the water management in the region).
Abstract: The occurrence of protected plant species usually shows the environmental values of the area in question quite well. Most of the original calcareous Pannonic sand steppes in the Hungarian Little Plain were destroyed during the last centuries. The few surviving natural or semi-natural habitats are extremely rich in plants. After decades of neglect following Sándor Polgár’s botanical work, systematic floristic research were restarted in the early 2000’s, discovering new occurrences of protected plants as well as species formerly not recorded from the area. The study below is a brief summary of the results of our botanical surveys from 2000 to 2015. To our current knowledge, there are 53 protected and 2 highly protected (Ophrys sphegodes, O. apifera) plants occurring in the region whereas 17 formerly recorded species are likely to become extinct.
The occurring protected species are mainly those typical to dry sandy habitats (e.g. Oxytropis pilosa, Jurinea mollis, Dianthus serotinus) but some of them (e.g. Dactylorhiza incarnata, Gentiana pneumonanthe) are survivors of the formerly abundant inter-dune marshmeadows. Typical species common in the area include European Feather Grass (Stipa pennata), Hairy Milk Vetch (Oxytropis pilosa) and Gypsophila arenaria. Pheasant's Eyes (Adonis vernalis), Military Orchids (Orchis militaris), Bug Orchids (Anacamptis coriophora), Round-headed Leeks (Allium sphaerocephalon) and Dianthus serotinus also have strong populations in the region. Among the rare and highly endangered species we can find Daphne cneorum, Peucedanum arenarium, Taraxacum serotinum and Pulsatilla nigricans. During the recent years, a number of plants previously not recorded from the area have been discovered too (e.g. Pulsatilla grandis, Sternbergia colchiciflora).
Abstract: Our three years’ survey conducted within the Life+ project showed that the nesting population of several bird species protected under EU and national laws had increased in the project area. That is the number of Woodlarks (Lullula arborea) had doubled at a minimum, and the Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) had also appeared as a new nesting species. Woodlarks prefer grassy meadows and forest clearings with scattered trees and shrubs therefore their population is likely to remain stable in the future too. Tawny Pipits, on the other hand, primarily inhabit more barren and open land with little plant cover. Since the reappearance of this habitat type in the area was the result of the conservation and restoration work (e.g. landscape management, grass planting, removal of invasive plants etc.), the long-term stabilization of the pipit population heavily depends on the survival of these man-made openings. Without proper management, these open land surfaces will likely to be overgrown by taller invasive plants, shrubs and trees; however, the already started conservation grazing with Hungarian grey cattle can maintain these short grassy areas.
Although not listed in EC Habitats Directive Annex II, the European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster), a highly protected bird under national legislation, is one of the designated target species of the project after the habitat restoration. Its appearance in the site can also be attributed to human interaction, nesting in colonies in the scarp slopes cut into artificial mounds. Its long-term survival seems to be ensured but, according to our experiences from other sites, it can be necessary to clear the escarpments of the emerging shrubs from time to time in the future.
The other target species of the project is the Hoopoe (Upupa epops), which especially likes sand steppes and can be considered as a character species of these habitats. Former ranger reports from the 1990s knew of 3–7 pairs nesting in the Gönyű area. Although we do not know how many of them were actually nesting within the Life+ site, we can say that the number of Hoopoes has slightly increased there in the last two years due to the habitat restoration work. The bird benefited most from the removal of Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) forests and other areas of dense shrub and tree cover.
Abstract: The research of Hungary’s herpetofauna began more than a century ago, yet data from some parts of the country, including the Győr-Tata terrace region, are still rather scarce.
