Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences | Geography Department | Biogeography | News | Potential European bison habitat in Germany

Potential European bison habitat in Germany

Tobias Kuemmerle | Benjamin Bleyhl | Wanda Olech | Kajetan Perzanowski

 

European bison (Bison bonasus) were historically a part of the fauna of Germany, yet these charismatic animals and the role they played in ecosystems were lost until their recent reintroduction. The species is globally threatened, and is still recovering from a severe population decline and its subsequent extinction in the wild at the beginning of the 20th century. Identifying areas where additional European bison populations could be established within the former range of this species is therefore an important goal for the conservation of European bison.

Here, we carried out what is to our knowledge the first regional, yet fine-scale habitat suitability analysis for European bison for Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. We chose this region because it allows using data on bison habitat use from some of the oldest and largest extant wild populations of European bison. We compiled the largest dataset of European bison occurrence points ever collected for this purpose, consisting of more than 340,000 points from radio-collars or field observations and included these data in a habitat suitability modeling framework based on state of the art, non-parametric modeling techniques.

Our results suggest that suitable European bison habitat is widespread in Germany, but mainly occurs in small, and often isolated patches. However, we identified a few promising candidate sites for larger populations of European bison. These areas were generally characterized by several larger patches of suitable habitat, low levels of human population and fragmentation due to roads, existing protected areas that entail large shares of the identified suitable European bison habitat, and a high potential for nature tourism.

The identified sites with such characteristics in our assessment were, ordered from North to South, (1) Müritz-Schorfheide, (2) the area around Celle/Hermannsburg, (3) the area between Spreewald, Cottbus, and Guben, (4) the Harz Mountains, (5) Thüringer Wald, (6) Spessart, (7) Pfälzer Wald, (8) Bayerischer Wald, (9) Schwarzwald, and (10) the Bavarian Alps. Among these, four sites - Müritz-Schorfheide, the Spreewald-Cottbus-Guben area, the Harz Mountains, and the Pfälzer Wald – were the most promising ones. Although the exact area of suitable habitat cannot be determined, our conservative estimation suggests that each of these sites harbors substantially more than 100 km² of suitable habitat. These sites should therefore be investigated, using more fine-scale habitat assessments sensitive to habitat quality and habitat connectivity. Should the potential of these sites be confirmed by such fine-scale, more local-scale assessments, a detailed feasibility study should complement the habitat assessment to assess in detail the human dimensions, population genetics and viability, budgetary, and legal components related to a potential reintroduction project in any of these sites.

 

Link to HU press release

Link to download study

 

                                   bison_study_site_map.tif

                              Overview of the 10 candidate sites in Germany (numbered from north to
                              south without order of preference). (1) Müritz-Schorfheide, (2) the area
                              around Celle/Hermannsburg, (3) the area between Spreewald, Cottbus, and
                              Guben, (4) the Harz Mountains, (5) Thüringer Wald, (6) Spessart, (7) Pfälzer
                              Wald, (8) Bayerischer Wald, (9) Schwarzwald, and (10) the Bavarian Alps.