In December, many people venture into nature to gather materials for creating eco-friendly holiday decorations. This time is particularly important to remind us of the crucial balance between holiday cheer and protecting the environment. Often, we are unaware of how fragile our surroundings are and how our careless actions can harm rare and endangered species. That's why we have chosen Menegazzia terebrata as this month's protected species. This lichen, when encountered in nature, should be left undisturbed and protected.

Thallus of Menegazzia terebrata is leaf-like, rosette-shaped, or irregular. Its upper surface is mostly greyish-green, sometimes darker in the middle, matte, occasionally slightly shiny, naked, with round or oval openings which give the lichen its Latvian name. Its core is white with a cavity inside. The underside is very wrinkled, black, lighter at the edges, with a visible black border.

In Latvia, the majority of this species' population is concentrated in the eastern part, with scattered occurrences in the northern, central, and Kurzeme regions. In recent years, the number of sightings has significantly increased, due to the growing expertise of nature experts in identifying and detecting this species.

Species distribution map in Latvia. Author: Jānis Ukass.

The species is mainly found in old, natural black alder forests with elevated and stable air humidity. The most negative impact on the species comes from forestry and drainage-induced changes in habitats.

If you spot the Menegazzia terebrata while in nature, report the observation to the Nature Conservation Agency or on the Dabasdati.lv portal. We look forward to receiving news and photographs of species observations on our Facebook page too.

On November 25th, a session of the Univeristy of Latvia Young Biologists' School took place under the guidance of invertebrate species expert Rūta Starka as part of the LIFE For Species project. During the session, attending students had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the role of researchers and learn more about the assessment of species endangerment according to IUCN criteria, as well as the decision-making process for species to be included in the potential list of especially protected species.

Photo: Agate Seržante

The Young Biologists' School is an educational program for students aimed at fostering interest in biology as a science and potential career path, providing opportunities to expand their knowledge and gain insights into the life of a biology student.

Photo: Agate Seržante

82 students from grades 7 to 12 participated in the session led by R. Starka. Throughout the event, the youths enthusiastically completed tasks, asked questions, and independently carried out various assignments.

During an independent task, students calculated the AOO and EOO of the slender blue-winged grasshopper as well as evaluated it according to the B criterion. Students had to understand where to acquire information about the condition of habitats in Latvia and population trends of species in Europe, and compare historical and contemporary distribution data along with the limitations of their interpretations. Finally, they had to justify the necessity for species protection.

Photo: Agate Seržante

After the session and tasks, students received materials developed during the project - post cards. Additionally, the top three winners in each age group received a project brochure and booklet.

Photo gallery - click on any image to view. Photos by Agate Seržante

As November draws to a close, with most bats entering their winter hibernation, we want to share more about a protected bat species found in Latvia - the Barbastelle Bat (Barbastella barbastellus).

Photo: Ondrej Prosicky

The Barbastelle Bat is a medium-sized bat, measuring 43-64 mm in body length. It is characterized by dark brown fur, sometimes adorned with grey or even yellowish tips on the back. Its skin color is dark brown. A distinctive feature, aligned with its Latvian name, is its broad, triangular ears that are joined at the forehead. The ear tip is triangular with a pointed, slightly extended tip.

It's typical for the females of this species to give birth to one offspring per year. The lifespan of the bat varies in different sources, but on average, it ranges from 5.5 to 10 years. The maximum known age for a member of this species is 22 years.

The Barbastelle Bat is a wintering species in Latvia, not known for long migrations. It hibernates mainly in old and less-used cellars. This bat is a distinct forest species, traditionally associated with broadleaf forests. In Latvia, suitable old broadleaf forests are scarce, but the species is registered in old manor parks and various types of forest plantations.

Photo: Zdenek Macat

It is important to note that bats do not nest but roost in caves, tree hollows, as well as in attics and cellars of buildings. Unfortunately, the renovation and demolition of old buildings often threaten bats, as they reduce the number of suitable daytime hideouts and breeding sites. Additionally, the cutting down of old, hollow trees is harmful to bats. Another risk factor is the decline in insects, which threatens bats' ability to find enough food.

