Dianthus diutinus – Hungary

Endemic to the Pannonian biogeographical region, Dianthus diutinus inhabits open patchworks of grassland and scattered stands of forests, and is nowadays only found in the area between the Danube and Tisza rivers in central Hungary. The majority of its habitat has been afforested and fragmented by large-scale pine tree plantations, and degraded due to the spread of invasive alien species. As a result, the population size of Dianthus diutinus had shrunk to approximately 20,000 individuals by 2007, consisting of 10 small and isolated subpopulations. The LIFE project HUNDIDI implemented measures that eventually improved the population size and the quality of the habitat of Dianthus diutinus. The population reached 97,738 individuals by the end of the LIFE project in 2011. In addition, the area of interconnected and unbroken habitat for the species has increased to 455 ha.

Challenges addressed

The main threats to the species result from habitat loss and fragmentation, which have occurred due to afforestation and forestry activity, and habitat degradation. As a result of the large-scale afforestation activities that were carried out in the second half of the 20th century, the area of shifting sand dunes that used to be characteristic of the region has declined greatly. Remnants of the former sand vegetation (including Dianthus diutinus) have survived only in patches. Habitat loss and fragmentation resulted in a declining population size and an increasing isolation of subpopulations, which reduced genetic diversity. In 2008, 70% of the total population of Dianthus diutinus could be found in alien forest plantations (pine trees): between the tree lines, at the side of forestry roads and in small grassland patches (maximum 1 ha) between forested areas. The spread of invasive alien species poses the greatest threat, with the rapid expansion of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Black Locust (Robinia pseudo-acacia), Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) and Black Cherry (Prunus serotina).

Objectives

The main objective of the LIFE project HUNDIDI was to stabilise 85% of the presently known stands of the target species, Dianthus diutinus. This percentage relates to the number of individuals in populations inside the three project areas based on the Species Conservation Action Plan compiled in 2004. In order to reverse the continuous decrease of the population caused by habitat diminution and isolation of the subpopulations, the project aimed to create a semi-natural habitat network by enlarging and connecting present habitats at the three most important sites for the species: Bodoglár, Bócsa, Csévharaszt. These sites would not be affected by forestry activity. Informing the general public about the importance of these unique habitats was considered vital for improving the long-run survival of this species.

Planned and implemented measures

A first set of key measures under LIFE HUNDIDI concerned the restoration of degraded and fragmented habitats, which consisted of thinning/clearing alien tree plantations of Black Pine, Black Locust and Tree of Heaven, and eliminating Common Milkweed in grassland areas at the three project sites. As regards the restoration of grasslands, mechanical methods were used in combination with the precise application of chemical treatments to eliminate the Common Milkweed. To avoid damaging the native vegetation, the treatment method was selected according to the density of the Common Milkweed stands and the natural status of the vegetation. In high nature value areas with few Common Milkweed plants, the leaves were treated with chemicals individually by brush, while the dense, heavily invaded areas were sprayed. Treatments were applied 2-3 times annually and resulted in a 90% decrease of the invaded area compared to 2007, and in a significant decrease in the density of surviving populations.

In parallel to the habitat restoration work, reintroduction of Dianthus diutinus, in collaboration with the University of Szeged was undertaken. The original aim was the ex situ propagation and re-establishment of 15,000 individuals in order to stabilize the size of the three natural populations, and to build up continuity between the natural patches with the newly planted individuals. One month after germination the seedlings were transplanted individually in growing pots and after two weeks of acclimation in a greenhouse, were planted out in good quality open perennial grasslands areas. The young plants were planted in patches, with the research team paying attention to making the pattern of plant patches similar to that of natural ones. Between autumn 2007 and spring 2011, the planting was repeated annually, so as to establish a plant stand with varying age structure, and comparisons were made of the survival of plants in the spring and autumn plantings.

In total, 18,777 of such ex situ raised plants were reintroduced to three project sites with survival rates varying from 10% to 80% depending on the season and the site. Consequently, these measures were considered to be highly successful and complementary to the habitat restoration work.

Stakeholder involvement

In addition to the habitat restoration and ex-situ conservation activities, public awareness raising and stakeholder mobilisation were important supporting measures that were implemented as part of the LIFE HUNDIDI project and contributed to its success. The long-term survival prospects of the target species was improved by informing the general public about the importance of its unique habitat. Over the course of the project, eight regional meetings with local foresters were held in order to ensure that their activities respect nature conservation goals. The information campaign also entailed the production of a wide range of materials and the installation of 17 information boards at the project sites and in the town of Kiskunmajsa and at the Botanical Garden of the Szeged University. The project also produced a film that was broadcasted five times on national TV channels. The project’s results were also presented at nine scientific events, both in Hungary and abroad, and in six scientific articles. Finally, a nature trail was established at Bodoglár in order to get visitors, both locals and tourists, acquainted with the strictly protected plant, its habitats and the conservation measures needed for their long-term survival. The trail had great demonstrational value, since the constructed board-walk and information boards provide a unique opportunity for visiting the area in an organised way without causing any soil or vegetation damage, both as self-organized or guided trips. It also demonstrated the fruitful cooperation of project partners and drew attention to the importance of the Natura 2000 network and locals involvement in the long-term protection of Dianthus diutinus.

