ROMANIA'S BIODIVERSITY



Overview

Geographical Location and Climate

Romania as a Spot of Biological Confluence

Ecosystems Diversity

Species Diversity

Human Influence on the Landscape

Economically Important Wild Species


Overview

As a consequence of its geographical location and evolution of the human society in the region, Romania has a unique and high level of biodiversity and intact ecological systems. The vast reed beds of the Danube Delta, the high density of large carnivores and the extensive forests covering the Carpathian Mountains are some of the most significant and best known aspects attesting Romania's biological richness.

As much as 47% of the country's surface bears natural and semi-natural ecosystems. Since almost half of the Romanian forests (covering about 13% of the country) have been managed considering watershed conservation rather than production, Romania still has one of the largest areas of undisturbed forest in Europe. The natural integrity of Romanian forest ecosystems is indicated by the presence of the full range of European forest fauna, including 60% and 40% respectively of the European brown bear and wolf populations. Europe's largest wetland, the Danube Delta, lies predominantly in Romania, as well. Major grasslands, caves and an extensive network of rivers add to the country's ecosystem richness.

A matter of national as well as wider European importance Romania's territory is a confluence area between biogeographical regions such as the arctic, alpine, Western and Central European, Pannonic, Pontic, Balkanic, sub-Mediterranean, and even Eastern Colchic, Caucasian and Thuranic-Iranian regions. The high level of geographical diversity in Romania and the consequence of being a place of biological confluence have resulted in a floral diversity including more than 3,700 species, and a fauna diversity estimated to more than 33,802 species. These figures include a large number of endemic and subendemic plants (228) and animals (1,000) adapted to the specific local conditions, and only occurring in Romania. Species that once thrived in many parts of Europe either occur only in Romania nowadays, or can be found in large or significant populations in Romania.

Although rich in biological resources and important as a corridor for the movement of species (biogenetical material), Romania resented the consequence of human activity. Pollution, river damming, hydrotechnical works, industrial agriculture, the overexploitation of natural resources, among other factors, have each had their particular role in decreasing the biodiversity. Inappropriate forms of tourism and associated infrastructure development also threaten the highly sensitive mountain ecosystems. This trend is likely to increase unless adequate measures to reduce the effects of pollution and economic pressures related to the overexploitation of natural resources will be undertaken. Taking into account these particularly significant problems, Romania has an active governmental and non-governmental commitment to reverse the trends of biodiversity loss. A large number of areas (4.8% of the country's land area) have been designated as protected areas. However, a co-ordinated and effectively managed system of protected areas does not exist and institutional capacity for nature conservation and protected area management have not been clearly defined as of yet.

In order to address these shortcomings, Romania has adopted the National Strategy and Action Plan for biological diversity conservation and sustainable use of its components, both of which integrate the principles and objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity, of the most significant conventions in the field of nature and biodiversity conservation as well as the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Strategy.

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Geographical Location and Climate

Romania is located in Central Europe, halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, and also halfway between the Atlantic Ocean and Ural Mountains. The total area of the country is 23,839,100 ha. The elevation of the country varies significantly, e.g. the Danube Delta is located at the sea level while the highest peaks of the Carpathian Mountains rise to over 2,500 m above the sea level.

In general, Romania has a temperate climate with significant zonal aspects. Some regions have high humidity and low thermic amplitudes, a dryer continental climate exists in other areas, thus creating higher thermic amplitudes, while a considerable influence of the sub-Mediterranean warm and dry climate can be noticed in the southern and western areas of the country. The average annual temperature is 8-10C, with frosty winters (-3 to -4C) and warm summers (21 to 22C), and an average annual precipitation between 400-600 mm. Romania's ground comprises a major part of the European types of soil, as well as various levels of relief brought about by underlying volcanic, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. The biomes that existed on the country territory prior to human modification consisted primarily of forests (77%), steppe grasslands (16%), aquatic ecosystems and wetlands (5.8%), alpine and subalpine ecosystems (1.2%).

