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Sacred oak woods increase avian diversity and specialization, our team is reporting

Our work entitled “Sacred oak woods increase avian diversity and specialization: links with the European Biodiversity Strategy for 2030” was published in the Journal of Environmental Management.

An international collaboration between the Community Ecology and Conservation (CEC) research group from the FES CZU and the University of Ioannina in Greece focuses on a special type of old-growth woods, namely sacred groves - sacred natural sites with the character of a forest. 

The study, led by Yanina Benedetti from CEC, targeted the bird communities of the Epirus region in Greece, where sacred groves are an inherent component of local cultures due to Orthodox religion. This is the first study investigating all aspects of diversity (taxonomic, functional, phylogenetic) plus specialization in sacred groves, showing their important ecological role for conservation in an integrated way. The results clearly showed that sacred groves supported greater bird abundance, species richness, functional richness, phylogenetic diversity, and phylogenetic variability, hosting more heterogenous avian communities and also showing a greater avian specialization than managed woods. Besides the above key findings, it was found that the Diameter at Breast Height of trees was the main factor positively affecting all aspects of bird diversity. Thus, these findings highlight the important role of such sacred groves to hinder biotic homogenization and support biodiversity.

Maintaining the remaining primary and old-growth forests is a hot issue globally, given the magnitude of the deforestation problem. Therefore, it is of primary importance to identify such forest remnants and assess their value for biodiversity conservation to integrate them in the new policy frame shaped in the EU. Accordingly, the recent European Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 calls for the first time for the strict protection of the remaining primary and old-growth forests in the European Union, recognizing their value as the richest forest ecosystems that remove carbon from the atmosphere. Finally, the study concludes that the sacred groves should also guide sustainable forest management in Mediterranean oakwoods by retaining large trees.

Keywords: Biotic homogenization, Bird conservation, European Biodiversity Strategy, Forest management, Old-growth, Sacred sites

Citation: Yanina Benedetti, Eleftherios Kapsalis, Federico Morelli, Vassiliki Kati, Sacred oak woods increase bird diversity and specialization: Links with the European Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 294, 2021, 112982, ISSN 0301-4797, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.112982.

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