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Sustainable Development and Technologies National Programme of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences


Habitat management for ecological sustainability: experimental studies in terrestrial ecosystems

Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN, SDG 15 is ” Life on land “, which explicitly calls for the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of ecosystems and ecosystem services. The work of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) synthesising existing knowledge is complementary to this. The focus areas of our planned research are within SDB 15, namely the sustainable management and restoration of different forest, grassland and arable ecosystems and the assessment of the impact of drought on grasslands. Our research is carried out in extensive national and international collaborations with BSc, MSc and PhD students from several universities (ELTE, MATE, SzTE, ÁOT), also including foreign students.

The project focuses on an experimental approach to test and demonstrate issues that contribute to the sustainability goals. Our research has already shown the importance of traditional, extensive grassland management for biodiversity and landscape conservation, and the diversity of Hungarian grasslands, which is outstanding in Europe. In addition to their economic use, forests have important conservation and recreational functions and ecosystem services, and therefore there is a growing emphasis on forest management practices that can provide timber and fire wood while maintaining the ecological functions and biodiversity of forests. Understanding the effects of climate change, especially drought in Hungary, and managing the problem is a fundamental task, which we targeted through field experimental research. ÖK ÖBI maintains three complex field experimental systems to understand the effects of grassland restoration, forest management and drought. (,,

Our aim is (1) to carry out the ecological research necessary for sustainable agriculture and to integrate the results into farming and policy. The starting point for our research is the so-called ecological intensification, which means that the processes necessary for farming, such as pest control or pollination, are not to be assisted by artificial means (e.g. agrochemicals), but by supporting natural processes and ecosystem services. In this way, natural enemies control pest infestations and wild bees ensure efficient pollination. We will monitor the populations of native pollinators and other arthropods, partly in our own experimental systems but also on a larger scale, and identify drivers of change in these populations through experiments and observations.

Our other main objective (2) is to promote the establishment of pollinators, butterflies, bees, etc. in the urban environment. We hypothesise that insect-friendly management of public spaces will increase pollinator insect populations. We have already established partnerships with several municipalities that want to help pollinators by different methods (less frequent mowing, sowing of diverse flower seed mixtures, installation of bee hotels). These urban studies offer a good opportunity for thesis work by university students.

Our third research objective (3) is to investigate the impact of weather extremes on grasslands, with a particular focus on the drought of 2022. Extreme weather events have occurred in the past, but will increase in frequency and intensity with climate change. In addition, many ecosystems are under threat from many other factors (overuse, pollution, biological invasions, climate change) and our previous studies have shown that these effects can be mutually reinforcing. Understanding the impact of increasingly severe extreme weather events on already stressed ecosystems is therefore crucial. Related to this is the question of how extreme conditions, such as heat waves, affect pollinator behaviour, potentially threatening populations and the food security provided by their ecosystem services.

In our fourth theme, we will continue sampling microclimate, soil conditions, the organism groups studied, and regeneration in the Pilis Business Mode Experiment (4a). We hypothesise that microclimatic differences across treatments will decrease as regeneration progresses. In the Pilis Lék experiment (4b), we expect a smaller increase in soil moisture in elongated gaps than in circular gaps, resulting in reduced understory growth and thus creating more favourable conditions for oak regeneration. Moreover, an increase in blackberry cover in the large circular plots may negatively affect both regeneration and understory composition.

Human and ecological sustainability of environments exposed to significant anthropogenic effects

In cities, aerosol particles resulting from resuspension of deposited road dust by moving vehicles and wind, and direct emissions from mechanical abrasion of vehicles, can contribute up to 30–50% of urban PM10. An on-line sampling method was developed to collect the respirable fraction of deposited road dust, allowing the application of previously unused analytical methods. Estimation of the contribution of the resuspended fraction to atmospheric PM10 has only been possible by modelling. In this research we will determine the contribution of this aerosol source type based on the chemical composition of the resuspended and atmospheric PM10. We will estimate the residence time of resuspended road dust using natural radionuclides in the atmosphere as tracers. In addition, toxicological tests will be carried out to determine the genetic and cell biological changes and DNA damage caused by resuspended road dust in humans. In addition to the scientific results, the identification of resuspended road dust in urban atmospheric PM10 and the determination of its contribution, residence time and effects on human health will have social and economic benefits, as it can help to develop effective measures by municipalities and authorities to protect urban air quality. The reduction of urban PM10 pollution can contribute to the reduction of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

In recent decades, the reproductive success of animals living in urban habitats has changed dramatically due to changes in food supply and the lack of natural food sources. Intense human disturbance could have a negative impact on the reproduction of urban populations; however, several animal species are rapidly adapting to the constant human presence and activities. This adaptation often becomes a source of conflict, and in order to find sustainable strategies for coexistence with urban animal populations, it is therefore necessary to explore the mechanisms that lead to the development of tolerance/bolder behaviour towards humans. In this new project, our main aim is to identify potential relationships between relevant local environmental conditions and the reproductive success, survival and behaviour of urban animals. Using a combined approach of fieldwork and radio-telemetry tracking, we are characterising the mortality and habitat use of fledgling birds and identifying the most favourable urban habitat types for this sensitive life stage. Our aim is to investigate the effects of anthropogenic food sources on the reproductive success, offspring development and health of urban birds. We will experimentally test whether rapid adaptation to human disturbance and increased risk-taking behaviour involves epigenetic mechanisms. Finally, we will investigate the effects of human disturbance at the community level, i.e. which species are sensitive to persistent disturbance and which are not. We hope that our studies will contribute to a better understanding of the effects of urbanisation on communities, the challenges faced by urban wildlife and the responses to these challenges. All of this is essential if we are to more effectively and sustainably conserve the original ecosystem in our built environment.