In Latvia, the main threat to the species is forestry, which reduces the number of old and decaying or dead trees with suitable hideouts, fragments forest areas, and alters the moisture regime due to drainage.

The availability of suitable hiding places in forests is one of the determining factors for the presence of this species in Latvia. This bat's roosts are less commonly found in buildings. They hibernate in underground roosts, with known hibernation sites in various old cellars in Latvia.

The European barbastelle preys on night-flying moths, though it can hunt other insects as well.

Species distribution in Latvia. Map author: Jānis Ukass

The Barbastelle Bat has been observed three times in hibernation sites in the caves of Gauja National Park, but no individual of this species has been recorded in the park's territory in the last 30 years. Current known findings in protected areas are only in the “Dunika” nature reserve and the “Ogres ieleja” and “Talsu pauguraine” nature parks.

If you spot a Barbastelle Bat in nature or in your home's cellar, report the observation to the Nature Conservation Agency or on the Dabasdati.lv portal. We welcome news and photographs of species observations on our Facebook page as well. Remember, when encountering bats, do not disturb their rest and avoid making any lound sounds or turning on bright lights, such as camera flash.

In the cold coastal waters of Northern Europe lives a fish that often goes unnoticed due to its seemingly unremarkable appearance. However, the eelpout (Zoarces viviparus) is an important species in Latvia, so this month we honor this mysterious fish.

lucītis
Foto: Julian Fahrbach 

About the Species

The eelpout has a long, somewhat snake-like body, varying in color from brown to green tones, depending on its environment. This coloration helps the eelpout hide from natural predators, serving as effective camouflage when the fish rests in the rocky or muddy seabed. Eelpouts can reach up to 52 cm in length, up to 40 cm in the Baltic Sea, usually measuring 25-35 cm.

Unlike many other fish species, eelpouts are viviparous - internal fertilization occurs in August-September, and after 4-6 months, the female gives birth to 30-400 offspring, each 35-55 mm long. The offspring are fully developed at birth, most commonly occurring in winter when water temperatures are particularly low. The gestation period is also notable for its length, six months, which is long compared to other fish species. The young are born from December to February, during the coldest water temperatures.

The eelpout is a benthic marine fish, feeding mostly on worms, crustaceans, and mollusks, and sometimes hunting smaller fish and their eggs.

This species is widely distributed and commonly found in the coastal waters of Northern Europe. Its range extends from the White Sea to the English Channel, the Irish Sea, and includes the waters of the Baltic Sea, inhabiting both the open sea and the Gulf of Riga. It is particularly abundant in the northern and eastern parts of the Gulf of Riga. The eelpout is not migratory and has a relatively stationary lifestyle, making it a useful environmental indicator in toxicological studies and pollution monitoring. Interestingly, eelpouts can inhabit waters up to 40m deep.

Threats

In the Gulf of Riga, there are relatively old traditions of eelpout fishing. The species is also caught as bycatch in other specialized fisheries. Historically, intense fishing led to a rapid decline in stocks, compounded by a rapid deterioration in marine environmental quality and the invasion of large schools of cod, which also fed on eelpouts. Following a significant decline in the eelpout population in the Gulf of Riga, fishing for eelpouts was closed from 1980 to 1989. Fishing was reopened in 1990 with very low catch quotas, allowing eelpout fishing along the coast and regulating the catch.

Photo: Looduskalender

As a cold-water species, the eelpout is negatively affected by rising water temperatures due to climate change, impacting its growth, development, and breeding success. Pollution of marine waters and ecosystem changes also adversely affect the species' reproduction. The invasive round goby is considered a threat to the eelpout, as it occupies similar niches and competes for food resources. As mentioned earlier, specialized eelpout fishing in the past had a significant impact on the population. Nowadays, specialized eelpout fishing occurs on a very small scale with passive fishing gear, and the species is caught in small quantities as bycatch in other gear.

