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BioFresh European Pond Database: new support for pond conservation

May 28, 2014
A pond in Swarzynice, Poland.  Image: Mohylek, Wikipedia

A pond in Swarzynice, Poland. Image: Mohylek, Wikipedia

One of the key outputs of the BioFresh project is an online portal which hosts databases on the biodiversity and function of freshwaters across Europe, which can be downloaded and used to help scientists, land managers and policy makers make informed decisions about freshwater conservation and restoration.  BioFresh has recently published new datasets on the biodiversity of 460 European ponds, collected from scientific literature and unpublished sources.

Ponds are unique habitats, generally small, shallow, and highly interlinked with their surrounding environment, and can support a surprisingly large range of biodiversity.  The Freshwater Habitats Trust suggests that over two-thirds of British freshwater species can be found in these often tiny habitats which pockmark gardens, parks, woodland and fields.  Ponds provide pockets of habitat for a diverse range of freshwater species including dragonflies, frogs, newts and wetland birds, and can be created or reclaimed from marginal and degraded patches of land, such as in Million Ponds project.

However, ponds are not covered by the European Union’s main freshwater conservation policy The Water Framework Directive, and as such there are no strong regulations in place to protect and conserve them.  As many ponds sit within urban and agricultural landscapes they are vulnerable to pollution.  The Freshwater Habitats Trust suggest that over 50% of the UK’s ponds were filled in, drained or otherwise lost during the 20th century.

In response to these threats to unique pond ecosystems, The European Pond Conservation Network was set up in 2004 to promote the conservation of ponds and their biodiversity in Europe.  The network, with members from European Universities and NGOs, has initiated new scientific research into the importance of pond habitats in supporting biodiversity and providing ecosystem services.  The EPCN website explains in its ‘rationale‘ section that ponds not only provide important habitat for freshwater species, they also help connect different freshwater ecosystems as ecological ‘stepping stones’ across the landscape, and provide freshwater environments ‘close to home’ for people to experience, study and enjoy in urban areas – an important link between nature and culture.

For the pond database, BioFresh researchers collected data from a number of sources.  Sebastian Birk describes the process: “we used peer-reviewed papers (e.g. those triggered by the European Pond Conservation Network) and grey literature (scientific reports) to provide species lists; various researchers provided their personal data collections (highly appreciated!); we were provided with the unique PLOCH (a method of sampling ponds) dataset that covered many ponds in Switzerland; and there was always a very supportive communication with the EPCN researchers.”

The BioFresh European Pond Database, which can be freely downloaded and shared, provides an important new resource for conservationists and policy makers seeking to understand the ecological importance and diversity of ponds across Europe.  However, it is limited by differences in sampling techniques from data sources (e.g. there was no common measure of species abundance), and covers only a small percentage of the thousands of pond ecosystems across Europe.  That said, it is an important and useful step in the right direction as part of a wider movement to help raise awareness of the importance of ponds, and conserve the wildlife that they support.

Some interesting links:

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