Key achievements and impacts

Monitoring activities carried out as part of LIFE HUNDIDI show that a significant increase in the population size of Dianthus diutinus had occurred by 2011. Furthermore, habitat restoration extended the interconnected and unbroken habitat area for the target species to 455 ha.

It is important to stress that this increase in numbers was attributed not only to the success of the restoration activities but also to the intensive fieldwork, which led to the discovery of new populations. Over the course of LIFE HUNDIDI, four new populations of Dianthus diutinus were found, including one with more than 10,000 individuals. Therefore, the improvement in the conservation status of Dianthus Diutinus is not only genuine but also a result of better knowledge.

Other impacts relate to the construction of the high-quality, freely accessible, nature trail on the Bodoglár site (1.5 km). The nature trail was established in order to get visitors acquainted with the protected endemic plant and its habitat.

The nature conservational value of Dianthus diutinus has been estimated at 250,000 HUF.

Costs and financing

The LIFE HUNDIDI project is the only known source of funding for the conservation measures taken for the species. It represented a total budget of €1,630,785, with an EU contribution of €1,223,088. Although the LIFE project played the primary role in achieving the improvement in the species’ conservation status, the total costs of all the contributory conservation measures unknown.

As regards the activities carried out as part of the After-LIFE Conservation Plan, costs were born by the Kiskunság National Park, from its regular budget. To fund future activities, the National Park is considering applying for a new LIFE project.

Lessons learned

The key targeted conservation measures that led to the improvements

  • Artificial forest restructuring with indigenous species: thinning of pine woodland; creation of corridors and interconnections between habitat patches and population stands.
  • Eradication of alien plant species Common Milkweed and Black Locust through plant control methods.
  • The nursery for ex situ propagation of Dianthus diutinus.
  • Ex situ propagation and re-establishment of Dianthus diutinus.

Conservation measures that have not been sufficiently effective

  • More research on population dynamics is needed for lasting results

Factors that supported the conservation measures

  • Establishment of good cooperation with forestry authorities.
  • Changes in the forestry regulations making the total deforestation of non-native trees and use of the areas for nature conservation easier.
  • Excellent cooperation with the LIFE HUNDIDI project partner - Botanic Garden University of Szeged, fully devoted to the project.
  • Very good cooperation with the local government.
  • Proper monitoring, but also detailed site surveys within the possible occurrence of the species, allowing the detection of new populations.
  • Awareness raising campaigns with attractive ideas.

Factors that constrained conservation measures

  • Knowledge gaps in relation to the species’ population dynamics, biology, seed production and the role of pollinators.
  • The growing game population.

Quick wins that could be applied elsewhere for the species

  • Ex situ restoration demonstrated that for some plant species, large numbers of seedlings can be grown and successfully planted, thereby bolstering existing small populations.

Examples of good practice, which could be applied to other species

  • Timely and smooth combination of proper restoration of the habitat of the species with support in ex situ conservation activities.

Reference information

The information presented here is based on the work done as part of the European Commission study on identifying the drivers of successful implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives (under contract ENV.F.1/FRA/2014/0063), carried out by the Institute for European Environmental Policy, BirdLife International, Deloitte, Denkstatt, Ecologic, ICF Consulting Services and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. The information and views set out in this case study are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Commission.

Their sources include:

Bankovics A & Mile O (2012) The LIFE-Project ”Conservation of the Pannon endemic Dianthus diutinus”. Steppenlebensräume Europas - Gefährdung, Erhaltungsmaßnahmen und Schutz, pp 401-407.Available at: https://www.thueringen.de/imperia/md/content/tmlnu/themen/naturschutz/steppenrasen/tagungsband2012/36_bankovics_mile.pdf

Bilz, M, Kell, S P, Maxted, N and Lansdown, R V (2011) European Red List of Vascular Plants. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Király, G & Stevanović, V (2011) Dianthus diutinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2011: e.T161924A5514465. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2011-1.RLTS.T161924A5514465.en

Kiskunsági Nemzeti Park (KNP) (undated) LIFE HUNDIDI project website. http://longlastingpink.eu/.

LIFE HUNDIDI Layman report. http://longlastingpink.eu/uploads/layman_angol.pdf.

LIFE HUNDIDI 3rd Progress Report Covering the project activities from 01.10.2009 to 31.10.2010. http://www.tartosszegfu.hu/uploads/3%20progress%20report%20HUNDIDI.pdf.

LIFE HUNDIDI Final Technical Report Covering the project activities from 01.09.2006 to 31.12.2011, PP 8

Németh A, Mihalik E, Makra O, Balogh L, Szatmári M (2011) Conservation of the Pannon endemic Dianthus diutinus Kit. with ex situ and in situ methods. Proc Ex situ propagation and reestablishment of the Pannonian endemic Dianthus diutinus. Contribution of the Botanic Garden of the University of Szeged to the implementation of the LIFE06 NAT/H/000104 project. Steppe Oak Woods and Pannonic Sand Steppes. Available online at: http://wwf.hu/media/file/1318412920_Conference_abstract_book.pdf).

Vidéki R, and Máté A (2005) Dianthus diutinus Species Action Plan.