Although fishing intensity is no longer as high, the eelpout population in Latvian waters has decreased by more than 90% over the last 20 years due to climate and other factors.

From October 4th to 6th, a delegation from the LIFE FOR SPECIES project, representing the University of Latvia's Institute of Biology and the Nature Conservation Agency, embarked on a valuable journey to Estonia for an exchange of expertise and networking. Representatives from the LIFE IP LatViaNature project also joined the delegation.

Photo by Gunta Čekstere

During this trip, the Latvian LIFE project teams delved into current issues and activities related to species and habitat conservation. They explored various initiatives aimed at restoring and monitoring different ecosystems in locations such as Muhu Island, Tartu, and the surrounding areas of Estonia, where several Estonian LIFE projects were actively engaged. Notably, they closely examined the ongoing restoration efforts of alvar grasslands on Muhu Island. These efforts were initiated under the LIFE+ nature project "Restoration of Estonian alvar grasslands" and are now continuing as part of the "LIFE connecting meadows" project. This restoration work involves creating park-like landscapes, restoring partially natural grasslands, coastal meadows, and reducing fragmentation in semi-natural landscapes. Various techniques, both technical and mechanical, along with controlled grazing, are employed to enhance conditions for preserving the genetic diversity of several species. The selection of habitats for restoration is based on a model developed within the GrassLIFE project, which identified the most valuable habitats requiring attention, many of which exist outside the Natura 2000 areas. Consequently, the activities observed on Muhu Island serve as an excellent example of the sustainability of results achieved across multiple LIFE projects.

The improvement of breeding habitats for amphibians is currently underway through the LIFE-IP ForEst&FarmLand project in Estonia. This project applies the best management practices established in previous LIFE Nature projects. Over the past decade or so, Estonia has witnessed a significant decline in amphibian populations, primarily due to intensified agriculture, the restoration of drainage systems, and the reduction of wetlands. To provide suitable breeding grounds for amphibians, historical habitats are being restored. This process involves draining or pumping out water initially, followed by excavating sediments down to the mineral (clay) layer. These water bodies are created in small clusters, typically consisting of 3 to 10 ponds, each varying in depth and strategically placed across different terrains to ensure water availability in at least some ponds during dry periods. Some of these ponds may remain dry during arid spells, reducing the populations of predatory aquatic insects and parasites.

Within the framework of the LIFE Mires Estonia project, substantial efforts have been invested in restoring the Soosaare bog, located within the Alam-Pedja nature reserve. Several years ago, approximately 120 hectares of this bog were drained for peat extraction during the Soviet era. Consequently, drainage ditches on the periphery of the territory have been blocked, gradually forming small pond complexes suitable for the breeding of moor frogs (Rana arvalis, R. temporaria). While the success of moor frog reproduction in these water bodies fluctuates from year to year, the overall results of these measures are considered successful. The ponds are being utilized, and the number of moor frog tadpoles has increased significantly, leading to a rise in the moor frog population. It is worth noting that moor frogs practically do not use the natural parts of the bog for breeding due to the physical and chemical properties of the water in the wet depressions and small ponds, which typically have a low pH. The diversity of newt species and the number of individuals have not significantly changed after bog restoration, including activities such as shrub and forest clearing, in the Soosaare bog. Automatic water level measurements and vegetation monitoring are also conducted using drones equipped with spectral sensors. However, the results of these observations regarding the success of bog restoration will only be interpretable several seasons after the implementation of these measures. Restoration efforts in the bog are ongoing, with monitoring of several species and habitats currently being conducted by specialists from the LIFE SIP AdaptEst project.

One of Estonia's valuable habitat types is the extensive inundated meadows. Within the LIFE SIP AdaptEst project, partial natural habitat management and restoration activities, including mowing and clearing, are being carried out in the inundated meadows in the Kärevere region of the Alam-Pedja nature reserve. These meadows cover an approximate area of 2000 hectares and serve as significant sites for bird migration and as one of the largest nesting sites for the common snipe (Gallinago media) in Estonia. These meadows are located along the Laeva River, which had been straightened during the Soviet era but was successfully restored to its natural course several kilometers long within the LIFE HAPPYRIVER project.

