Results from field research supported by Earthwatch, the international environmental charity, will help scientists predict threats to wildlife should climate change result in a sea level rise in the Baltic.
During the six year research programme, coordinated by Earthwatch scientists Drs. Chris Joyce and Niall Burnside (University of Brighton), and Elle Puurmann (NGO Läänerannik), monitoring stations were installed in Vormsi Island, Silma Nature Reserve and Matsalu National Park, some of the best coastal wetlands in Estonia for nature conservation. The stations' data loggers recorded water levels and soil moisture. Bird life was also recorded at fixed locations.
Drs. Joyce and Burnside are now planning the next stage of the research, which will use a differential Global Positioning System (GPS) to produce a detailed map of land elevations.
Dr. Joyce explains, "Using these monitoring stations we will be able to forecast what will happen to plant communities and wildlife under sea level rise scenarios by quantifying the detailed relationship between land elevation, water distribution and vegetation. In other words, we should be able to estimate types of vegetation and wildlife that will be threatened and the extent of different vegetation types lost or gained."
Ecological monitoring at the three sites, now managed by the Estonian State Nature Conservation Centre, had previously been sporadic and communication of information poor, despite significant threats caused by grazing abandonment and changes in land ownership.
However, the monitoring system developed during the research programme has helped Estonia and the other Baltic states to shape their monitoring of grasslands for the European Union. Research results have been circulated at conferences and workshops to the conservation organisations in the Baltic States charged with developing monitoring for European Union nature reserves (Natura sites).
Dr. Joyce says, "Such an integrated system of monitoring is not, or is rarely, used in the UK. It would be valuable because information could be shared across sites to better assess broader-scale patterns and trends such as population declines due to environmental impacts."
One hundred and seventeen Earthwatch volunteers from the general public supported the project as volunteer field research assistants during the research programme.
Dr. Joyce adds: "The significance of the research has been to quantify the response of wetland biodiversity to management changes, so that more sustainable management can be developed in the Baltic States."
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