People rely on natural resources to provide for their basic needs, including food, shelter, and clothes, but also compete for the space occupied by natural habitats. Population growth and human development therefore affect biodiversity both directly and indirectly. The effects of humans on the environment, including use of land and other natural resources, are the greatest factors underlying the current declines in biodiversity. In Armenia, with its rich and unique biological resources, the impacts of human on the environment has become increasingly marked.
Historically, low human population densities and regulated use of natural resources protected the balance of ecosystems in Armenia. However, over the last 1,000 years human impacts on the land have increased, mainly through deforestation and increased use of pastures. Such problems have intensified over recent years with unprecedented population growth and urbanisation since 1920, resulting in increased human impacts not only on individual species, but also on whole ecosystems.
Increases in population and human impacts between 1920 and 1990
|Parameter||Factor of increase|
|Industrial districts and centres||30-fold|
|Irrigated land area||3-fold|
|Cultivated land area||1.5-fold|
|Areas under construction (buildings, roads, streets, etc)||20-fold|
The population density directly influences the impacts of humans on biodiversity. To ensure that human development is sustainable, society develops mechanisms to regulate impacts on biodiversity and natural resources, including laws, protected areas for threatened species and ecosystems, and regulations for use.
Some parameters of current population and human pressures in Armenia
|Population||3.8 million||232 persons/km2|
|Populated areas||980 settlements||6 settlements/100km2|
|Road and railway network||14,000 km||0.85km/km2|
Anthropogenic impacts have affected a large proportion of Armenia, and have led to damage and destruction to natural habitats. Over the last 50 years agricultural intensification has resulted in the loss of natural grasslands and wetland ecosystems, while felling of forest areas has resulted in substantial losses in biodiversity. Habitat loss has affected food resources and nesting opportunities for a range of species, and restricted range species have been particularly affected, including a number of threatened species. For example, the partial drainage of Lake Sevan affected the spawning areas for Sevan trout, leading to severe declines in this species.
In Armenia, both habitats and species have suffered from unregulated use. Although few figures are available, concern is expressed about the impacts of over-collection of wild plants and poaching of animals. Among species most at risk are plants of edible, medicinal or decorative use, and over-collection of such species has affected the semi-deserts, steppes and meadows in which they occur. Among animals, snakes have suffered over-collection for their venom, while the fish resources of Lake Sevan and other water bodies are declining as a result of over-fishing. Habitats, particularly pasturelands, have also suffered degradation through over-use. Over 50% of pasture lands are now degraded, and these show reduction in species diversity, succession with poisonous and inedible species, soil compaction, loss of vegetation cover and erosion.
Pollution is a major issue in Armenia, involving not just current emissions, but the legacy from pollution during the Soviet era. Sources of pollution include industrial centres, mining enterprises, chemical and power plants, and vehicle emissions. Much pollution remains as a legacy from Soviet industry. While air pollution has declined substantially, heavy metal and chemical pollution of soil and water remains an important threat to biodiversity.
A range of species have been introduced to Armenia. Some species have expanded their ranges to the detriment of native species, and have resulted in population declines and disruptions of ecological relationships, affecting both biodiversity and agricultural systems. At present, most concern is expressed about the introduction of agricultural pests (including insects such as the Colorado bug and the Asian grasshopper). Among the most aggressive invasive plant species are Xanthium, Cirsium, and Galinsoga parviflora, while wormwood ambrosia (Ambrosia artemisiefolia) has expanded its distribution by over 200km2 within the last decade. The increasing levels of trade regionally and internationally, may result in increased introductions to Armenia, as a result on inadequate customs checks and quarantine regulations. The major dangers among invasive species include aggressive weed plants, insect pests, pathogens, fungi and raptors.
An indirect impact of pollution on the natural environment comes from the predictions of global warming. Increases of 2-3?C are predicted for Armenia·s climate, along with declines in rainfall, resulting in increased risks of desertification. This is likely to severely affect wetland habitats and associated species, while changes in the distribution of habitats may affect the range and viability of a number of species.
As well as its rich biodiversity, Armenia is characterized by intensive human impacts affecting ecosystems and species. Threats to natural systems include: 1) habitat loss and modification; (2) over-use of biological resources; (3) pollution; (4) effects of introduced, non-native species; and (5) climate change. A wide number of sectors use or affect natural resources, either directly or indirectly, and therefore also threaten Armenian biodiversity. The impact of each of these sectors on biodiversity is discussed below.
Agriculture remains the largest sector in Armenia, and almost half of the total land area is devoted to agricultural use. As such agriculture is a key sector for natural resource use and has caused much damage to biodiversity. Key impacts from agriculture include:
represent around half the agricultural land, and have been severely degraded
by over-grazing. As a result, productivity of pasture has declined, vegetation
has changed (including loss of valuable fodder species), soil has been compacted
and erosion is prevalent on many hillsides.
Around 600,000ha of land is cultivated in Armenia, although reduced productivity and erosion have led to the abandonment of some areas on hillsides. Over the last 70 years, there has been increased conversion of semi-desert, steppe and wetland habitats for cultivation, resulting in the loss of some important sites, and increased threats to species. For example the amphibians and reptiles of the Arax valley are now threatened as a result of habitat loss, while the diversity and populations of breeding birds has reduced as their food sources have been cleared. Unregulated irrigation of land has further consequences. For example, salinity has increased dramatically in 24,000ha of land in the Ararat valley. Factors such as salinity, soil compaction and overuse of fertilizers and pesticides has had a negative effect on the soil organisms, which ensure soil fertility.