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Romania as a Spot of Biological Confluence

Romania's teritory stands out as a confluence point between several biogeographical regions - arctic, alpine, Western and Central European, Pannonic, Pontic, Balkanic, sub-Mediterranean and even Eastern Colchic, Caucasian and Thuranic-Iranian. The biodiversity therefore contains a diverse range of Eastern (Caucasian/Pontic), northern (boreal), southern (Mediterranean and Balkanic) and western (European continental and Pannonic) elements.

Also, Romania's biodiversity encompasses a large variety of ecosystems, thus standing out as a major spot of confluence. The steppe xerophyllous, halophyllous, psamophyllous grassland ecosystems and the xerophyllous bush ecosystems have a direct linkage eastside to the Moldavian and Ukrainian steppe ecosystems.

Similar silvosteppe ecosystems can be found in the east in Moldavia, in the south in Bulgaria, in the west in Hungary and Yugoslavia. The xerotherme broad-leaved forest ecosystems reflect the presence of similar ecosystems north of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. The mesophyllous broad-leaved forest ecosystems have very strong linkages to the forests from the peripheral hills of the Pannonian Plains in Hungary, from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine's mountains, and also from the Yugoslavian and Bulgarian mountains.

The boreal spruce and larch forest ecosystems are common in the entire Carpathian chain and can be found in Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, but also in the mountains from the Balkanic Peninsula. The alpine and subalpine grasslands and bushes have linkages both to the north in the Carpathian chain from the neighbouring countries, and in the Balkan mountains.

In most cases, although the forest and grassland ecosystems from neighbouring countries are similar in terms of general structure, they differ in terms of abundance and composition of flora and fauna elements. Romania is a spot of confluence for each of these ecosystems and a territory across which many species have spread their distribution. The largely unbroken Carpathian mountain chain and the Danube River with its tributaries are particularly important in providing a corridor for the spread of biodiversity.

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Ecosystems Diversity

The extensive range of ecosystem types occurring in Romania is the result of influences from climate and elevation. A major importance in affecting ecological conditions have the Carpathian Mountains, 60% of which are located in Romania. A total of 17 major terrestrial ecosystem formations exist in Romania, including all the major ecosystem types existing in Europe. There is also a rich diversity of aquatic ecosystems, including river floodplains, glacial lakes, coastal wetlands, bogs and mountain rivers.

In the more humid regions, at lower altitudes (up to 300 m), broad-leaved forests predominate. In the less humid climate areas there are the steppe grasslands, while in the mixing areas between the two regions there is a zone of silvosteppe containing a mix of forests and grasslands. ForestThe elevation change brought about by the Carpathian Mountains brings an abundance of biogeographical zones including four main types: the nemoral - with broad-leaved forests, boreal (horizontal) with coniferous forests, subalpine (vertical), and alpine (vertical) - containing grass and small bushes.
A rich hydrological network contributes to the enhancement of biodiversity. Over 1000 km of the Danube River and many of its tributaries flow through Romania. Before the river flows into the Black Sea, the Danube Delta spreads over a surface of about 580,000 ha (113,000 ha of which are permanently covered by water). It is the largest delta in Europe and conserves a very wide range of biodiversity specific to wetlands. The Danube Delta has been awarded the status of Biosphere Reserve in 1990, and has been registered as Ramsar Site and world natural heritage site since 1991.

Romania's territory also includes a large portion of the Black Sea coast (228 km) and associated sand dune and coastal ecosystems. Also, more than 8,000 caves, located primarily in the south-west of the country, add to the richness of the ecosystem diversity.

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Species Diversity

A total of about 3,700 species of higher plants exist in Romania. Among them, 39 species are endangered, 171 are vulnerable, and 1,256 are rare species according to the Red List of Higher Plants of Romania, as established by the Romanian Academy in 1994. Grassland species include 37% of the total species represented, while 74 species of higher plants are extinct. About 600 species of algae and a total of more than 700 species of marine and coastal plants exist. A very high percentage of the species of plants (4%) are endemic. In total there are 57 endemic taxa (species and subspecies) and 171 subendemic taxa (with their territory lying mostly in Romania).

