Species distribution models (SDMs) allow us to address fundamental questions in ecology and conservation by allowing us to connect a species known occurrences to its environment (e.g. climate, topography, land cover, and landscape and vegetation metrics). These data allow us to create and validate a model for each species (e.g. using Maxent), producing a habitat suitability map that tells us how likely a species is to occur in a given location. We can then project how the distribution of that species might change as the environment changes. Students will have access to our extensive dataset that includes occurrence data, which have been collected annually for 2013 – 2019 for several taxa (birds, plants, butterflies, and small mammals), as well as environmental geospatial data. Students will also actively contribute to this dataset in the field. This project might focus on one taxon (e.g. birds), a group of species within a taxon (e.g. birds within a certain feeding guild or family), or multiple taxa (e.g. birds and butterflies), depending on interests and conservation relevance. The resulting models and maps provide key communication tools in the context of managing this changing landscape.
If you would like to do a dissertation or thesis with us but your university hasn’t started dissertation planning or the project selection process, that’s no problem. You can cancel your expedition with zero cancellation charges up until the 15th of April of if you provide documentation from your university saying that they won’t support completing a dissertation project with us.
The foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania are one of the most spectacular and biodiverse areas in Europe. The species-rich landscape has been nurtured by the low intensity farming practices stretching back up to 900 years. However, since Romania joined the European Union there was a gradual depopulation of the countryside coupled with moves to increase the efficiency of farming by combining fields and more intensive agricultural practices. To mitigate against these areas of outstanding natural beauty in the foothills of the Carpathians being affected by intensification, the EU offered farmers grants to continue farming using traditional techniques to maintain the landscape. The Opwall teams in Transylvania are working with a local NGO called ADEPT and a series of scientists monitoring whether farming practices and biodiversity are changing in a series of eight valleys within the Tarnava Mare region. Changes in farming practices such as any moves to silage production, removal of hedges, usage of fertilisers and pesticides or drainage of wetland areas are being monitored since they could have a big impact on the biodiversity. Direct monitoring of the biodiversity of groups such as meadow plant indicator species, butterflies, birds, small mammals and large mammals such as bears are also being monitored as part of this programme.
The Transylvania expedition is a mobile one, spending only a week each in eight different villages scattered through the Tarnarva Mare.
Each village is unique in its own way, and facilities do vary from one to another. For the majority the conditions are relatively basic with tented accommodation and long drop toilets, as you are staying in the gardens and on the properties of local farmers rather than actual campsites. For others however the expedition is in guesthouses or more prepared accommodation and campsites. As the village order is only finalized a couple of months prior to the expedition, we can only give an indication of where you may be going during the training presentation in March/April.
The weather is generally good, averaging the mid-twenties for the majority of the summer – although it can get very hot occasionally. As the expedition is Europe, rain is also a possibility!