Geastrum hungaricum is an earthstar forming extremely small, hygrometric fruiting bodies in steppe and dry grassland habitats. It has scattered occurrences on the Eurasian continent. It has a concentration of recent records in sand steppe habitats in Hungary and southern part of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It is reported from southern Russia (Rostov-area 3 locations Astrakhan’-area 3
locations, Volgograd-area 3 locations, Kalmukia Republic 4 locations) and Caukasus. In Asia it is known from scattered records in the Altay region, Mongolia and Hokkaido (Japan). All records are from steppic habitats. A recent record from Central Spain (Zamora et al. 2015) has considerably enlarged its area of occurrence. There are however no reports outside of the Eurasian continent. Geastrum hungaricum occurs in dry and exposed grassland habitats, on calcareous soils. A historic and ongoing decline in population is expected as land use in steppe habitats changes: overgrazing and erosion in some areas, overgrowth in others due to a decline in grazing. Most important threat is the transformation of steppe habitats into arable land and tree plantations. Its sites in Europe are mostly within the EU Natura 2000 habitat type 6260 (Pannonic sand steppe), which is a priority habitat in the N2000 network.
The centre of distribution seems to be eastern Europe but, taking into account the scattered records from Siberia, Mongolia and Japan, the distribution is probably much wider. It is likely to be a continental steppe species reaching its westernmost outposts in Central Europe with an isolated record in Central Spain. However, the current status of its population in Asia cannot be established due to lack of data.
Geastrum hungaricum is considered CR in the Czech Republic and is protected by law in Hungary.
Assessment for global red-list: on a Global scale DD; on a European scale VU C2ai
Cause: The population declines as the area of open steppe vegetation decreases in Europe and Asia. It has not been on record outside of the Eurasian continent.
Need of more information: The current status in Asia remains to be established. The status and future destiny of steppe and grassland habitats need to be evaluated.
Europe: Czech Republic (< 10 locations; observed annually), Germany (1 old record) Hungary (ca 20 locations; observed annually), Poland (1 old record), Slovakia (1 recent location), southern Russia (Rostov-na-Donu, Astrachan, Volgograd, Kalmukia) , Caucasus: 1 old record)
Asia: Russia (Siberia, Altay, one recent location), Mongolia (1 location); Japan (1 recent location).
The population of Geastrum hungaricum is restricted to steppes or sites with a more or less steppe-like vegetation. There is a “false” increase of individuals during the last ten years due to an intense interest in earthstars among Central European mycologists lately, having resulted in several new locations. However these new locations are all relic steppe or dry grassland habitats or small (often anthropogenic) refuges adjacent to deteriorated steppe vegetation. The number of individuals of Geastrum hungaricum in these locations is likely to have been much larger in earlier times. Since large steppe areas on the Eurasian continents have been changed into arable land or have been subject to tree plantation (Pinus, Robinia) a considerable declining trend for Geastrum hungaricum can be expected. Its main habitat in Europe is the Natura 2000 habitat type 6260, which is a priority habitat within the EU.
Population Trend: Deteriorating
Geastrum hungaricum is a saprotrophic species adapted to dry and warm, tree-less steppe habitats. Most European records are from continental calcareous sandy habitats (Natura 2000 habitat 6260). It seems to be favoured by a moderate soil disturbance like trampling of grazing animals or human activity and is hence often found along tracks and paths. The habitats seem to have a long continuity of present land use (mostly grazing). In some places where steppe vegetation has been transformed into tree plantations or changed into arable land, it can survive for a long time in exposed wasteland or along road verges, provided the micro-climate is sufficiently dry and warm. In Hungary it has some of its richest occurrences globally on sand steppe localities having survived thanks to their use as military training fields. In the European part of Russia it is on record from grazed, sandy steppe habitats and from Caucasus on a high altitude sandy/gravelly mountain steppe location. The recent finding in Japan was made among mosses on coastal sand dunes on the northern coast of Hokkaido.
The change of steppe vegetation into arable land or tree plantations is the main threat to Geastrum hungaricum. In some regions, still having a more or less intact steppe vegetation, overgrazing can be a threat or on the opposite, overgrowth if the grazing ceases or declines.
Measures to ensure the survival of steppe vegetation seems to be the main task to maintain and restore the population of Geastrum hungaricum. In Europe, all known sites should be protected. In Hungary only a few of its occurrences are under protection although the species itself is protected by Hungarian law. A re-establishment of its occurrences in deteriorated steppe habitats should be considered since it appears to have the ablilty to remain for several years in unaffected micro-habitats (refuges) in areas where it most likely hade much larger populations in the earlier times. On the known localities in Central Europe (particularly Hungary) a monitoring scheme should be established to spot population trends.
One of its richest occurrences (Hungary, Örkény) is situated on an abandoned military training field with a documented high value for biodiversity. This location should be under protection and provided with management plans to maintain its original Stipa-steppe character.
The current status in Asia remains to be established. The status, amount of decrease and future destiny of steppe and dry grassland habitats need to be evaluated.
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