Biodiversity in numbers
Belarus has considerable biodiversity capacity in terms of animal and plant diversity. According to the 2005 data, natural vegetation occupies 62.2% of Belarus. The plant world is represented by forest (7.8 million ha), grassland (3.3), scrub (0.49), mire vegetation (0.92) and aquatic vegetation (0.48) (1,4).
The Republic of Belarus is a country of peatlands. Forty years ago, peat bogs and wetlands covered approximately 14% of the country. In later decades, over 50% of peatlands were drained for agriculture, forestry and peat extraction. In Belarus only, mismanagement of peatlands has resulted in degradation of up to 600 thousand hectares (3).
The mire vegetation is dominated by formations of eutrophic mires (fen mires) with a 61.1% share of their total area, followed by mesotrophic (transitional) mires - 20.7%, and then oligotrophic mires (raised bogs) – 18.2%. Eutrophic mires are predominant in the Polesie Area, oligotrophic mires – in the Poozerie Area, mesotrophic mires are mostly confined to the country’s central part (1).
Over recent decades the mire vegetation has undergone some major changes. Mires were the key target of a drainage campaign that subsequently transformed them into land suitable for agricultural uses. Open and scrub-overgrown fen mires bore the brunt of that campaign, to a lesser degree – transitional mires and raised bogs. The Belarusian Polesie Area and central parts of the country were most intensively reclaimed. Here the area of open and scrub-overgrown mires was more than halved in 40 years. The size of raised bogs also shrank considerably due to their reclamation for peat extraction purposes (1).
In the context of the global warming problem mire landscapes of Belarus have recently started playing a special role as effective sinks of СО2. While removing carbon from the atmosphere, mires produce methane, thereby regulating climate to a certain extent. While carbon dioxide sources are tropical countries (India, Brazil, Australia), Belarus is one of the strongest СО2 sinks in terrestrial ecosystems. This indicates how important mires are in the carbon cycle and stresses the need for sustainable use and protection of mire ecosystems. Ecologically, oligotrophic raised bogs of the Belarusian Poozerie are particularly valuable: their largest groups (Yelnya, Osveyskoe, Yukhovichskoye, Golubitskaya Pushcha, Domzheritskoe, etc.) are included in the current or planned national reserves (1).
Earthwatch scientists are researching bogs in Belarus to determine the impacts of climate change on bog species composition, hydrology and functioning, in order to define conservation management actions that conserve or enhance the bogs’ ability to sequester and store carbon. 20% of the world’s terrestrial carbon is stored in northern hemispheric bogs. Globally, bogs have undergone significant reduction and damage (primarily caused by drainage for agriculture and peat extraction for use in horticulture). All natural bogs have been eliminated in the Netherlands and Poland, while Switzerland and Germany each have only 500 hectares of remaining bogs and, in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, nearly 90% of peatlands have been destroyed. Destruction of bogs causes the stored carbon to be released back into the atmosphere, thereby increasing the potential for climate change in a ‘positive feedback’ loop (2).
Vulnerabilities - Terrestrial biodiversity
Climate change will result in a greater probability of mass breeding of forest pests, both primary (gipsy moth, nun moth, sawfly, burdock borer, tussock moth, tortrix, etc.) and secondary (first of all, eighttoothed bark beetle and its satellites). Risk of emergence and damage of late spring frost due to earlier beginning of vegetation will also increase (1).
The gene pool of forests’ boreal flora and fauna will reduce. The forest-steppe and steppe flora will expand into forest ecosystems. Biodiversity will enrich through thermo- and xerophilous species of European-Small Asian and European Siberian – Aral and Caspian biotic complexes. Plant productivity will grow as a result of lower СО2 limitation stemming from its higher concentration in the atmosphere (1).
Active shrub overgrowth of mires due to a generally lower level of groundwater and more intense evaporation occurs naturally and can be evaluated as a positive development in terms of increasing forest resources. Although no quantitative analysis of this phenomenon has been undertaken, the available experience from planning a number of reserves indicates overgrowth of all categories of open mires with pine, white birch, willow, black alder, spruce. Normally, there is 15 – 30% overgrowth depending on the type of mire and the extent to which it has been drained. Ecologically, however, this process is likely to be evaluated as a negative one, since it leads to a loss of the most valuable, critical wetlands supporting a considerable number of plant and animal species that are unable to survive in other conditions (1).
Vulnerabilities - Fresh water and wetlands biodiversity
Increasing “thermal pressures” on rivers and water reservoirs are likely to speed up the eutrophication process. The alteration of species composition (groups) of phytoplankton towards species (groups) with a higher temperature optimum (e.g. cyanobacteria) poses great danger to the quality of drinking water. Warming will affect fish stock. A steady rise of water temperature in shallow reservoirs will lead to weight loss of the fish that prefer to live in cold waters causing numerous fish to die. As water levels drop in rivers and lakes, there will be an increased concentration of 137Cs and 90Sr radioisotopes in surface water sources of the Dnieper and Pripyat basins located in the Gomel and Mogilev Regions (1).
Peatlands can be restored by rewetting degraded peatlands. In the long term up to 30 tons of CO2eq per hectare may be stored annually. Large-scale peatland restoration in Belarus is aimed for (approx. 500 thousand hectares), and the experience may be exported to other countries in the region (3).
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Belarus.
- Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus (2006)
- www. Earthwatch.org
- Tarasenko (downloaded from internet 15-08-2011)
- Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus (2009)