Occurring Animal Species

The most important habitat for the fauna of the Biosphere Reserve is the comparatively little developed Elbe with the adjoining foreshores, where mudflats and pioneer meadows, small water bodies, reedbeds, floodplain grasslands and softwood forests are important habitats. The tributaries are also important for the occurrence and distribution of many endangered animal species. Leading types for species protection are in particular the Elbe beaver, otter, fire-bellied toad, water-bound bird species and migratory fish species.


Gänseschwarm im Biosphärenreservat Flusslandschaft Elbe in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern startet auf einem zugeschneiten Feld seinen Flug. © W. Stürzbecher
Nordic Geese

The natural conditions and historical development in the Elbe river landscape led to the formation of a wide variety of habitats and thus provided the prerequisite for the development of a species-rich bird world. So far, at least 228 bird species have been recorded in the area of the Mecklenburg part of the Biosphere Reserve. Many of these species are protected under national or international law or conventions, e.g. as European bird sanctuaries, and are endangered according to the Red List.

The international importance of the area for migrating and wintering bird species has also been known for a long time. For these highly protected large birds, the wide, often uncut fields and grassland areas of the river landscape are attractive. In the autumn and winter months, thousands of taiga bean geese (Anser fabalis) and greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) as well as whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus) and  tundra swans (Cygnus bewickii) find food here for their winter stay or for the onward flight. Many ornithologists and interested amateurs visit the river landscape on the Elbe for this natural spectacle alone.

Ein Schwarzstorch im Gebüsch. © W. Stürzbecher
Black Storck (Ciconia nigra)

The nationwide importance of the Elbe Valley as an area for breeding birds is also underlined by the occurrence of large bird species that breed here and are sensitive to disturbance, such as the black stork (Ciconia nigra), white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), horned owl (Bubo bubo) and common crane (Grus grus).

Ein Flussuferläufer in seinem typischen Lebensraum, dem Flussufer. © W. Stürzbecher
common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

As a result of the small extent of unused river and floodplain sections and the habitats associated with them, typical, mostly rare species of the near-natural floodplain such as the Eurasian bittern (Botaurus stellaris), common shelduck (Tadorna tadorna), corn crake (Crex crex), spotted crake (Porzana porzana) and water rail (Rallus aquaticus) and common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) now only occur in small numbers, but sometimes regularly. The massive loss of hardwood and softwood floodplain forests also led to the decline of species adapted to these habitats.

Ein Weißstorch steht im flachen Wasser. © M. Schneider
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

In the area of the Elbe floodplain and its tributary lowlands, however, extensive melioration measures were carried out with the construction of pumping stations and drainage, which changed the water balance. In connection with an increasingly intensive use of the floodplain grasslands, this led to a strong decline of meadow birds, especially species such as northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), common snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata), black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) and common redshank (Tringa totanus). Some populations of these species are already extinct or have shrunk to a minimum.

The quite stable occurrence of the white stork (Ciconia ciconia), which prefers open landscapes with wet meadows that are periodically flooded, is remarkable and of supra-regional importance. In the area of the lower Middle Elbe, the species reaches the highest settlement density in Central Europe with about 300 pairs. In the Mecklenburg part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, about 35 pairs of storks breed regularly.

Ein Braunkehlchen auf einem Ast. © O. Ulmer
whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

Typical bird species in the area of the open dunes and the adjacent dune-pine forests are the  Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla), Eurasian golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus), woodlark (Lullula arborea), whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) and also European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus).


Biber schwimmend. © D. Eisermann
Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber)

Among the mammals present, the occurrences of beaver and otter are particularly noteworthy.

The beaver (Castor fiber), which is active at dusk and at night, is a characteristic species of the river valley floodplains. As a semi-aquatic mammal, it lives mainly in the softwood floodplain and also uses the rivers and their tributaries as migration corridors. After the beaver was on the verge of extinction in Europe in the mid-19th century, it is once again an integral part of the Elbe floodplains thanks to intensive conservation efforts. Despite all the population recoveries in recent years, however, the beaver is still one of the animals threatened with extinction in Germany.

Junger Fischotter in einer Wiese. © W. Stürzbecher
Young Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra)

Another typical species of flowing waters and thus also of the Stromtal-floodplain is the otter (Lutra lutra). It needs fish-rich standing and flowing waters with natural riparian vegetation and uses these - like the beaver - as a migration corridor at the same time. The otter inhabits the area of the Biosphere Reserve continuously, but in small numbers. The occurrences in the Elbe valley are already outside the closed range of the otter in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and are of particular importance for the natural distribution of this species, especially as they represent an important connecting corridor to the sub-populations in the north and east of the country.

Amphibians and Reptiles

Ein Laubfrosch auf einem Schilfhalm. © W. Spillner
European tree frog (Hyla arborea)

A total of eleven amphibian species have been identified so far: northern crested newt (Triturus cristatus), smooth newt (Triturus vulgaris), fire-bellied toad (Bombina bombina), common toad (Bufo bufo), natterjack toad (Bufo calamita), green toad, tree frog (Hyla arborea), common frog, moor frog (Rana arvalis), marsh frog (Rana ridibunda), common water frog (Rana kl. esculenta) as well as five reptile species common lizard (Lacerta vivipara), sand lizard (Lacerta agilis), slow worm (Anguis fragilis), common adder (Vipera berus) and grass snake (Natrix natrix) were recorded in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Flusslandschaft Elbe M-V. This number can be considered very high and indicates both a rich natural environment and the herpetological importance of the area.


Kaulbarsch (Gymnocephalus cernuum) © D. Foitlänger
Eurasian ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua)

The Elbe and its tributaries are of particular importance as a habitat and migration corridor for various fish. For fish species migrating upstream, the Elbe offers a certain degree of passability due to the fish ladder from the Geesthacht weir. Especially the wide Elbe current creates calm water areas with deep scours and suitable spawning sites with shallow overflowing gravel banks. Among them, the occurrences of asp (Aspius aspius),  spined loach (Cobitis taenia), European bullhead (Cottus gobio), white-finned gudgeon (Romanogobio albipinnatus), European river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis) and brook lamprey (Lampetra planeri) are noteworthy. Some of these are bound to low-polluted, near-natural flowing waters. The Elbe floodplain is particularly important as a migration corridor for the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) and Antlantic salmon (Salmo salar).


Nahaufnahme des großen und schwarz gefärbten Heldbocks auf einer Baumrinde im UNESCO-Biosphärenreservat Flusslandschaft Elbe Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. © M. Hippke
great capricorn beetle (Cerambyx cerdo)

The insect fauna is richly represented. As a result of the habitat diversity of the Biosphere Reserve, among the beetles, grasshoppers and dragonflies as well as the day and night moths, heat-loving species of dry habitats can be found alongside numerous species of wetlands. The protected antlion, for example, is only one species that depends on the open sandy areas, as well as numerous wild bee species and Ammophila, sphecoid and ichneumon wasps.

Of the beetles, the important occurrence of the great capricorn beetle (Cerambyx cerdo) in Europe is particularly worth mentioning.

Mussels, Crabs and Co.

Qualmgewässer hinter dem Elbedeich © D. Foitlänger
seepage behind the Elbe dike

The nutrient-poor streams and rivers are also an important habitat for the thick shelled river mussel (Unio crassus). The occurrence of these species is also of Europe-wide importance.

So far, little attention has been paid to the rare species of the leaf-footed crustaceans 'tadpole shrimp' (Lepidurus apus) and 'fairy shrimp' (Anostraca), which are both bound to seepage water zones. The occurrences of these particular species in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are limited to the Elbe valley. They were typically found here in seepage directly behind the dyke.