The trip also featured a joint seminar, where representatives from Latvian and Estonian LIFE projects, along with officials from the Estonian Ministry of Climate, discussed current issues and challenges related to the management of rare, endangered, and protected species in both Baltic countries. They exchanged insights into measures taken, public engagement in nature conservation, documentation and eradication of invasive species, and introduced the main tasks, planned activities, and results in species protection within the LIFE FOR SPECIES project in Latvia. Additionally, opportunities for further collaboration between institutions and a comparison of the legislation related to species protection in Latvia and Estonia were explored. Both Estonia and Latvia face similar challenges in species protection. Unlike Latvia, Estonia has already assessed the extinction risk of species according to IUCN criteria twice. These results are taken into account when planning further protection of rare and endangered species and related regulatory acts.

The impressions and insights gathered during the trip to Estonia will significantly contribute to the development of a new list of protected species in Latvia. The knowledge, information, and contacts established during this experience exchange will prove invaluable in the further implementation of the LIFE FOR SPECIES project and in future collaboration between both countries.

We extend our heartfelt appreciation to the Estonian LIFE projects for their warm hospitality!

In September, various international conferences took place in Europe, where the "LIFE FOR SPECIES" project was successfully represented. Each event was dedicated to a different species group and issues related to their research and protection. In total, four species experts from the University of Latvia's Biology Institute represented the project at three different international events.

Dmitrijs Teļnovs, the coordinator for the project's invertebrate species group, participated in the 11th symposium on the protection of saproxylic beetles from September 14th to 17th, 2023, held in Aranjuez, Spain. This series of symposiums and seminars, dedicated to the research and protection of European saproxylic beetle species, takes place every other year with a few exceptions. The aim of the 11th symposium was to share knowledge, experience, and innovative methods for detecting and monitoring saproxylic beetles in Europe, with a particular emphasis on internationally and nationally protected species.

Representing the "LIFE FOR SPECIES" project, Teļnovs delivered an oral presentation titled "The First Red List of Latvian Saproxylic Beetles - LIFE FOR SPECIES Project". The co-author of the presentation was Gunta Čekstere, LIFE FOR SPECIES project manager. Attendees were introduced to the project's objectives, tasks, activities, and achieved and planned results related to endangered and protected saproxylic beetle species in Latvia.

Participation in the symposium revealed that Latvia is the last country in the Nordic-Baltic region without a national Red List for endangered species, including saproxylic beetles. The significance and opportunities provided by the LIFE program for beetle research and protection were emphasized throughout the event.

D. Teļnovs during his presentation. Photo: K. Greķe.

From September 4th to 8th, Jānis Bajinskis, the coordinator for the project's fish species group, represented the project at the XVII European Ichthyology Congress held in Prague, Czech Republic. The congress aimed to share knowledge among scientists from various research fields. The congress featured 9 symposiums, 7 plenary lectures by leading experts in the respective fields, 119 short oral presentations, and 93 poster reports.

During the event, Bajinskis gave an oral presentation on the contribution of the LIFE FOR SPECIES project to the protection of various endangered fish species in Latvia. The co-authors of the presentation were project manager Gunta Čekstere and marine fish species expert Jānis Gruduls.

The congress also recognized the significant role of the LIFE program in funding research and protection of endangered fish species in Europe and provided valuable advice on how to successfully apply for and implement LIFE program projects.

From September 4th to 8th, the XIX European Mycologists Congress also took place in Perugia, Italy. The project was represented by two fungi species experts, Inita Dāniele and Diāna Meiere, thanks to the financial support of the LIFE FOR SPECIES project and the Latvian National Museum of Nature.

The congress covered a wide range of topics, from fungi species protection to their use in medicine. The project experts' presentations highlighted the latest additions to the Latvian Red List of endangered fungi species, made following IUCN criteria.

