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Two Life projects to preserve ecosystems and endemic species

Two LIFE projects have been launched in recent weeks, one aimed to establish a strategy for tackling invasive alien flora, and the other to preserve high mountain aquatic ecosystems. In both cases, the final goal is to protect ecosystems and endemic species.

Life medCliffs also includes demonstrative actions to control and eradicate established alien species such as prickly pear (in the picture), cat's claw and gazania

The Life medCliffs, project, which will focus its actions on the Cap de Creus Natural Park, has just been launched. It aims to combat invasive alien flora, which threatens biodiversity and the landscape, and also has a negative impact on human health as well as on economy.

As a matter of fact, Cap de Creus is one of the areas with coastal cliffs most affected by this problem in Spain. Over the next five years, Life medCliffs will implement a strategic line for the management of invasive alien flora.

Exotic or allochthonous species are those that are introduced into an environment in which they are not native and have the capacity to adapt to the new ecosystem. The region of Girona, especially areas on the coast, concentrate many exotic species due to factors such as a temperate climate, a high degree of human activity and a geographical location, with a biological and infrastructure corridor that favours the passage and expansion of numerous organisms.

The project is born with an integrating vocation and, in this sense, involves public administrations, scientists, volunteers and the productive sector, and seeks the collaboration of individuals and local entities. In fact, one of the first steps has been to agree some authorizations and collaborations with landowners, public bodies and organisations in order to promote citizen participation.

This project, co-funded by the K, is led by the CSIC through the Botanical Institute of Barcelona, and has five partners: the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Diputació de Girona, the Museu de Ciències Naturals de Barcelona, la Federació de Viveristes de Catalunya and the Associació Flora Catalana.

Good practice guidance and quality mark for suppliers

Although some invasive alien plant species have been introduced accidentally, gardening and the use of ornamental plants are considered to be the main entrance. The project will focus on raising social awareness of the harmful effects of these invasive species and the need to reduce their spread. Actions are also planned, such as the drafting of a good practice guide, with a list of species and ornamental flora to be avoided; the creation of a quality label for suppliers (nurseries, gardening companies and supermarket chains, among others); and the drafting of a regulation for the use of ornamental flora at municipal level.

The project also includes demonstrative actions to control and eradicate established alien species such as prickly pear, cat's claw and gazania to reduce their impact on sensitive areas hosting endangered endemic species such as the globally unique Limonium geronense and Seseli farrenyi.

At the same time, it will be created participatory networks for the early detection and control of invasive alien flora. These will be made up of volunteers with different levels of expertise who will provide key information to update and calibrate a new rapid response system. These early detection strategies for these species will be carried out using an automated assessment system (RISKMAPR), developed by the Australian group CSIRO Health & Biosecurity and adapted to the local conditions of the Costa Brava. The Generalitat de Catalunya, as the competent institution in Catalonia, will incorporate this tool into its management structure once it has been implemented.

The Life Resque Alpyr project aims to restore high mountain aquatic habitats, such as the site pictured, Circ de Dellui (Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici), in the Pyrenees.

Restoring mountain aquatic habitats

The Life Resque Alpyr project aims to restore high mountain aquatic habitats by improving the conservation of target habitats and species in four Natura 2000 sites in the Alpine regions of the Pyrenees and the Alps. The target habitats include eleven aquatic or semi-aquatic habitats.

The project, coordinated by the CSIC’s Centre d’Estudis Avançats de Blanes (CEAB), will provide replicable and exportable actions, raise awareness of the project's conservation issues among people and stakeholders, and promote the transfer of knowledge gained from the project to other high mountain areas and European conservation authorities.

Efforts will focus mainly on lakes, alpine and sub-alpine meadows, peat bogs and carbonate springs. Among the target species to be protected are amphibians such as the red frog, the toad and the Pyrenean newt, which is endemic to the Pyrenees;  the Pyrenean desmán, a semi-aquatic mammal (Galemys pyrenaicus), and seven insectivorous bats threatened by anthropogenic pressures in the two study areas.

Marc Ventura, researcher at the Department of Continental Ecology at CEAB-CSIC and coordinator of the project, explains that "the target habitats and most of the species have a fragmented distribution, are found in small areas of the European alpine biogeographic zone, and are affected by anthropic pressures". Among the main threats are the proliferation of allochthonous fish species such as trout and ‘piscardo’ in high mountain lakes that originally lacked fish fauna; the excessive frequentation of livestock around springs, ponds and peat bogs, the afforestation of peat bogs and the abandonment of traditional uses of mowing in subalpine meadows.

Among the different actions of the project will be the eradication of allochthonous fish, mainly minnow, in some high mountain ponds. Other actions will include selective mowing of meadows, management of livestock grazing in peatlands and semi-aquatic habitats, and improvement of the conservation status of peatlands through forest clearance.

The project will provide conservation actions that can be replicated and exported, and will carry out awareness-raising and dissemination actions detailing the conservation problems of the different areas and species by means of permanent exhibitions in Lladorre and Espot. At the same time, it will promote the transfer of the knowledge acquired to other high mountain areas and to European conservation authorities.

This project is coordinated by the CEAB-CSIC and counts on the participation of the Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda of the Generalitat of Catalonia, the Department of Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Environment of the Conselh Generau d'Aran, the University of Barcelona, the IDAEA-CSIC, the companies Forestal Catalana and Sorelló Studies in the Aquatic Environment, and the association Sorellona.  On the Italian side, the Monte Avic Natural Park, the Università degli Studi di Pavia and the Istituto de Ricerca Sulle Acque del Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (IRSA-CNR) are participating. In addition, the Andrena Foundation, the Gran Paradiso National Park and the town councils of Espot and Lladorre participate as co-funders.