Balázs Deák, Csaba Albert Tóth, Ádám Bede, Iva Apostolova, Tatyana M. Bragina, Ferenc Báthori and Miklós Bán
Eurasian steppes have an essential role in conserving biodiversity, but due to the huge habitat loss in the past centuries they are often preserved only in small refuges. Among such refuges are the ancient steppic burial mounds (the so called ‘kurgans’) which have a high cultural and historical importance and are also essential sites of nature conservation. Despite their high number (approximately half million) and conservational importance there is a huge lack of knowledge on the locality and conservational state of the kurgans in most regions of Eurasia. To fill this knowledge gap, we built a public database which allows to record and query basic information on their cultural values and factors (such as land cover type, threatening factors, cover of woody species) that might serve as a basis for their effective conservation. The database provides a transparent, public and easy-to-use source for conservation managers and landscape planners focussed on grassland conservation. In addition, it also provides background information for other associate disciplines and public agencies dealing with the protection of cultural heritage.
Csaba Albert Tóth, Balázs Deák, István Nyilas, László Bertalan, Orsolya Valkó and Tibor József Novák
Prehistoric mounds of the Great Hungarian Plain often function as refuges for relic loess steppe vegetation and their associated fauna. The Zsolca mounds are a typical example of kurgans acting as refuges, and even though they are surrounded by agricultural land, they harbour a species rich loess grassland with an area of 0.8 ha. With a detailed field survey of their geomorphology, soil, flora and fauna, we describe the most relevant attributes of the mounds regarding their maintenance as valuable grassland habitats. We recorded 104 vascular plant species, including seven species that are protected in Hungary and two species (Echium russicum and Pulsatilla grandis) listed in the IUCN Red List and the Habitats Directive. The negative effect of the surrounding cropland was detectable in a three-metre wide zone next to the mound edge, where the naturalness of the vegetation was lower, and the frequency of weeds, ruderal species and crop plants was higher than in the central zone. The ancient man-made mounds harboured dry and warm habitats on the southern slope, while the northern slopes had higher biodiversity, due to the balanced water supplies. Both microhabitats had different assemblages of ground-dwelling invertebrates.