Our altered environment, caused by the extreme effects of climate change and scarcity of raw materials, is challenging in the short term. Preparing to anticipate and mitigate the social and economic impacts of unavoidable changes is essential. The key pillar is awareness raising, which is a prerequisite for the feasibility of mitigation and adaptation goals. In this research we will develop a methodology for measuring and assessing adaptation readiness, implement training topics related to adaptation readiness, implement online training formats in Hungarian and English, and finally train professionals with appropriate knowledge. A scientifically based and sophisticated information database will be created in Hungarian. The aim of this platform is to disseminate comprehensible visual, audio and written information on adaptation that will help prepare organisations, communities and individuals for the accelerating changes caused by the combined effects of the complex impacts of resource depletion and climate change, among other factors. The Credible Adaptation Platform, which presents the processes and interrelationships, and also makes it possible to understand the most important international research, enables the dissemination of credible and understandable visual, audio and written information related to adaptation. It facilitates discussion between stakeholders and helps them stay informed about changes by quickly processing and delivering up-to-date scientific information.

Sustainable cities: ecological and human aspects of urban biodiversity

Introduction and problem statement

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and this proportion is steadily increasing. Understanding how urban ecosystems function is essential to maintaining and improving urban quality of life and well-being. For city dwellers, these ecosystems are their daily, direct link with the living world and nature. The remaining urban natural habitats, waterfront corridors, small ponds, abandoned areas, managed parks, private gardens, balconies, and roof gardens are essential elements of the urban ecosystem. There is significant biodiversity associated with these habitats. In field studies and meta-analyses, the researchers of this project have found that species numbers of many groups of organisms decline significantly with urbanisation, particularly in the city centres, and that the urbanisation gradient significantly impacts animal behaviour. Urban habitats provide essential ecosystem services such as soil, water and air quality protection and climate regulation. High human population densities raise several water quality and water management issues related to increased water use (e.g. micropollutants, sewer smell).

Cities are home to complex community dynamics between humans and a wide range of living organisms, and urban reservoir hosts, vectors and pathogens pose an increased epidemiological threat to the human population living in cities. The high population density and the central commercial and transport role of cities facilitate the introduction of pathogens and vectors from remote areas and the rapid emergence of human-to-human infections. The heat island effect, especially combined with climate change, helps pathogens, their vectors and reservoir hosts to survive the winter months more easily.

In maintaining green and blue infrastructure and associated biodiversity in cities, the functional connections between habitats are crucial. In cities with well-connected green and blue infrastructure, the impact of urbanisation can be significantly reduced. A key question for this research is how methods developed for the restoration of natural habitats can be adapted to urban environments.

The aim of the research programme

The programme will examine the functioning of urban ecosystems, their human aspects and the interventions needed to maintain and restore their functioning within a coherent framework of three interrelated themes.

1. Exploring the biodiversity of urban habitats and understanding the functioning of urban ecosystems.
Our multi-taxon studies aim to explore the mechanisms that influence the biodiversity and ecosystem services of urban terrestrial and aquatic habitats.

Key research topics:
1.1 Multi-taxon analysis of biodiversity along an urban – suburban – rural gradient.
1.2 Pollinators in cities, biodiversity of flower strips and flower beds, factors influencing the composition and functioning of urban pollinator communities.
1.3 Mapping the biodiversity potential of urban ponds at national level and exploring the factors influencing the plant, animal and microbial communities in ponds.
1.4 Understanding the ecological strategies, conditions, and consequences of adaptation to urban lifestyles, through comparative analysis of the characteristics and behaviour of urban and rural populations.

2. Exploring the links between urban ecosystems and city residents and the human aspects of urban ecosystems.
Cities are home to complex community dynamics between humans and a wide range of living organisms, and human activity fundamentally impacts urban ecosystems. Our research aims to explore the diverse relationships and interactions between humans and urban ecosystems.

Key research topics:
2.1 Urban water supply, water quality, composition, functioning and metabolism in aquatic ecosystems.
2.2 Epidemiology of urban green spaces in relation to the risk of infection by mosquito- and tick-borne pathogens.
2.3 Investigating the human and animal health aspects of urban habitats by analysing national-level datasets collected in citizen science programmes.
2.4 Human-wildlife conflict in the built environment: road ecology studies.
2.5 Improving the quality of food crops for cultivation through the supplementation of deficiency elements.

3. Management and restoration of urban habitats, solutions to maintain and enhance biodiversity and functions of urban ecosystems.
Increasing the size and biodiversity of urban green spaces is a key objective of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. Our research examines how habitat restoration methods and nature-based solutions developed in natural areas can be applied in urban environments.

Key research topics:
3.1 Perspectives for urban green and blue infrastructure development; providing science-based guidance through developing evidence-based management plans.
3.2 Assessing the restoration potential of urban green infrastructure; cost-effectiveness analysis of restoration methods.
3.3 Explore the multi-taxon biodiversity associated with gardens and use the results to produce a science-based practical guide to designing nature-friendly gardens.

The research programme is closely linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals ‘Good Health and Well-being’, ‘Clean Water and Sanitation’, ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’, ‘Life on Land’. The results of our research can be integrated into urban green and blue infrastructure planning and urban design strategies.