Habitat destruction and fragmentation have been viewed as the major factors driving biodiversity loss, but much of the change in the contemporary landscape is now caused by change in the management of seminatural habitats. The former ecosystem services of altered landscapes are often appreciated only when they have been lost.
The only way to preserve ecosystem services is to manage habitats in a way that retains and enhances naturalness and biodiversity. With respect to this, the scientific community should answer a number of urging questions. How can resistance and resilience of habitats and species be increased to cope with climate change? What measures should be taken to reduce habitat change and species loss in Central Eastern Europe and in the Pannonian region? What is the time-lag between habitat fragmentation and loss of species in different taxonomic and functional groups, and what time-lag can be expected between climate change and ecological or habitat change?
The collection, management and use of knowledge on habitats are of utmost importance to answer the questions above. The concept of ecosystem services is now at the core of the discourse on the relationship between humans and their environment. This is one of the reasons why we need an increasing amount of information on habitats in addition to information on species and biodiversity in a broader sense.
There are considerable differences in the approaches of mapping species and habitat distributions and in the traditions of biodiversity assessment in general between CEE countries and the rest of Europe. In order to answer questions on European or global issues, it is necessary to recognize these differences and to create ways for the mutual exchange of information. With a cooperative effort, Hungarian field botanists have recently completed a nationwide habitat mapping program, called MÉTA. We are ready to share our experience with the scientific community within LifeWatch.
Scientific research - The LifeWatch Centre for Habitat and Ecosystem Research (Habitats RI) will provide research infrastructure to the LifeWatch community.
Pannonian and Central-Eastern European focus – The LifeWatch Habitats RI aims to integrate data and conduct scientific research on habitats including ecosystem services mainly in the Pannonian region and Central Eastern Europe. The Habitats RI will make use of the know-how of IEB of the ERCHAS on habitat mapping, data handling and modelling, in partnership with national and Central and Eastern European institutions. The development of the Habitats RI will enhance biodiversity research, help decision making, and help inform society about the potential threats to and the preservation and rehabilitation of habitats and biodiversity.
European integration – The proposed Habitats RI intends to help the whole European LifeWatch community to tackle the challenges arising from the unequal information technological background inside the EU, and facilitate the knowledge transfer between countries of different ecological, political, social, and technological environment.
Services to the scientific community, stakeholders and decision makers – The Habitats RI is planned to function as a model system for collection of field data, habitat mapping, data handling, and scientific research that is based on these, as well as a training centre. It links basic research, predictive modelling and decision making. The Habitats RI provides information to a broad spectrum of users, from the general public and farmers to decision makers and the research community. As a training centre, the Habitats RI will host thematic workshops and training courses for the broader scientific community. It will participate in the development of national and international recommendations on data sharing and access, data harmonization, and handling of intellectual property rights.
Mapping and predictive modelling – The aim of the LifeWatch Centre for Habitat and Ecosystem Research (Habitats RI) is the mapping and predictive modelling of land use, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and NCI through access to necessary data. The expected results will contribute to biodiversity risk assessment at the scale of CEE and EU, as well as an EU-scale assessment of ecosystem services.
Science-based support of policies concerning habitat management – The Habitats RI aids the scientific investigation of management options by utilizing data from field studies and field experiments. It links together scientific research based on field data, remote sensing, and political decisions on management policies.
Harmonization – An outstanding aim of the Habitats RI is to harmonize field methods, scaling approaches, and utilization of historical data in habitat mapping in the Pannonian Region and Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). It develops scenarios for the Common Agriculture Policy and models their effects at the CEE scale. It contributes to the development of risk management methods in the region, the harmonization of Natura 2000 monitoring, the integration of national biodiversity monitoring projects, and methodological standardization of regional assessment of ecosystem services and NCI.
Mediation between CEE and the rest of Europe – Another aim of the Habitats RI is to ensure the interaction between the whole LifeWatch community and the CEE LifeWatch community in the area of habitat data exchange.
Contributions to the general aims of LifeWatch – The activity and products of the Habitats RI will contribute to the fulfillment of the recommendations of international initiatives such as SEIS and GMES/GEOSS. With the LifeWatch community, it will match the requirements of the INSPIRE Spatial Data Infrastructure. The Habitats RI will thereby foster the integration of data on habitats and ecosystem services, and local and regional knowledge into the ERA.