Science and conservation for the world’s 2800 small mammal species

Vojvodina Blind Mole Rat may go extinct due to construction of a fence along the border between Hungary and Serbia

institute-for-nature-conservation-of-vojvodina-province

 

The Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province (INCVP), a conservation authority responsible for implementing conservation measures for the species in Serbia, explains more about this story:

 

 

What is the Vojvodina Blind Mole Rat?

The status and conservation of Mole Rats in the Carpathian Basin has for a long time caused headaches for experts. The reason for this difficulty over the taxonomy is as a result of the huge spatial isolation of populations whose individuals are morphologically similar, but cannot communicate or reproduce between each other.

In the 2008 IUCN Red List assessment the Lesser Blind Mole Rat (Spalax leucodon) was listed as Data Deficient because of this uncertainty and the assessment stated that taxonomy needed to be revised and that this would likely result in the species being split into several species. Blind Mole Rats live underground in long tunnels on steppe meadows and pastures. They very rarely leave these tunnels and eat underground parts of plants. Blind Mole Rats do not have external eyes, although there are rudimentary eyes under the skin. This way of life has resulted in genetic differences between the populations which are spatially isolated, and considered recently as separate species. The one dwelling in Bačka and Srem (Province of Vojvodina, Serbia) is called Vojvodina Mole Rat Nannospalax (leucodon) montanosyrmiensis making it the only endemic species of mammal in Vojvodina Province. If Nannospalax (leucodon) montanosyrmiensis is formally recognised as a species, then it will become one of the most threatened mammals in Europe. Although it is strictly protected by law, the Vojvodina Mole Rat is threatened by continual habitat destruction and fragmentation. For more information about the Vojvodina Mole Rat see the additional information at the bottom of this article.

Archive of INCVP

Vojvodina Mole Rat. Photo credit: INCVP

 

What is the distribution of the Vojvodina Blind Mole Rat?

Vojvodina Mole Rat lives on three sites which are isolated from one another. The first of these sites is in a protected area of Subotica Sands (~10 km to the north from Subotica), on the very borderline between Serbia and Hungary. Here it has a range of about 20ha, in which 60 individuals live. On the other side of the border in Hungary, between Asotthalom and Kelebia, populations survive in six localities on a total of 16ha, in which 90 animals live (results of census in 2010). Here the main pressure is fast development of agriculture, where ploughing causes fragmentation of suitable sites. The third site is on the slope of Fruška Gora, around Čortanovci and Stražilovo (Serbia), where a population of 100 animals lives on a 50ha area and where ploughing of Iand is again the main threat.

Vojvodina Blind Mole Rat habitat with mound in the foreground. Photo credit: INCVP

 

What is the proposed construction?

A fence along the borderline between Hungary and Serbia was announced and building has been initiated. The purpose of the fence is to try to prevent migrants from the Middle East and Africa from entering Hungary from Serbia. On the basis of available data the fence will be 4m high, will have a concrete foundation below the fence along its whole length, which will go down 2m into the ground. There is also a plan for constructing a concrete  road on the Hungarian side, while the Serbian side will be equipped with barbed wire.

For articles about the fence see: the Guardian & BBC websites.

 

Why is the fence a problem for the Vojvodina Blind Mole Rat?

If the fence is built, it will cause complete physical separation of the population living around the borderline, and will speed up its extinction. Dr. Attila Nemeth of the Research Group for paleontology of Hungarian Academy of Sciences, secretary of Mammal Protection Group of MME-BirdLife Hungary, explains the reasons why experts dealing with this species are concerned:

“It seems that not a single flightless animal will be able to cross the fence or pass under it. This is especially true for the Vojvodina Blind Mole Rat, which digs its tunnels usually 10 to 140cm deep. Even if some individuals leave their tunnels and come to the surface, the road will be a barrier that they can not cross (which is already proved in our research). For the vulnerable population of Vojvodina Blind Mole Rat this construction is definitely a threat to survival.“

He points out, however, that during and after the construction there are solutions which can eliminate, mitigate or compensate for possible negative consequences.

 

What actions are needed?

Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province is included in monitoring of Vojvodina Blind Mole Rat in the Subotica Sands Protected Area. Together with the site manager of this protected area (Palić-Ludaš PE) and land users, we have achieved the situation in which habitats of this species are managed completely in line with legal requirements. However, this new potential threat shows that even in protected areas the future for Vojvodina Blind Mole Rat in not safe.

The authorities in Hungary are called on to take into consideration the ecological needs of protected species during this fence building project. It must be borne in mind that the state border passes through conserved natural landscapes which are protected areas on both sides of it. Therefore, we invite all institutions and experts who can have any influence, to press for measures to prevent this permanent separation of these populations of this animal and of other terrestrial animals that may be affected.

We should point out even though in 1997 a joint ministerial protocol was signed between authorities of the two countries, which stated that all protected areas along the border should be part of transboundary protected area “Köros-ér”, this undertaking has still not been fulfilled. Finally, we would like to highlight that this fence will pose a barrier for movements of many other animals which live in the border region and are protected in both countries and at an EU level.

The Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province emphasises that when activities and projects in one country can potentially have negative influences on environment in other countries, there is a need for independent transboundary environmental impact assessments, as stated in the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in Transboundary context (Espoo Convention). Hungary signed this convention on 11 July 1997, and Serbia on 18 December 2007.

 

If you would like more information about this article please contact: Mag. Jadranka Delić, Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province, tel. ++381214896338, ++38166381496 jadranka.delic@pzzp.rs; Marko Tucakov, Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province, marko.tucakov@pzzp.rs, tel. ++381648500709 

Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province, Radnička 20a, 21000 Novi Sad, Serbia, www.pzzp.rs

 

Additional information:

http://www.palic-ludas.rs/2013/03/ponovo-vieno-slepo-kuce-na-subotickoj_6.html

http://euroconbio.blogspot.com/2013/12/last-chance-of-european-rodent-fate-of.html

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1186%2F2193-1801-2-2#page-1

http://www.revistas-conacyt.unam.mx/therya/index.php/THERYA/article/view/245/html_62