The Disappearance of the Garden Dormouse
Initially, garden dormice were native to wide parts of Central- and East Europe. Their habitat ranged from the Atlantic coast in Portugal and France to Finland and the southern Urals, encompassing even Spain and Sicily. However, during the last 30 years, their distribution has decreased by around 50% across Europe. The garden dormouse has gone extinct in several countries and is critically endangered in others.
Today, a large part of the worldwide garden dormouse population lives in Germany. That is why, according to the National Strategy on Biological Diversity, Germany has a special responsibility for maintaining the species: the garden dormouse is a so-called responsibility species. But many regions in Germany also report drastic declines in their populations.
Exploring and Conservation
The project “In Search of the Garden Dormouse” aims to investigate what is causing this member of the dormouse family to disappear. Subsequently, using the findings, an effective conservation concept will be developed and implemented.
This project is realised within the framework of the Federal Programme for Biological Diversity. It is funded by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation with resources from the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.
What do we have in mind?
The current distribution of the garden dormice is the basis for assessing the actual risk situation. The comparison between current and original distribution provides initial indications of the development of populations and possible causes for their decline. That's why we do not just want to know WHERE garden dormice are found in Germany, but also HOW MANY garden dormice live in particular regions. We have set up our registration office here online.
In addition to the distribution of the garden dormouse, the project will examine further aspects:
• Phenology: When are garden dormice active? How long does their hibernation last and when does it take place? When are offspring born? Are there differences between project areas, and if so what are they?
• Habitats: In Germany, which habitats do garden dormice live in? What are the decisive framework conditions (climatic, physiographic (geographic)) and structures?
• The food: How do garden dormice feed? Which food resources do they use in different habitats?
• Competitors and Predators: What impacts do species, with similar habitat requirements (e.g. edible dormice) and predators (e.g. house cats), have in the different study areas? Is the presence and frequency (commonness) of the garden dormouse influenced and/ or limited by other species?
• Genetics: What characterizes the garden dormouse’s gene pool in Germany? Are there locally genetically adapted garden dormice (regional chromosomal forms) and how do they differ? Is there evidence of genetic reduction?
• Diseases and Parasites: What are the most common diseases and parasites garden dormice suffer from in Germany? What are their most common causes of death? Are these factors possible reasons for the population decline?
The research should yield information which conservation measures are most effective for the garden dormouse. It is conceivable, e.g. the elimination of rat poison in distribution areas, covering of rain barrels as protection against drowning, an increase in the proportion of wild shrubs, cairns and hiding places in gardens, the absence of insecticides in the forest and much else.
In Hesse alone, wildlife rescue stations release around 200 garden dormice into the wild each year. These stations therefore often reach their limits. This project supports the wildlife rescue centres by providing training and assistance in the reintroduction process. This will allow us to try to connect isolated garden dormouse populations and re-establish populations in former distribution areas.
A reintroduction of garden dormice can make an important contribution to the preservation of the species and respective animal populations. In the context of "In search of the garden dormouse ", the conditions and regions in which this makes sense and is realistic will be examined in detail. In addition, the networking of existing garden dormouse populations is also being promoted. Resettlement and networking of existing populations are of great importance. Only in this way gene exchange can be increased or made possible and healthy populations maintained or created.