The survey of amphibians and reptiles in military areas of the calcareous sand steppes around Győr has been going on since 2002. During these years, of the total 18 amphibian species native in Hungary, 11 (Triturus dobrogicus, Lissotriton vulgaris, Bombina bombina, Pelobates fuscus, Bufo bufo, Bufotes viridis, Hyla arborea, Rana arvalis, Rana dalmatina, Pelophylax ridibundus, Pelophylax kl. esculentus), and of the total 16 native reptile species, 5 (Emys orbicularis, Lacerta agilis, Anguis fragilis, Coronella austriaca, Natrix natrix) were recorded from the project area. Additionally, 2 non-native turtle species (Trachemys scripta, Chelydra serpentina) were also observed.
The high environmental value of these military areas is also shown by the fact that in wetter years the temporary ponds and water-covered areas serve as breeding sites for tens of thousands of amphibians. Most of them belong to 5 species: Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris), Fire Bellied Toad (Bombina bombina), which is a Natura 2000 species, Common Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates fuscus), Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus) and Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina). Because they are harder to observe and their numbers are smaller, much fewer reptiles were sighted. The two most common species were the Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) and the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix).
Abstract: During our surveys in the project period, we have recorded 36 orthopteran and 1 mantodea species, including two protected ones (Calliptamus barbarus, Mantis religiosa) and seven psammophile character species (Platycleis montana, Calliptamus barbarus, Dociostaurus brevicollis, Euchorthippus pulvinatus, Myrmeleotettix maculatus, Myrmeleotettix antennatus, Stenobothrus fischeri).
Our results show that the species composition well describes the typical habitat types in the project area: (a) semi-natural sand steppes; (b) weedy sand steppes; (c) hygrophilous grasslands; and (d) weedy dry grasslands. Comparing the surface reconstruction areas, we found that psammophilous character species had appeared from as early as year 2 where artificial seeding was used as opposed to areas with purely natural regeneration, which latter were dominated by orthopterans with wide ecological tolerance. When assessing the effects of burning on semi-natural grassland habitats, in year 2 we observed the lack of more sensitive psammophile character species as well as a significantly lower species diversity and abundance than in the control areas. In year 3 that is during the second vegetation period after the treatment, however, the original species composition and abundance figures from before the burning came back again.
Abstract: During the 3-year faunistic research of the nearly 250 hectare project area between the villages of Győrszentiván and Gönyű, 138 species of spiders were recorded. Among them, there were four protected species (Atypus muralis, Eresus kollari, Geolycosa vultuosa and Dolomedes sp.), two new species in the Hungarian fauna (Zodarion zorba and Centromerus lakatnikensis), and a number of rare ones (Metopobactrus prominulus, Parasyrisca arrabonica, Theridion uhligi, Brommella falcigera and Improphantes geniculatus). Apart from few exceptions, the most typical habitat specialist spiders of the Pannonian sand steppes were only observed in the semi-natural open sand steppe biotopes of the area. However, uncharacteristic dry grasslands also cover large sections of the project site. Their fauna, without any rare species, consists of the slightly or moderately disturbance tolerant spiders typical of other dry grassland habitats in Hungary. The only surveyed tall-herb fen habitat gave shelter to, along with the common hygrophilous species, some rare spiders, typical of semi-natural wetland biotopes, in large numbers (e.g. Pardosa maisa). At its early stage (first two and a half years), the process of secondary succession in habitat restoration areas shows that these biotopes are still dominated by species typically adapted to arable habitats in spite of the good condition grasslands around them. Thus, these newly created grassland surfaces, in terms of both species diversity and abundance, presently exhibit the uniform fauna of the agrarian landscape.
