Just as in most countries all over the world, more and more people in Hungary are living in towns and cities, a factor that has contributed significantly to the rapid destruction of local wetlands. However, the creation of new wetlands is also a common practice, for example in the form of lakes or ponds set up in parks or gardens. Ecologists believe that ponds can play a vital role in conserving biodiversity and provide significant benefits to the ecosystem, yet little information is available about these habitats. This is mainly due to the fact that small standing waters are not included in either national or international monitoring programs. The staff of the ELKH Centre for Ecological Research (CER) would like to change this with their recently launched My Pond project, which plans to survey these hidden and mostly unknown garden ponds with the active involvement of the general population and including DNA-based methods.
As a first step, residents with their own garden pond are asked to complete a questionnaire. This is to help determine the density of such habitats in Hungary and their most basic characteristics. Similar surveys in the UK have previously found that every tenth house with a garden has a pond – amounting to 4.5 million garden ponds nationwide – and these provide a habitat for many native organisms.
Ponds not only increase local biodiversity, but also provide a number of other benefits for garden owners. For example, they can significantly reduce the urban heat island (UHI) effect, when heat becomes ‘stuck’ in densely built-up areas. In such places, a pond has been shown to be able to reduce the temperature of its immediate surroundings by several degrees.
However, there has not yet been a similar study in either Hungary or the surrounding region, which means that researchers can only guess the number of similar domestic habitats and their role in conserving biodiversity. Over the next year, researchers are aiming to use the population to assess the biodiversity of these habitats, including with the use of state-of-the-art DNA-based methods, and to find links between habitat management, density, and their role in conserving biodiversity.
In return for their help, pond owners will also receive a complete list of the species living in their own garden ponds and data on hydrochemical variables – i.e. nutrients, pollutants – so they can get to know their ponds better. Based on the results obtained, the researchers will develop a series of simple proposals. This will be used to compile a package of best practices for garden owners who want to contribute as effectively as possible to the conservation of aquatic life.