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Symbolfoto: Das AIT ist Österreichs größte außeruniversitäre Forschungseinrichtung

Ecologisation Seibersdorf

The onset of spring 2022 will see the start of an unusual project at the AIT location in Seibersdorf: Around eight hectares of green areas will become natural meadows, offering a future habitat for numerous native species of plants and insects. Fully in line with the strategic corporate orientation of AIT with its focus on decarbonisation and climate protection, the company will give nature full rein in designated areas, thus making a key contribution to the promotion of biological diversity and climate protection.  

Less mowing and no artificial watering is ideal for the dry stonefield grassland typical of the region. It encourages plants such as wild sage, heath dandelion, carnation species and bedstraw to grow. Nature takes the time it needs - this year we can observe the first bloomers, and in the following years the green spaces will steadily gain in flowering splendour.

For our AIT employees at the Seibersdorf site, the flowering green spaces can be used as rest and recreation zones and are an opportunity to enjoy nature at the workplace . Respectful, careful treatment of flora and fauna is a prerequisite for this.

Sustainability and the responsible use of resources are part of our self-image and are reflected in all areas - from the AIT research focus on decarbonisation solutions and sustainable procurement to environmentally and resource-friendly building and laboratory development. The "Ecologisation Seibersdorf" project is the first significant step towards more climate protection through biodiversity at the company locations themselves.

Every area counts: With the green spaces in Seibersdorf, we at AIT are part of a regional network of valuable natural areas (currently 144 hectares in 25 municipalities) in the Thermenlinie-Wienerwald-Wiener Becken region. The professional partner in project implementation is the Thermenlinie-Wienerwald-Wiener Becken landscape conservation association.

All relevant facts are summarised here in the factsheet.

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Selected species on the green spaces of the AIT

Numerous, including rare, dry grassland plant species are present on the green spaces of the AIT. Among others, Carthusian carnation, heath dandelion, rock carnation, thyme species, beard grass, ox tongue, field man's bedstraw, yellow resede, steppe sage, meadow sage, brunelle, lesser meadow-head, cinquefoil species, true bedstraw, horn clover, variegated crown vetch could be found.

Some animal and plant species are described in more detail below.

Animal species

Six-Spot Burnet (Zygaena Filipendulae)

In dry grasslands and rough pastures, the strikingly coloured six-spotted widows visit flowers during the day from June to August. Their colours show predators such as birds that they are poisonous. Their body fluids contain prussic acid compounds.

The caterpillars are also poisonous and yellowish to light green with black spots. They hatch from the egg in August, overwinter as caterpillars among the plants and are fully grown in May of the following year. The food plants of the caterpillars are horn clover (Lotus corniculatus) and variegated crown vetch (Securigeravaria). The yellowish pointed cocoons in which the caterpillars pupate are attached to plant stems. The moths hatch from the cocoon from the end of May and live only a few weeks.

For six-spotted willow butterflies, both well-developed forage plants and structures such as tufts of grass for the caterpillars to overwinter on and firm stems for the cocoon are necessary. If meadows are mown too early, too often or too short, they cannot survive.

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

Checkerspot butterflies are typical inhabitants of nutrient-poor meadows that are mown once or twice a year and not fertilised. The moths are on the move from the end of May to August. The males fly around most of the time in search of freshly hatched females ready to mate. They like to sit on knapweeds, scabiosa or thistles and suck nectar. After mating, the females drop their eggs on the ground, sitting on blades of grass.

The eggs are quite large, as the young caterpillars still hatch in July/August and overwinter without feeding. After overwintering, they start feeding on various grasses at night in March. In May/June they pupate in a loose web on the ground.

For these and many other butterfly species of the meadows, it is important not to mow too often and not too deeply, so that overwintering caterpillars and the pupae are protected in the vegetation. The cuttings must also be removed from the area, otherwise the grass felt will be too cool and damp for development.

Eastern Heath Snail (Xerolenta obvia)

Most of us associate snails with moisture or rain. But dry, sunny habitats such as steppes or dry grasslands also have specialised snail species such as the Eastern Heath Snail. They have an important function in breaking down dead, dry plant material. In summer, they go into dry dormancy when it is hot, cling to plant stems at a height of 20 to 50 cm to take advantage of the cooling wind and close their shells with a lime lid. In suitable habitats they can be very common.

