Commercially cut reed as a new and sustainable habitat for the globally threatened Aquatic Warbler
The Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola) is a song bird breeding in fen mires and similarly structured other wetlands with a water depth of 1–10 cm. Widespread in central-European wetlands at the beginning of the 20th century, the species is now globally threatened. The westernmost and genetically distinct Pomeranian population is even on the verge of extinction. The major challenge in the conservation of remaining habitat is the cost-efficient removal of biomass. About 50% of the Pomeranian population survives in a valley fen near Rozwarowo in Northwest Poland, where between 1993 and 2007 a conspicuous change in breeding habitat has taken place from summer grazed sedge meadows to commercial winter cut reed beds. We compared vegetation structure, site conditions, and potential prey abundance with the distribution and abundance of Aquatic Warblers in Rozwarowo Marshes and studied temporal changes and the compatibility of conservation and reed cutting interests. Aquatic Warblers now occur almost exclusively in sparsely growing, low reed with abundant Thelypteris palustris, Carex elata, and Lysimachia vulgaris. This vegetation type provides more potential prey for Aquatic Warblers than the higher productive tall reed, whereas the patches of sedge vegetation have become too small following succession after abandonment. Currently, commercial reed cutting maintains suitable Aquatic Warbler breeding habitat. Considering the impending changes in the reed market, there is a need for flexible agri-environmental schemes (AES) to ensure that stripes are left uncut and to prevent eutrophication by high and long flooding of the site.