Abstract: The monitoring conducted within the LIFE+ project laid special emphasis on the base survey of the site and on studying the effects of various habitat restoration and management actions on the biotopes and their ant populations. The ant fauna of the Győr-Gönyű calcareous sand steppes in Hungarian Little Plain is similar to that of the sand steppes between the Danube and Tisza rivers. The most significant difference is the absence of Cataglyphis aenescens, which is a typical xerophilous and drought-tolerant character species of these habitats in the latter region. Additionally, Pavement ants (Tetramorium caespitum), another thermophilous xerotolerant species, make up a less significant share of the fauna here. It can be attributed to the colder and wetter climate of the region that much less xerotolerant and thermophilous ants such as Formica fusca or Myrmica scabrinodis also occur in the dry sand steppes of the Hungarian Little Plain, though these species clearly avoid similar biotopes in the Great Hungarian Plain. Lasius psammophilus, not mentioned in former scientific publications on the area (except in the project reports), was present in the site in large populations, often as a dominant species. Strong populations of Myrmica schencki, a rare species in the Great Hungarian Plain, were also observed in relatively large numbers. Formica pratensis was only scarcely present in closed steppic grassland habitats, however, in some cases, it had locally become a dominant species there. In biotopes with open pioneer grassland vegetation created by anthropogenic forces, Lasius niger, Lasius paralienus and Tetramorium caespitum were dominant in numbers. On the other hand, Lasius psammophilus was found to be a constant and typical dominant species of the seminatural open sand steppe habitats. Closed steppic grasslands, including those being overgrown by shrubs and trees, exhibit the largest species abundance and diversity. In terms of numbers, their dominant species were usually Lasius psammophilus and Myrmica sabuleti or sometimes Formica sanguinea and Formica pratensis. These successional habitats can still preserve the typical ant populations of steppic grasslands until they retain a significant enough coverage of grassland vegetation. Semi-natural wet meadows were dominated by Lasius niger, Myrmica rubra and Myrmica scabrinodis.
Abstract: The study presents the results of our faunistic research in Coleoptera conducted within the LIFE+ project (LIFE08 NAT/H/000289). During the research, we focused on surveying the ground-dwelling beetles of the nearly 250 hectare project area.
In a period of 3 years, we recorded a total of 128 Coleoptera species. As a highlight of the site, we must first mention the highly protected Natura 2000 ground beetle Carabus hungaricus. Other protected ground beetle and oil beetle species include Cicindela soluta, Carabus cancellatus, Carabus granulatus, Meloe cicatricosus and Meloe scabriusculus. Elaphropus haemorrhoidalis, a nationally scarce coleopteran also occurs in the area together with Syntomus foveatus and Trichocellus placidus, which were valuable finds too. Among the other rare beetles recorded, there were a number of species typical of high value, semi-natural dry and sandy grasslands, such as Harpalus servus, Calathus erratus and Diasticus vulneratus.
We also assessed the fauna of the surface reconstruction and habitat restoration areas. At this point, their species composition corresponds to an early successional stage.
Abstract: The faunistic research, commissioned by the Fertő–Hanság National Park as part of the Life+ project “Restoration and conservation of priority-listed Pannonic sand land habitats in military owned area of the Hungarian Little Plain” (LIFE08 NAT/H/000289), was conducted between 2012 and 2015. The survey method for macro-moths was lighttrapping (lit up collecting sheet and live catch bucket traps), complemented by bait trapping and night netting. Light-trap locations were selected based on the different habitat types. For butterflies, we used recording walks, accompanied by hand netting if it was necessary, recording every species sighted.
The 248 hectare project area, a military shooting range, is relatively poor in butterflies but rich in moths. We have recorded 432 macrolepidoptera species so far, 381 moths and 51 butterflies, including 23 nationally protected and four Red Data Book species. The area is dominated by drier habitats (Pannonic sand steppes), but it has also preserved some fragmented remnants of former wet habitats. This dual characteristics also manifests itself in the species composition: 53% of the species can be linked with drier steppic grasslands; whereas 26% of them are closely associated with wet habitats. In terms of biogeographic distribution, Euro-Siberian fauna elements dominate (as it is also observable elsewhere in Hungary) with 56%; however, there is a strong Western-Palearctic, especially Ponto-Mediterranean and Holo-Mediterranean component present with a 27% share.
Among the protected and rare species typical of the area are Archiearis puella, Chelis maculosa, Hyphoraia aulica, Cucullia xeranthemi, Shargacucullia lychnitis, Catocala fraxini and Staurophora celsia.