21 October 2023, IBB, Barcelona
The Botanical Institute of Barcelona, in Montjuïc, hosted the first annual meeting of the LIFE medCLIFFS Volunteering Network on the 21st of October of 2023, which served to present the first results obtained from the field data collected by the project’s volunteers. A total of 37 people took part in this meeting, organised by three of the six public organisations that make up the consortium (IBB-CSIC, the Barcelona Museum of Natural Sciences and the Flora Catalana association).
The LIFE medCLIFFS project and the Volunteer Network
The LIFE medCLIFFS Volunteer Network was created in the framework of the LIFE medCLIFFS project, a nature conservation project funded by the LIFE Programme of the European Union. With a duration of 5 years, LIFE medCLIFFS works to improve the management of invasive flora species in coastal areas, especially in the cliffs with endemic vegetation of the Costa Brava and Cap de Creus. Threatened endemic plants grow in this type of habitat, some of which, such as Seseli farrenyi, are real botanical jewels because they only grow in a few small populations in the Cap de Creus area.
In addition to the early detection carried out through the LIFE medCLIFFS Volunteer Network and the early detection that will be developed through invasion risk modelling, the project is also working on the creation of prevention tools aimed at a better use of plants for gardening, one of the main causes of the spread of invasive flora. It is also working on improving the eradication protocols for certain invasive species, such as Carpobrotus sp., Opuntia sp. and Gazania rigens, in Cap de Creus, one of the areas most affected by this problem. In this way, LIFE medCLIFFS aims to address the threats that currently limit the efficient management of invasive plants.
Data obtained through the Volunteering Network
Since its launch in autumn 2022, a total of 89 people have sponsored 84 of the 104 transects marked along the Costa Brava. Sponsoring a transect means that, along these transects (1 km long stretches that follow the coastal paths), the volunteers collect biological data on several species of non-native plants that grow on the cliffs and coastal paths of the Costa Brava, many of which are invasive. To date, a total of 1277 observations of 29 species of exotic flora present on the coastal cliffs have been collected.
These data, validated by experts from the Botanical Institute of Barcelona, are a fundamental part of LIFE medCLIFFS, as they will be used to assess the risk of invasion of each species on the Costa Brava. This assessment is based on the application of a model developed in Australia, which must be adapted to the specific conditions of the Costa Brava. The great difficulty in applying this model is the lack of data on the distribution and dispersion of invasive flora species in our conditions. For this reason, as Roser Melero, the project manager, points out, <<the collection of field data by the LIFE medCLIFFS Volunteer Network is essential and very valuable>>.
In order to ensure that the data collected are consistent and of the highest possible quality, all members of the LIFE medCLIFFS Volunteer Network are provided with various information materials and resources, such as leaflets, dichotomous keys and video tutorials. In addition, before going out into the field to observe and collect data on the non-native flora present in the transects they have sponsored, the volunteers have to complete a 10-hour training course that includes two practical field trips. Furthermore, field trips are periodically organised where technicians and experts from the Botanical Institute of Barcelona accompany the volunteers in the collection of data, to resolve any doubts they may have, to learn about the habitat of the threatened cliffs and to see first-hand the impact of invasive exotic flora on the native flora.
The LIFE medCLIFFS Volunteer Meeting
The LIFE medCLIFFS Volunteers’ Meeting lasted a whole day, with a morning block of interventions both by the LIFE medCLIFFS project staff and by some volunteers who are experts in fields related to invasive plants and nature conservation.
First of all, the current status of the network was presented, as well as a first analysis of the data provided, which, despite the fact that in some cases some corrections need to be made, are of high quality. The need for volunteers to cover the northern area of the Costa Brava from Roses to Portbou) was highlighted, where more than 50% of the transects are still pending to be sponsored. This lack of data may be one of the factors that distort some of the results obtained, such as the species richness of exotic flora in different areas of the Costa Brava or the proportion of different age classes for a given species. Opuntia ficus-indica (206 observations) and Pittosporum tobira (198 observations) were the most frequently observed exotic species along the Costa Brava.
ASome interesting data were presented by Carlos Gómez-Bellver (CSIC-IBB), who explained that as a result of the work carried out to design the transects of the Volunteer Network, <<it has been possible to detect for the first time various allochthonous species as sub-spontaneous on the Costa Brava>>, i.e. exotic species normally used in gardening that have come to grow spontaneously in the natural environment. These species represent novelties at a European level (Agave paryii, Cocculus laurifolius, Heptapleurum arboricola), peninsular level (Asparagus falcatus, Brugmansia aurea), catalan level (Aloe striata, Ficus pumila, Kleinia articulata, Phormium tenax), provincial level (Girona: Agave ludica, Asparagus aethiopicus, Myoporum laetum, Wigandia urens, Bouganvillea glabra, Firurcarea seollana, Washingtonia filifera) or from the Costa Brava (Cyllindropuntia imbricata, Nicotiana tabacum, Opuntia canterae, Selnicereus undatus).
Jordi López-Pujol (CSIC-IBB), demonstrated that <<Montjuïc is a “hot spot” for allochthonous plants, i.e. it has a greater presence of these plants than other areas of the Mediterranean>> and that it is both an entry point and a reservoir for exotic plants.
Some volunteers from the network also presented their own work: Marc Riera, PhD student at CREAF, presented some of the results of the thesis he is carrying out on spatial patterns and niche breadth of invasive plants; Jean Ichter, ecologist, explained the criteria for the elaboration of the red list of ecosystems in France, with special attention to coastal cliffs with endemic vegetation; Martin Rausch, biologist involved in several citizen science projects in Germany, presented some relevant projects on butterfly and invasive plant monitoring.
After lunch, a visit was made to the nursery of the Botanical Garden of Barcelona, where since 2019 they maintain an ex-situ collection of Seseli farrenyi, one of the floristic endemisms to be favoured with the LIFE medCLIFFS project. Afterwards, with the help of the Friends of the Botanical Garden of Barcelona association, a guided tour of the garden was given, where species from different areas of the world with a Mediterranean climate could be observed. The meeting ended with a visit to the BC Herbarium, the second most important in Spain, and the Salvador cabinet, a unique naturalistic collection in Europe.
Text: Roser Melero