Assessment of the conservation value of dry grassland habitats in the Inhulets River basin (Central Ukraine) based on vegetation and spider research
Dry grassland ecosystems are highly fragmented in Ukraine and increasingly threatened from intensification of farming practices. Evaluation of the habitat conservation importance based on multitaxon studies allows for optimizing selection of priority sites. We studied xerothermic habitats in the Kryvorizkyi Iron Ore Basin, an area of intensive mining and steel industry. Despite the high anthropogenic impact, the region has preserved areas of natural vegetation. Botanical research has been conducted since 2012, while spiders were investigated for the first time in 2017. In the four study sites, we recorded 265 vascular plant species and 95 spider species, including 23 protected plant species and 19 rare spider species. The studied habitats of forb-fescue-feather grass, petrophytic, meadow steppes, steppe scrub and siliceous rocks are under protection of the Bern Convention. Both vegetation and spider communities of the site Zelena Gully are well preserved and rich in rare and threatened species (18 plant and 11 spider species), which confirms its value as a priority site of the Emerald Network. Chervona Gully and the Slate Rocks should be included in the network. Frequent fires and intensive grazing in Khrystoforova Gully affect the spider diversity, decreasing the number of specialist and rare species, while early flowering plants benefit from this disturbance. Nevertheless, its vegetation is poorer than in Zelena and Chervona gullies. Inclusion in the Emerald Network is critically important to the investigated sites, since expansion of mining activities is constantly threatening natural habitats in industrial regions. The control of burning, grazing and recreation will contribute to maintaining biodiversity in the protected areas.
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