3 Romania's Biodiversity

3.1 Overview

As a consequence of its geographical setting and the evolution of 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 of the Carpathian mountains are some of the more significant and best know aspects of the biological riches of Romania. There are, however, less well known but nonetheless important components and aspects to the biological diversity of the country. Perhaps of greatest importance is the country’s role as a meeting place of ecological elements from differing bioregions and as a corridor for the movement of species and biodiversity.

In order to ensure the long-term conservation of this biodiversity it is necessary to develop and implement a national strategy and ensure coordinated management. The following document, prepared by a team of Romanian experts (see Appendix 1), describes the elements and importance of Romanian biological diversity and proposes actions needed to ensure that these natural values are retained for future generations and that they are utilised to ensure sustainable development.

3.2 Geographic Setting and Climate

Romania is located in Central Europe at an equal distance between the North Pole and Ecuator and at an equal distance between the Atlantic and Ural Mountains. The total area of the country is 23,839,100 ha. The elevation of the country varies significantly - the Danube Delta is located at sea level and the highest peaks of the Carpathian Mountains rise to over 2500 m.

In general Romania has a temperate climate with significant zonal aspects. Some regions have high humidity and low thermic amplitudes, dryer continental climate exists in other areas creating higher thermic amplitudes, while in the south and west the influence of the sub-Mediterranean warm and dry climate is felt. The average annual temperature is 8-10C, with frosty winters (-3 to -4C) and warm summers (21 to 22C), and an average annual precipitation of between 400-600 mm. In Romania there is a major part of the existing soil types in Europe and varying 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%) and alpine and subalpine ecosystems (1.2%).

3.3 Romania as Biological Meeting Place

Significant about Romania is that it is a meeting point between biogeographic regions - between arctic, alpine, west and central European, pannonic, pontic, balkanic, submediterranean and even eastern colchic, Caucasian and turanic-iranian. The biodiversity therefore contains components that are eastern (Caucasian/pontic), northern (boreal), southern (Mediterranean and Balkanic), and western (continental european and panonic).

Important about the biodiversity of Romania is that it is a major meeting place of ecosystems from each point of the compass. The steppe xerophyllous, halophyllous, psamophyllous grassland ecosystems and the xerophyllous bush ecosystems have a direct linkage in the east with the steppe ecosystems from Moldavia and Ukraine.

The silvosteppe ecosystems can be found in the east in Moldovia, in the south in Bulgaria, in the west in Hungary and Yugoslavia. The xerotherme broad-leaved forest ecosystems reflects the presence in the north of similar ecosystems from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. The mesophyllous broad-leaved forest ecosystems have very strong linkages with the forests from the peripheral hills from the Pannonian Plains in Hungary, from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, the mountainous Ukraine 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 mountains from the Balkanic peninsula.

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

3.4 Ecosystem Diversity

The extensive range of ecosystems types in Romania is largely the result of the influence of climate and elevation. Of major importance in affecting ecological conditions are the Carpathian mountains, 60% of which are in Romania. In total 17 major terrestrial ecosystem formations exist including all the major ecosystem types existing in Europe (see Appendix 2). There is also a rich diversity of aquatic ecosystems including river floodplains, glacial lakes, coastal wetlands, bogs, and mountain rivers. Map 2 depicts the 22 ecoregions identified in Romania.

In the more humid regions, at lower altitudes (up to 300 m), broad-leaved forest are predominant. In the less humid climate there are the steppe grasslands, and in the mixing zone between the two regions there is a zone of silvosteppe containing a mix of forests and grasslands. The elevation change brought about by the Carpathian mountains brings an abundance of biogeographical zones which include four main types; the nemoral - with broad-leaved forests, boreal (horizontal) with coniferous forests, subalpine (vertical), and alpine (vertical). This latter one contains grass and small bushes.

A rich hydrological network contributes to the enhancement of biodiversity (see Map 3). Over 1000 km of the Danube River and numerous tributaries flow through Romania. Where the river empties into the Black Sea the 580,000 ha Danube Delta (113,000 ha permanently covered by water) has been formed. This is the largest delta in Europe.

Romania also has a large portion of the Black Sea coast (228 km) and associated sand dune and coastal ecosystems. The over 8,000 caves, located primarily in the south-west of the country, add to the richness of the ecosystem diversity.

3.5 Species Diversity

Romania is rich in species diversity and in the quantity and quality of populations of various threatened and endangered species. In total about 3,700 species of higher plants exist in Romania. Among them, 23 species are declared as natural monuments, 74 species are extinct, 39 species are endangered, 171 species are vulnerable and 1,256 are rare species (according to the Red List of Higher Plants of Romania, elaborated by the Romanian Academy 1994). Grassland species include 37% of the total species represented. About 600 species of algae and a total of over 700 species of marine and coastal plants exist. Only about 600 of these species are associated with human cultivation. A very high percent 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 mostly in Romania). See Appendix 3.

Seventy-five percent of the endemic and subendemic species are found in the Carpathian mountains. Andryala levitomentosa, for example, can only be found in the Bistrita mountains, Dianthus callizonus only in Piatra Craiului, Astragalus peterfii only in Cluj county, Draba dorneri in Retezat mountains, and Diantus spiculifolius, Helictotrichon decorum can be found in 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 mountain massifs being declared as national parks.