Higher plants

Seventy-five percent of the endemic and subendemic species can be found in the Carpathian Mountains. Andryala levitomentosa, for example, only occurs in the Bistrita Mountains, Dianthus callizonus only in Piatra Craiului Mountains, Astragalus peterfii only in Cluj county, Draba dorneri in Retezat Mountains, while Diantus spiculifolius, Helictotrichon decorum can be found across the entire Carpathian chain. The main endemic centres for plants are the Mountains of Rodna, Bistrita-Ceahlau, Bucegi-Piatra Craiului, Retezat-Godeanu, parts of these mountainous massifs being established as national parks, as well.

Endemic and subendemic plant species in Romania
There are 57 endemic and 171 subendemic plant species in Romania. The endemic plants include 8 species listed as vulnerable, including Campanula romanica and Aquilegia nigricans. Seven endangered species exist, including Centaurea pontica, Minuartia cataractarum etc. An additional 25 species (e.g. Cephalaria radiata, Galium bailloni) are rare, including 2 very rare species (Andryala levitomentosa, Fumaria jankae). These species are important not only because they are endemic and only occur in small areas of Romania's territory (most of them in the Romanian Carpathians chain), but also due to their economic values - melliferous (26 species - Anthemis carpatica ssp. pyrethriformis, Dianthus callizonus etc.), medicinal (9 species - Primula auricula ssp. seratifolia, Viola jooi etc.) or both (3 species - Thymus bihoriensis, Salvia transsilvanica etc.

In addition to manifesting a high level of plant diversity, Romania is particularly important as a centre of population density for a variety of animals. Of greatest significance is the favourable state of the bear, wolf and lynx populations.

Originally the wolf, bear and lynx populations were distributed over most of the European continent. However given the growth in human population, human settlements, and livestock raising, the large carnivores were vigorously persecuted. In Western Europe, large carnivores were, with few exceptions, decimated about 150 years ago.
WolfAbout 40% of the European wolf population occurs in Romania. Wolf (Canis lupus) populations exist only in four distinct areas of Europe, the northern Iberian peninsula (2,000), the Apenine and the Maritime Alps (400), the Dinaric Mountains (1,500) and the Carpathian Mountains (3,000).
Wolf population

Lynx

Lynx populations (Lynx lynx) were eradicated in Western Europe about 100 years ago. Reintroduction projects in Switzerland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic brought the species back into some areas of Central Europe during the seventies and eighties. However, the only healthy lynx populations in Europe occurr in the Carpathian Mountains (1,000 - 1,500 individuals), Fennoscandinavia (more than 1,000) and the Dinaric Mountains (several hundreds). The Romanian population could therefore play an important role in preserving the species.





Brown bears live today within four distinct areas in Europe: the Carpathian Mountains (about 6,000 individuals), Fennoscandinavia (about 1,300) and the Dinaric Mountains (about 2,000). About 60 % of the total European brown bear population lives in Romania.
BearBear population

All three large carnivore species are a symbol for the wilderness of habitats. Because of their ecological position at the top of the food pyramid they have a strong role in the state of the ungulate populations. The state of the ungulate population has in its turn a large influence on plant communities and overall ecological state. The maintenance of stable and healthy population of large carnivores in Romania provides a base for the repopulation with these species of other areas within Europe.


Romania hosts more than 33,802 other species, sub-species and varieties of animals, out of which 33,085 invertebrates and 707 vertebrates. The vertebrates comprise a number of 191 species of fish, 9 of which are endangered, 20 amphibian species, 9 of which are endangered, 30 species of reptiles, 6 of which are endangered, 364 species of nesting and migratory birds, 2 of which are extinct and 6 are endangered, and 102 species of mammals, 2 of which are extinct and 2 are endangered. The insect fauna are includes 227 species specifically adapted to the underground life in caves, 97% of which are endemic. Of the total Romanian fauna more than 1,000 species are considered endemic although the geographical distribution of many of these species is only poorly known.

