Environmental heterogeneity increases the conservation value of karst dolines - Our new paper in Science of the Total Environment


Our new paper, about the biodiversity-environmental heterogeneity relationships in karst landscapes by Zoltán Bátori has recently been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

The citation of the paper:

Bátori, Z., Valkó, O., Vojtkó, A., Tölgyesi, C., Farkas, T., Frei, K., Hábenczyus, A.A., Tóth, Á., Li, G., Rádai, Z., Dulai, S., Barta, K., Erdős, L., Deák, B. (2023): Environmental heterogeneity increases the conservation value of small natural features in karst landscapes. Science of the Total Environment 872: 162120. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.162120 [IF2021: 10.753]

The paper is open access and can be freely downloaded from the journal homepage (please click here).

In the summer of 2021, we joined the research project of Zoltán Bátori and sampled the vegetation of karst dolines in the Bükk-plateau in North-Hungary. The study sites is a fascinating place with beautiful landscape, and outstandingly species-rich vegetation. It was a great pleasure to work in this nice environment and in a very good company :)

We investigated the relationship between the environmental parameters and vegetation composition of the dolines. Thes are small but very heterogeneous natural features, which harbour various micro-habitats in the north-, east-, south- and west-facing slopes and doline bottom, which are all different from the plain grasslands in terms of species composition, soil parameters and microclimatic conditions. Our results showed that thanks to this high environmental heterogeneity, the dolines provide suitable habitat conditions for species with various ecological requirements, thus, these small natural features act as biodiversity hotspots in the landscape. Our favourite landmarks, 'kurgans' (ancient steppic burial mounds) in the plain regions have similar ecological functions (we wrote about this topic in this blog post).


Local biodiversity hotspots are often located within regions where extreme and variable environmental - e.g., climatic and soil - conditions occur. These areas are conservation priorities. Although environmental heterogeneity is recognised as an important determinant of biodiversity, studies focusing on the effects of multiple environmental heterogeneity components in the same ecosystem are scarce. Here we investigate how topography and related microclimatic variables and soil properties may influence the biodiversity and conservation value of karst landscapes. Karst landscapes of the world contain millions of dolines (i.e. bowl- or funnel-shaped depressions) that may function as 'small natural features' with a disproportionately large role in maintaining biodiversity relative to their size. We assessed the diversity of microclimates, soils and vegetation and their relationships in six microhabitats (south-facing slopes, east-facing slopes, west-facing slopes, north-facing slopes and bottoms of dolines, and the adjacent plateau) for nine large dolines in a grassland ecosystem. Although there were remarkable differences among the conservation value of these microhabitats (e.g., representation of different species groups, presence of 'climate relicts'), each microhabitat had an important role in maintaining species that are rare or absent in other microhabitats in the landscape. We found that the studied dolines exhibited highly variable environmental conditions and promoted a high diversity of vegetation types with unique species composition, contributing to the topographic, climatic, soil, vegetation and land cover heterogeneity of karst landscapes. Therefore, our findings highlight that dolines may function as local biodiversity hotspots and have a crucial conservation importance. As dolines are widespread topographic features in many karst landscapes throughout the world, our results could be directly applied to other regions as well. An integrated approach is urgently needed to provide guidelines for landscape management, promoting the retention of the microhabitat diversity of small natural features for species vulnerable to climate change and/or various disturbances.