Although Romania has a high level of plant diversity it is particularly important as a centre of population density for a variety of threatened and endangered animals. Of greatest significance is the high density of bears, wolves and lynx. The populations of these animals (which have been extirpated from most areas of Europe) are the highest of any country in Europe.

Originally wolves, bears and lynx were distributed over most of the European continent, However given the growth in human populations, 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.

About 40% of the European wolf population is found in Romania. Wolf (Canis lupus) populations exist in only four distinct areas of Europe, the northern Iberian peninsula (2,000), the Apenine and the Maritime Alps (400), the Dinarids (1,500) and the Carpathians (3,000).

Lynx populations (Lynx lynx) were eradicated from 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 in the seventies and eighties. The only healthy lynx populations in Europe, however, are in the Carpathians (1,000 - 1,500 individuals), Fennoscandinavia (more than 1,000) and in the Dinaric mountains (several hundreds). The Romanian population could therefore play an important role in preserving this species.

Brown bear (Ursus arctos) has also its population centre in Romania. Brown bears live today in four distinct European populations: Carpathians (about 6,000 individuals), Fennoscandinavia (about 1,300) and Dinaric Mountains (about 2,000). 60 % of the European brown bear population lives in Romania.

All three large carnivore species are a symbol for wild and natural habitats. Because of their ecological position at the top of the food pyramid they have a strong impact on the health of the ungulate community. A healthy ungulate population has in turn a large influence on plant communities and overall ecological health. The maintenance of a stable and healthy population of large carnivores in Romania provides a base for the repopulation of these species in other areas in Europe. A strategy for large carnivore protection in Europe is currently being developed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and involves Romanian participation.

In addition to large mammals, Romania has over 33,802 other species, sub-species and varieties of animals, out of which 33,085 invertebrates and 717 vertebrates. The vertebrates comprise a number of 191 species of fish, out of which 9 are endangered, 20 amphibian species, out of which 9 are endangered, 30 species of reptiles, out of which 6 are endangered, 364 species of nesting and migratory birds out of which 2 have disappeared and 6 are endangered and 102 species of mammals, out of which 2 have disappeared and 2 are endangered. Only 24 vertebrate species are declared as Natural Monuments, benefiting of total protection.

Almost all the European population of Red-Breasted Goose (Branta ruficolis), for example, winters in Romania and a major portion of the European population of the world threatened Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) nests in the Danube Delta. Included in the insect fauna are 227 species specifically adapted to the underground life in caves - 97% of which are endemic. Of the total Romanian fauna over 1,000 species are considered endemic although the geographical distribution of many species is only poorly known.

Similar to the situation for plants, many animals are represented in Romania by subendemic species. This includes red deer (Cervus elaphus montanus), wild boar (Sus scropha attilla), European hare (Lepus europeus transsilvanicus), chamois (Rupicapra rupricapa carapatica), Willow Tit (Parus montanus transilvanicus). The main centres for the endemic fauna are located in the mountain massif of Rarau-Giumalau, Haghimasul-Mare, Fagaras, Paring, Cernei, Semenic, Almaj, Bihor. (See Appendix 4).

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 mollusca, 21 endemic insects, subendemic sponges and a large number of worm, and crustacean species.

3.6 Genetic Diversity

In addition to being rich in species, Romania has a very high level of genetic diversity among many species because of varying habitat conditions. There are for example a large number of genotypes of Norway spruce, pine, beech, and oak. These genotypes have varying growth rates and resistance to disease and pests. Picea abies, Larix decidua, Pinus nigra are all represented by Carpathian races and there are distinct climatic types of Quercus robur, Picea abies and edaphic types of Quercus robur, Q. petraea, and Fraxinus excelsior. There is also generally a high level of intraspecific variation among insects within Romania.

3.7 Human Influence on the Landscape

Human activities have historically significantly modified the Romania landscape. These modifications have reduced the abundance of certain elements of the ecosystem (most notably steppe grasslands) and also added new components. Today arable land comprises 39.2% of the surface of the country and a large area of mesophyllous, hygrophylous and xerophyllous secondary natural grasslands have been formed - primarily in the mountains and hills (see Map 4). The forests now are about one-third of their previous extent as a result of human activity. Although the forests have been reduced in area, they 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 to agricultural use.

3.8 Economically Important Species

All of the 58 species of autochthonous 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. The spruce trees reach heights of 60 m and grow almost 10 cubic metres of wood annually/ha.

The beech grow in height up to 45 m and the pedunculate oak 40 m. Testing on the main tree species (spruce, fir, oak, common ash, maple, poplar and willow) has identified important genetic variation that is valuable in ensuring resistance to disease and pests. 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. This includes partridge, a variety of duck and geese, wild boar, red deer, and brown bear. Twenty-nine species of freshwater fish have economic value including pike, carp, zander, sturgeon, and perch. For many local populations the utilisation of biological resources continues to be important for their nutritional well-being and economic health.