Prior to 1992 over 75% of agricultural land was owned by State or collective farms. However, the land has since been privatised and divided between 130,000 farms, as well as a number of non-agricultural organisations. Privatisation and land ownership has resulted in new legal and social conditions relating to land use. It is not clear how this will affect biodiversity · difficult economic conditions and lack of resources for farming have acted to reduce the intensity of agriculture. However, the absence of effective regulations for the use of private lands could result in even greater environmental impacts in the future.
Map - Forest
Forest cover in Armenia is around 10%, and forests are mainly found on steep mountain slopes where they have an important role in soil protection. Loss of forests has a number of effects on biodiversity and natural ecosystems:
The extensive deforestation during the energy crisis of the early 1990s (see section 2.2.4) resulted in the loss of most forests close to towns and cities. Since then, in recognition of the important ecological and functional roles of forests, commercial clearance of forests has been banned. Selective logging is conducted for forest health and to encourage regeneration. However, illegal logging of forests is extensive, and grazing and hay production in forest areas is common. As a result, productivity and regeneration of forests are declining, species composition has changed and erosion has increased. In these conditions, populations of pest species have increased, while many bird and mammal species associated with forests have become threatened. The knock-on effects of forest loss have become apparent through increased erosion leading to flooding and landslides. Extensive flood damage has affected a number of regions including Tavush, Sunik and Lori.
Extensive industrial growth took place in Armenia between the 1920s and the 1980s, with the development of more than 200 industrial sites, including a number of gigantic industrial plants. Over this time, industrial development increased GDP by a factor of 1,000. However, industrial development therefore had significant effects on the ecosystems and biodiversity of the country, including:
Prior to the economic crisis, substantial levels of pollution were recorded from the country·s industrial centres, totalling around 245,000 tonnes annually (54,400 tonnes of solid particles and 190,900 tonnes of liquid or gaseous emissions). This included around 50 different pollutants, including sulphate anhydride (58%), nitric oxides (15%) and oxides of carbon (14%). At present only a small proportion of industries remain operational (10-30%) and emissions of pollutants have dropped dramatically to 15,000-20,000 tonnes per year. However, pollution continues to have negative impacts on both natural ecosystems and agricultural lands in the country. Of great concern is the continued release of chemical waste, gaseous emissions and heavy metals from key industrial sites.
Armenia is rich in mineral resources, and supports an extensive mining industry. Over 130 mining enterprises operate in Armenia, of which all but four involve open-cast mining. Mining operations affect an area of 9,700ha, including 8,275ha which have undergone direct disturbance, and 1,400ha covered by tailings or slag. Many mines are situated at relatively high altitudes (including copper and gold mines at between 2,000 and 2,500m), and thus represent a direct threat to fragile mountain ecosystems, and also affect lowland habitats downstream from such mines.
Mining affects the biodiversity of the country as a result of:
Of particular concern are a number of tailings from extractive and processing operations, totalling around 220 million m3, which remain in Armenia. There is a high risk that pollutants from these tailings may leach into water systems.
All forms of power generation (hydro-electric, thermal and nuclear) affect biodiversity in some way, as does the electrical transmission network across the whole country. Impacts include:
The impacts of the energy sector on biodiversity have become clear since the 1950s. At that time the development of hydroelectric power plants on the River Hrazdan using increasing outflow from Lake Sevan, which resulted in a 19m decrease in the water level of the lake. This decline had extensive impacts on the lake and its biodiversity, including changes in chemical balance, loss of species and eutrophication.
Hydro-electric plants also affect biodiversity locally, within the rivers on which they were built. Effects include changes in biodiversity in both feeder channels and areas downstream of outlets, and in artificial reservoirs designed to regulate flow. Changes in water flow have also resulted in the aridisation of some areas where water has been channelled off for use by power plants.
Construction work has increased dramatically in Armenia over the last half century, in line with industrial development and human population growth. Around 90,000 ha, or 3% of the total land is now covered by urban or industrial construction. Such areas support few species and construction affects biodiversity directly through the complete destruction of natural habitats. In addition, areas in the vicinity of construction work are affected by habitat degradation and by long-term damage with construction wastes that are not properly removed.
The transport system in Armenia is extensive, covering 800km of rail track and 13,000km of roads. Transport systems affect biodiversity in a number of ways:
One of the major issues is the effect of pollutants, including nictric and carbon oxides, on wildlife. Vehicle emissions are a major contributor to pollution in Armenia, representing 94% of total emissions (an increase from 67% of emissions in 1987). In particular, exhaust fumes contain oxides of nitrogen and carbon, which contribute both to local pollution of natural ecosystems, and to global warming. At present laws regulate several pollutants in vehicle emissions, however overall assessments of pollution from road transport are difficult to quantify accurately from the data available.
Annual estimates for vehicle emissions (based on data from the State Registry)
|Pollutant||Emission levels (thousand tonnes)|
Map Sevan National Park
The landscapes and biodiversity of Armenia have been a focus for tourism and recreation use over a number of decades, but this has intensified significantly over the last few years. By the end of the 1980s over 110 sanatoria and guest houses were operating, supporting more than 600,000 customers. In addition 200 summer camps for children existed, and 30 tourist centres, with 6000 places, were operational, along with approximately 10 tour routes. In the last few years recreational activities have increased dramatically, however many are improperly managed and result in damage to biodiversity and to natural sites. Damage includes:
Unsustainable harvesting of wild species
Unsustainable collection of wild plants and hunting of animals by the local population has affected a number of species and habitats in Armenia. Although few figures are available, concern is expressed about over-collection of plants of edible, medicinal or decorative use, capture of snakes for their venom, and poaching of Armenian mouflon, and other big mammals. As a result of such harvesting, declines have been noted in a number of species, and semi-desert, forest and meadow ecosystems have been degraded.
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