Forest change in Caucasus in 1980-2010

Land cover affects many aspects natural environment. Changes in land cover caused by natural factors like natural disasters or humans activity my affect many elements of natural ecosystem. Especially changes like deforestation or changes in species composition can have dramatic impact on wildlife and the way ecosystem works. Sounds interesting? That kinds of issues were topic of Eugenia Bragina‘s work for forest ecosystems in the Caucasus mountains.

Genya wanted to know the magnitude of the forest disturbance in the Caucasus Mountains, how it affected natural environment and protected areas were effective in safeguarding habitat for precious species in Russia.

The Western Caucasus is a mountain range between the Black Sea, Russia, and Georgia. The area is protected in many places because of unique wildlife and flora. At the same time, it is also a source of valuable tree timber, which creates conflicts between economic and political profit and natural environment conservation.

To assess the changes in Caucasus forests Genya analyzed LANDSAT images recorded over 30 years. Using remote sensing techniques she discovered that deforestation rate was very small, less 1% of forested area. As evidences from local papers suggest, opportunistic selective logging takes place in the area instead of clearcuts, and selective logging is difficult to detect with 30 m resolution LANDSAT data. Timber of species like oaks is more valuable than others so only high-praised species are harvested. Of course, this changes species composition but such changes are hard to detect with Landsat imagery.

In spite of the generally low deforestation rate, Genya found that some deforestation hotspots, the largest of them at the place of Olympic Games 2014, which happened within Sochi National Park. If we wonder how effective protected areas in the region are, Genya’s results shows that when political and economic profits are high, protected areas are no longer accomplish their functions. Facilities and roads built in Sochi National Park did affect natural ecosystems because Genya’s study area is located in mountains where animals migrate up and down over the course of the year, and roads creates boundaries that might cause problems for such migrations.

Genya continues to study wildlife population dynamics in Caucasus, in particular dynamics of Caucasian tur in Teberda Nature Reserve. On average, population in 1980-2010 declines, in spite of little land use change. Population viability analysis is necessary to figure out drivers behind population decline, whether it is human disturbance, livestock diseases and livestock grazing on tur’s pastures or other factors.  

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