Although they grow quite large, they usually live only one year. In early spring, the young hatch from eggs laid in the ground. By autumn they grow to full size, become sexually mature, mate, lay eggs and die mostly in winter.

On frequently mown areas, they can hardly escape the heat of summer on the ground because there are no higher stems. In addition, many snails are injured during mowing and die. Empty and intact houses of the eastern heath snail are re-used by some very rare wild bee species for nesting.

The list of different animal and plant species is constantly being expanded.

Plant species

Heath Dandelion (Taraxacum laevigatum agg.)

Small and inconspicuous, the heath dandelion, in contrast to the well-known common dandelion, flowers very early and only once a year on steppes and dry grasslands.

As an adaptation to grazing animals, the leaves and flowers lie flat on the ground and cannot be eaten. Only when sowing does the stem stretch upwards so that the fruits with their "parachutes" can be better spread by the wind.

Due to its early flowering, it is an important pollen source for the very rare dandelion sand bee (Andrena taraxaci), a wild bee that digs its nests in open, sandy soil.

Purple Crown Vetch (Securigera varia)

The purple crown vetch is a deep rooter and can fix nitrogen from the air through symbiosis with bacteria. The extensive root system reaches down to a depth of about 90 cm, where moisture is often still present even in dry summers. This gives it a competitive advantage on nutrient-poor, dry soils and it can form large stands that flower from May to August.

It is an important nectar plant, serves nine species of wild bees as a pollen source for their offspring and 19 butterfly species as a caterpillar food plant, including blue butterflies, white butterflies and rams.

The flowers are produced on long, above-ground shoots that are destroyed by frequent mowing. Seeds are only produced if the pollen for pollination comes from other crown vetch plants; pollination does not work with the plant's own pollen.

Sand Cinquefoil (Potentilla arenaria)

The small sand cinquefoil flowers from February to May. It often grows in dense pads which, together with the densely silvery leaves, reduce evaporation. It is very light-demanding and disappears when the vegetation becomes too dense due to lack of mowing or grazing, or when mulching creates a dense felt of shredded grass.

The dense cushions are important hiding and hibernation places for small animals, and eastern heath snails also like to use them to lay their eggs.

Wild Sage (Salvia nemorosa)

One of the most striking plants in the Pannonian region is the wild sage. In addition to the flowers, the bracts in the inflorescence are also purple. Each rosette sprouts many inflorescences, resulting in magnificent purple bushes. This is why wild sage is one of the native plants that is also popular for horticultural use in dry beds.

The flowers have a complicated folding mechanism to prevent self-pollination. When a bee or bumblebee flies over, the stigma first folds down and collects the pollen from the insect's back. Only further inside the flower is the second mechanism triggered, with which pollen is dusted onto the abdomen of the flower visitor.

Wild sage is not popular with grazing animals because of its strong hairiness and smell. If not mown too early, it can sprout again after mowing and flower a second time.

Eurasian Thyme (Thymus kosteleckyanus, "Thymus pannonicus")

The Eurasian or Hungarian thyme is a dwarf shrub with short, woody shoots. The many hairy flower shoots with the densely arranged pink flowers make it a very conspicuous dry grassland plant. Especially bumblebees like to visit the nectar-rich flowers.

In Austria, in keeping with its name, the Eurasian thyme is only found in the east on dry grasslands. Like its habitats, it is rare and highly endangered.

Frequent mowing prevents it from flowering and it disappears after some time, because without seeds no young plants grow back and the old plants die over time. A late, not too deep mowing is ideal, leaving parts of the areas unmown until over winter.

Pannonian Carnation (Dianthus pontederae)

The Pannonian carnation is found in Austria only in the east, from the Vienna Basin and its fringes to Burgenland, in dry grasslands and grassy steppes. It flowers from May to July, often a second time into autumn after summer mowing. The flowers offer a lot of nectar, which is only accessible to insects with long proboscises due to the long tube of the petals. Especially moths like hawkmoths, whose proboscises can be up to 13 cm long depending on the species, need such flowers where the nectar is inaccessible to honeybees.

The list of different animal and plant species is constantly being expanded.