The initial idea of our project and the start of our research on true bugs of saline habitats in Vojvodina are described on pages containing details of projects from 2015 and 2017. The importance of insect communities and saline habitats, methods for their preservation and promotion of their natural values are also presented.
Instead of introduction
In a few year-long research on true bug fauna of saline habitats in the Pannonian Serbia, we learned a lot about habitat preferences of some species, distribution of saline specialists, environmental factors which determine the composition of true bug communities, but also, which species are the ones that can rarely be found in Serbia and deserve more attention of conservationists. Moreover, we gained a certain level of fieldwork experience, and in the new project, we were encouraged to focus more on research-based work and its application in studies on ecology and conservation of true bugs. The official title of our project is True Bugs of Halophytic Habitats in Vojvodina (Part III) – Elaboration of Rapid Assessment and Monitoring of Pannonian Saline Grasslands Based on True Bugs, and details about it can be found on the web site of the Rufford Foundation that supported it. Even though the project was shifted toward research, we did not want to neglect promotional activities that support insect conservation in Serbia and nature in general.
- the potential of using the rapid assessment as a method in the evaluation of the conservation status of saline grasslands,
- investigate how grass cutting in small plots affect present true bug communities in saline grasslands,
- promotion on conservation of saline habitats and true bugs,
- publication of the research results and reporting to the scientific community.
How true bugs can help us in the assessment of conservation status and quality of saline grasslands?
Insect abundance and species richness could highlight the diversity of microhabitats and resources present in a certain habitat. Additionally, most of the insects react quickly to changes in their environments, and some groups (like pollinators in grasslands – butterflies, bees, hoverflies) are typically used in ecological assessments. Especially rapid and specific responses are given by species highly adapted to particular environments or unique resources. Species of distinctive response to habitat changes are considered good bioindicators – the more specialized a species is, the more sensitive to environmental changes it is. As a result, the species has a higher indicating value, i.e. it is a more reliable indicator.
Considering that true bugs of saline grasslands are predominantly herbivorous, their responses to changes in plant cover are expectedly very rapid. In this case, vegetation is not simply a food source, it also defines habitat microclimate, provides protection from predators, overwintering and oviposition sites. Apart from that, true bugs are one of the most diverse insects in saline habitats, and for monitoring, management and conservation purposes it is extremely important to have a group that well represents local entomofauna. A large number of species and various functions true bugs have in saline grasslands, qualify these insects as good indicators of condition and quality of a habitat. Moreover, the lack of pollinators in saline grasslands additionally calls for use of surrogate indicators, like true bugs, in these environments.
Rapid assessment method based on true bugs
In the literature, this method is also mentioned as rapid bioassessment, rapid biological assessment, and rapid biodiversity assessment. In contrast to traditional faunal inventory, this method saves working time in the field and lab, but resources, as well. This is typically a non-destructive method and provides useful information about the conservation value of a certain habitat or a region.
In order to determine the conservation importance of existing saline grasslands in Vojvodina, we designed an evaluation protocol/questionnaire. The protocol is based on the identification of 8 target species of true bugs (saline specialists and rare steppe species, easy to identify in the field) which are listed in national red lists of the Pannonian countries and were previously recorded in Serbia. Alongside the true bug data, the protocol includes sections related to vegetation data, management and threatening factors. The evaluation aimed to provide, simply and effectively, reliable information on the importance of saline grassland for the local biodiversity. In this way, all conservation actions and protective measures could be accelerated and contribute to surviving of endangered saline grassland fragments in Vojvodina.
Mowing as an alternative to grazing
Low-intensity grazing is considered the best method in maintaining low-productive pastures such as saline grasslands. However, it is not always possible to apply this type of management, and there is a need for the application of grass cutting in some saline grasslands of Vojvodina.
How mowing affects saline grassland true bugs was already studied in Hungary, and results showed that removing vegetation from large areas of grasslands caused changes in the community structure of true bugs and differentiated communities of mowed and unmowed plots. In our research, we try to determine how mowing affects true bugs when vegetation is removed from small experimental plots which are surrounded by an untouched grassland. Additionally, we want to investigate how grass cutting or absence of it affects microclimate (air humidity and temperature in the ground layer) in saline grasslands during the different parts of a season. Differences in true bug community structure of mowed and unmowed grassland parts could inform us if this type of management is suitable, can it be applied in insect conservation of saline grasslands and biodiversity conservation in general.
For the purposes of project promotion and popularisation of true bugs and their saline habitats in Vojvodina, we planned to organize a photo-exhibition with a short opening lecture to present the microworld of saline habitats and all beauties of these unique Panonnian landscapes. However, the current coronavirus crisis postponed the activity for later safer times and we will inform all interested parties about it via HabiProt’s web site and Facebook page.
We also prepared a brochure to familiarize the general public with the importance of existing saline habitats in Serbia, the threatening factors they are facing nowadays, why we need true bug studies and how true bugs can help us in the preservation of saline habitat fragments.
Scientific presentations and publications
- In March 2019 we gave a lecture True Bugs (Insecta, Heteroptera) of Saline Grasslands in Pannonian Serbia on our projects and research results to students (Masters in Ecology) at the Department of Ecology, University of Szeged. The lecture aimed to motivate young people to start similar research projects in the field of ecology and nature conservation.
- In August 2019 we presented our work at the Student Conference on Conservation Science – SCCS Europe 2019 with an oral presentation titled The role of landscape composition and management in shaping true bug communities of Serbian saline grasslands. The conference was organized by the Hungarian MTA Centre for Ecological Research in Tihany at Balaton Lake (Hungary).
- In September 2019 we gave an oral presentation at the 12th Symposium of Entomologists of Serbia in Niš. The title of our presentation was The role of true bugs (Heteroptera) in the rapid assessment of alkaline pastures in Vojvodina.
- In November 2020 our article on highly nested communities of true bugs in saline grasslands was published. More information about the article can be found here.
- In February 2021 a comprehensive article on the fauna of true bugs in saline habitats of Vojvodina and new species in Serbia was accepted, and this publication you can find here.
The project is run by HabiProt members again, with Jelena Šeat as the project coordinator and Bojana Nadažnin. Occasionally other people joined us and helped in the organization of the project activities – our colleagues, friends and family members – therefore, we would like to use this opportunity and thank them all, individuals and organisations – Ivan Tot, Tanja Tomić, David Grabovac, Anita Sučić (The Association for the Protection of Great Bustard), Ranko Perić, Kalman Moldvai, Department of Ecology (University of Szeged), PE “Palić-Ludaš”, Institution “Nature Reserves” Zrenjanin, Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province.
If you want to share your experiences on true bugs and saline habitats, or you want to know more about our project, please contact us by e-mail email@example.com.