Integration by Place, Case and Process: Transdisciplinary Sustainability Science in Transylvania

Prof. Dr. Jörn Fischer, Leuphana University Lüneburg
Keynote Wednesday, 21st September


Sustainability science is an emerging arena of scientific enquiry. Unlike traditional disciplinary research, sustainability science seeks to transcend boundaries between disciplines, and between researchers and other societal stakeholders. Here, I summarize five years of team research that investigated trajectories for sustainable development in Southern Transylvania, Romania. This region boasts some of Europe's most notable natural and cultural heritage, including traditional land use systems and their associated biodiversity (from wildflower meadows to the European Brown Bear). However, rapid socioeconomic changes, and associated changes in land use, are now threatening these traditional heritage values. The aim of our research was to better understand the changes taking place in order to obtain insights for how they may be navigated. To this end, we integrated insights from the social sciences and ecological sciences with local expert knowledge via an approach centered around the notions of "place", "case" and "process". This integration approach focuses all research participants on a shared problem (here, landscape change in Transylvania) and common units of analysis (here, selected villages), and emphasizes informal methods of knowledge integration. In the past five years, among others, we surveyed plants, butterflies, birds and mammals at over 120 sites; we interviewed hundreds of people about rural development, living with carnivores, and their aspirations for the future; we involved 18 stakeholder groups in developing scenarios exploring the future; and we prepared a traveling exhibition, an outreach tour, and a bilingual book to share our research findings with local communities. This presentation summarizes key highlights of this research project and considers avenues in which similar approaches could also be useful in other settings.

About the Keynote Speaker

Jörn Fischer is a professor at the Faculty of Sustainability at Leuphana University Lueneburg. He was born in Germany but spent nearly 14 years studying, working, and living in Australia. He completed his PhD in landscape ecology in 2004 at The Australian National University. In 2010, he won a Sofja Kovalevskaja Award by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which funded the research presented here. Professor Fischer has published over 130 scientific works, mostly focusing on the intersection of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.



Origins, evolution, management and conservation of semi-natural grasslands in Transylvania

László Rákosy and Cristina Craioveanu, Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca
Keynote Friday, 23rd September


In explaining the origins and birth of semi-natural grasslands from Transylvania, the authors refer to natural edaphic aspects; emphasize the role of great herds of large herbivores and then anthropogenic influence in its various forms. The present semi-natural grasslands in Transylvania are the result of natural and anthropogenic processes manifested in the last 6000 years. The anthropogenic footprint is stronger in the last 2000 years and plays a decisive role in the last 800-1000 years, since it has become multicultural.

In the last 20 years biodiversity in semi-natural grasslands from Transylvania became better known both on national and international levels. On small areas of approximately 20-30 ha impressive numbers have been reported, which culminate with approximately 1000 species of vascular plants, 1400 Lepidoptera species etc. Recent studies (Wilson et al 2012) found even that semi-natural, mesophilous grasslands in the area of Cluj have the highest diversity of flowering plants globally.

If, next to the large number of species, we also consider the number of endemic and rare taxa, or world-wide unique plant and animal communities, we would still not have reached the full value of these grasslands. The cultural, aesthetic, recreational values are still very little known and even less harnessed. The uniqueness of these grasslands must be researched and popularized through new biology and ecology studies, including cultural ecology. In order to preserve them as close as possible to the present form, management conservation programs must be developed, based on accurate and in-depth, in-situ studies and not only on “recipes” acquired from literature, from recent studies conducted elsewhere in Europe. The solutions to our problems should come from the local reality, by involving local communities, which are aware of the values they are (or should be) managing in an appropriate way.

About the Keynote Speaker

Dr. László Rákosy is professor at the Department of Taxonomy and Ecology, Faculty of Biology and Geology, Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca. His fields of expertise are Ecology, Zoology and Taxonomy. He is an expert in the group of Lepidoptera, and especially in their Taxonomy and population ecology. During the last years he dealt with the effect of grassland management on butterfly diversity and on endangered species.