Dāniele delivered an oral presentation (co-authored by Meiere) titled "The New Red List of Latvian Fungi, Based on IUCN Criteria", informing about the history of fungi species protection in Latvia and the current status. She also introduced the audience to the new Red List of fungi species developed during the "LIFE FOR SPECIES" project. Meanwhile, Meiere participated in the congress with a poster report on changes in the Latvian Red List of fungi, based on IUCN criteria, providing insights into the application of IUCN criteria for evaluating these fungi species in Latvia.

Based on feedback from all the aforementioned project experts, it can be concluded that Latvia currently lags behind other European countries in creating a Red List for species. This reinforces the relevance and significance of the LIFE FOR SPECIES project in the context of species protection measures in Latvia. In general, the importance of the LIFE programme in financing and implementing protection measures for various species and species groups is also widely recognized.

From September 12th to 14th, a networking event for Nordic and Baltic LIFE projects took place in Nuuksio National Park, Finland. Here, over 35 LIFE project teams from 6 different countries shared their experiences in implementing LIFE projects and visited various nature conservation project sites.

The first day of the networking event was spent in Nuuksio, learning about Finland's experience in implementing various LIFE projects, as well as listening to representatives from CINEA and ELMEN about the latest trends and changes in the implementation of the LIFE program.

Latvian LIFE project “Pop up” stand.

After the presentations, project teams had the opportunity to visit “Pop up” stands, where several LIFE projects engagingly introduced visitors to their areas of activity. The LIFE FOR SPECIES team from the University of Latvia’s Institute of Biology participated with their stand, implemented in collaboration with the LIFE LatViaNature integrated project and the Nature Conservation Agency's project team. At both Latvian project stands, visitors could learn about the main activities of the projects, receive educational materials, and taste various natural products from Latvia.

The second day offered excursions to three different sites: Hanko, Rekijokilaakso, and Nuuksio National Park. Each site offered a unique perspective on nature conservation efforts, from the restoration of the Hanko lagoon to the bat habitats in Rekijokilaakso. The LIFE FOR SPECIES project team visited Rekijokilaakso to observe bat-inhabited biotopes and various bat conservation measures implemented in nature. Unlike Latvia, bats are relatively common in Finland, but their population has declined over the past decades. According to the IUCN classification, they are evaluated as a “VU” or vulnerable species. Most bat habitats are outside protected natural areas, necessitating additional conservation mechanisms, including compensation mechanisms for forest owners.

The Rekijokilaakso excursion also included a representative of Finland's LIFE projects - dog trainer Tanja Karpela, who prepares dogs for work in nature conservation and participates in implementing these activities. The dog pictured is Tara (a Belgian Shepherd), who assists in species mapping processes in nature, finding bat-inhabited trees and droppings, tasks that would be much slower or impossible for experts without a dog's help. Excitingly, Latvia also has a connection with Tara and Finland, as one of Tara’s intelligent and charming offspring joined the Latvian border guard team this year!

On the final day of the networking event, all participants went to Espoo to learn about the integration of bat conservation mechanisms in an urban environment, as implemented within a LIFE project framework. For example, creating ecological corridors to connect bat-inhabited biotopes separated by major urban roads. The event concluded with a visit to the Haltia Nature Centre in Finland.

This trip was incredibly valuable, providing a platform for knowledge exchange, fostering collaboration, and deepening understanding of nuances in species conservation. Finnish project representatives particularly highlighted the importance of bat conservation and shared their experience in this field, which the LIFE For SPECIES team can consider when working on species conservation mechanisms in Latvia.

On September 29th, the annual Researchers' Night was held, featuring a range of interactive activities and lectures, including contributions from the LIFE for Species project team. The event, held at the LU Academic Center's Nature House, welcomed visitors to engage in Valdis Pilāts' informative lectures about animals listed in the Red Book, among other engaging activities.