Vertebrate species

Same as in the case of plants, many animals are represented in Romania by subendemic species. These include the red deer (Cervus elaphus montanus), wild boar (Sus scropha attilla), European hare (Lepus europeus transsilvanicus), chamois (Rupicapra rupricapa carpatica), willow tit (Parus montanus transilvanicus). The main centres for the endemic fauna are located in the mountain massifs of Rarau-Giumalau, Haghimasul-Mare, Fagaras, Parang, Cernei, Semenic, Almaj, Bihor.

Romania's position on the bird migration routes across Europe
Romania is a critical transit area for the birds migrating across Europe. Romania is crossed by bird populations that are mainly migrating through the eastern part of the Mediterranean basin on the following route: Greece - Bosphorus - Nile Valley. The main migration zone of Romania is located in the east, between the Carpathian Mountains and the Black Sea, comprising Moldavia, Dobrogea and the eastern Muntenia. This zone is used by the red-breasted goose (Branta ruficolis) and the swans (Cygnus cygnus and Cygnus olor), black stork (Ciconia nigra), Dalmatian and European white pelicans (Pelecanus crispus and Pelecanus onocrotalus), glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus). To this can be added the flyroute through the West Plain, part of the Tisa Plain, with a lateral branch along the Danube, from east to west. This route is used by crane (Grus grus) and Passeriformes. The secondary flyroute passes through the Transylvanian basin, from north-west to south-west.
Every autumn Romania is crossed by:
populations from central-northern Europe flying primarily to the south-east;
populations from eastern Europe (Russia, western Siberia) flying to the southwest, to spend winter in the Balkan Mountains or in the Italian Peninsula;
populations flying in non-specific directions migrating through Romania.
The return migration in the spring is almost the same, except for a few species, which use a slightly modified return route.

The Danube Delta and Black Sea coastal areas also have a particularly high level of endemic or subendemic species including 7 endemic fish species, 4 endemic mollusc species, 21 endemic insect species, subendemic sponges and a large number of worm and crustacean species.

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Human Influence on the Landscape

Today agricultural lands cover about 62% of the total surface of the country, while 39% are arable lands, and about 20% pastures and hay fields. Forests were reduced to about 28% of the total surface of the country.

Human activities have modified the landscape significantly. The modifications have reduced the size and abundance of certain elements of the ecosystem (most notably steppe grasslands, wetlands and river courses) and also added new components (especially hydrotechnical works). Today arable land comprises 39.2% of the surface of the country and a large area of mesophyllous, hygrophyllous and xerophyllous secondary natural grasslands have been formed - primarily in the mountains and hills. Nowadays, the forests only cover about one-third of their previous extent as a result of human activity. Although the forest area have been reduced, the forest itself have retained a high level of natural species composition and quality. The area of wetlands has also been reduced to about half of its previous extent. The loss of wetlands has been particularly dramatic along the Danube River where many wetlands have been converted for agricultural use.

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Economically Important Wild Species

All of the 58 species of indigenous trees and at least 30 species of shrubs have an economical importance, producing wood, resin, fruits, flowers, leaves and bark with medicinal character or representing honey sources. Of the 1,300 species of grassland plants, 175 have nutritional value, 70 species are medicinal and 180 are melliferous (important for honey).

Of the forest and grassland animals, 12 species of mammals and 7 species of birds have economical importance as game species. Twenty-nine species of fresh water fish have economic value, including pike, carp, zander, sturgeon, and perch. For many local populations, the use of biological resources continues to be important for their nutritional well-being and economic health. Many other species, including microorganisms, have a great importance for different economy sectors.

Categories of biological diversity components requiring monitoring measures, due to their economic, scientific or cultural importance, according to Article 7 of the Convention on Biological Diversity:
Ecosystems and habitats containing high diversity, large numbers of endemic or threatened species, or wilderness; required by migratory species; of social, economic, cultural or scientific importance; or which are representative, unique or associated with key evolutionary or other biological processes;
Species and communities which are: threatened; wild relatives of domesticated or cultivated species; of medicinal, agricultural or other economic value; or social, scientific or cultural importance; or importance for research into the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, such as indicator species;
Genomes and genes of social, scientific or economic importance.

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