Friday, 27 May 2016

Białowieża Forest as we know it could soon be but a memory!

Białowieża Forest is a place of great wonder, complex biological relationships and marvellous biological richness. This forest is also one of the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain. The Polish government has extensive plans to reap wealth from the forest under the guise of protecting the trees from a beetle infestation. This now darkens the future of the forest meaning that Białowieża Forest as we know it could soon be but a memory! And there is so much more to learn from the forest, as well as the unique, inherent, incalculable value of such a biome.

 With kind permission of Dr. Nuria Selva

A superb article in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology titled Research sheds light on delicate forest biodiversity led me to an amazing graphic in the article of how predator-prey interactions are both seasonal and highly complex. And it is the vastness of this untouched forest that allows for such a dynamic. Local changes do occur, meaning large change can occur on a very small scale however, as a biome, this great forest has an ever subtly-changing biotic distribution. This is how the entire forest can support great biodiversity and this diversity includes the large mammalian predators that come from over the horizon of our imagination: bears, lynx, elk and of course, wolves.

Species richness there extends right down to the micro-scale too, all of which are busy processing the forest as one, large, simultaneous eating and growing machine. Note that in the graphic, predators are at the top with prey species at the base of each web. Species in black and color are permanent and seasonal species. Black and colored lines show interactions among permanent and seasonal species, and what a list of species it is! (see below)

Summer & winter predator-prey foodwebs in Poland's Białowieża Forest.
With kind permission of Serguei Saavedra.

PERMANENT: wolf, lynx, red fox, raccoon dog, otter, polecat, and northern goshawk.
SUMMER: badger, lesser-spotted eagle.

PERMANENT: red deer, boar, hare, squirrel, mice, voles, shrews, passerines, fish and amphibians.
SUMMER: small passerines, reptiles, and insect.
WINTER: European bison.
And if you can, go experience the magic for yourself: you can visit the forest as a tourist to go on wild bison and wolf safari: Spend 3 nights in the Primeval Białowieża Forest, find European Bison in the wild and go tracking Wolves.

Here is a map from the UNESCO site showing the extent and completeness of the forest. Note also how it straddles across the political divide which adds even more complexity to preserving this wilderness.