Valdis Pilāts’ lecture highlighted some of the species set to be included in the forthcoming Red Book. Photo: Gunta Čekstere

Participants had the exclusive chance to explore Latvia's first Red Book and gain insights into species protection within the country, as well as the development process of the new Red Book.

Moreover, attendees had the opportunity to test their understanding of species protection in Latvia by participating in the quiz: “How Much Do You Know About Rare and Endangered Species?”

Youngest nature enthusiasts were fully engaged in crafting masks of protected species, along with activities involving coloring, gluing, and puzzle solving.

Photo: Madara Eihe

A heartfelt thank you to all those who participated.

Within the framework of the LIFE FOR SPECIES project (Endangered Species in Latvia: Improved Knowledge and Capacity, Information Flow, and Understanding), from 2021 to September 2023, proposals for a new list of protected species in Latvia have been developed.

The work was carried out as part of the project's A.1 activity "Development of Criteria for National Importance Protected Species Lists."

To introduce stakeholders to the project's proposed additions to the list of protected species for vascular plants, fungi, lichen, mosses, and mushrooms, a public meeting is planned for October 12th at 10:00 AM (on the Zoom platform).

The event program is available here.

The project's proposed additions for vascular plants, fungi, lichen, mosses, and mushrooms are available [here](link titled "Species Lists for the Meeting on 12.10.2023").

Guidelines or basic principles for criteria development and category distribution for the list of protected species are available here.

To participate in the meeting, please fill out the application by October 9th here.

A link to the meeting will be sent to the email address you provide before the meeting.

We invite stakeholders to familiarize themselves with the project's proposed additions and send comments and questions by October 9th by writing to the email madara.eihe@lu.lv.

Do you know what the sowing bird or the lark chicken is? These are ancient Latvian names for the protected species of September - the European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria). We encourage you to be observant, and you might spot this species, as thousands of them are currently migrating through Latvia.

Dzeltenais tārtiņš. Foto autors: Edgars Trops
Photo: Edgars Trops

The European Golden Plover is a medium-sized bird, with a body length of 26-29 cm, a wingspan of 67–76 cm, and a weight ranging from 157 to 312 g. The average lifespan of this bird is 4 years, but it can live up to 10 years.

Adult birds in breeding plumage have a black upper body with bright yellow spots, while the lower part of the head, throat, chest, and belly are black. The undertail coverts are pale. The tail feathers are greenish-black with light cross stripes. A white stripe stretches from the base of the beak, passing through the eye and down the neck.

Photo: Roland Neumann

In the fall, the yellow spots are inconspicuous, and the neck is greenish-yellow with gray or black spots. Young birds have a brownish upper body with greenish-yellow spots. The beak is short and black.

The bird mainly feeds on insects, such as beetles and caterpillars. However, its diet can also include other invertebrates, seeds, berries, and even worms. The European Golden Plover often searches for food at night.

Photo: Mike Pennington

European Golden Plovers form monogamous pairs that stay together for life. Each breeding season, they produce only one brood. Although they usually nest separately, their nests can sometimes be found less than 100m apart.

Each pair is closely attached to a specific nesting site and defends it from other birds, but they often search for food outside their nesting territory.

Photo: Roger Culos

The nest of the European Golden Plover is a shallow depression in the ground, lined with moss and various other plants. Each clutch contains 2-5 eggs, recognizable by their light brown color adorned with black spots.

The incubation period for the eggs lasts from 28 to 31 days, and both parents care for both the eggs and the hatched chicks. The chicks are precocial and soon after hatching, they actively follow their parents and start searching for food on their own. Their feathers fully develop at the age of 25-33 days, and soon after, the chicks become independent. European Golden Plovers reach sexual maturity at the age of 2.

The European Golden Plover is a migratory bird that winters in Western Europe and the Mediterranean region. A small number also winter in Latvia. They typically winter in agricultural fields, freshwater pond shores, and wet meadows. The species' breeding range extends from Greenland across the northern part of Europe to the northern parts of Siberia. Latvia's breeding population consists of 260–550 pairs.

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