Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants Threatened with Extinction Title

Nicosia, Cyprus and Gland, Switzerland, 6th July 2007 (IUCN) - Cyprus, Crete, Ibiza, Sicily, Malta – for many, these islands conjure up images of dream holiday destinations. But the natural beauty that draws thousands of visitors to these islands every year is being fast eroded. Many of the close to 25,000 Mediterranean native plants that make the region one of the world’s 34 biodiversity ‘hotspots’ are disappearing.

An effective tool for raising conservation awareness, the Greek version of The Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants, is being launched today by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) at the Laiki Group Cultural Centre in Nicosia, Cyprus. The Cypriot Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment, Mr Photis Photiou, will address the event to stress the importance of biodiversity conservation. This book is the Union’s first publication in Greek, it lays out a conservation strategy for a representative selection of the region’s threatened plants, both eye-catching species, such as the striking Casey’s larkspur on Cyprus, as well as more inconspicuous plants, like the small yellow Bupleurum kakiskalae on Crete

The handbook aims to reverse the decline of these natural treasures by helping policy makers in the respective countries take appropriate decisions to protect their natural heritage. It is already available in English and French, and has recently been translated into Spanish.

There are nearly 5,000 islands ranging greatly in size in the Mediterranean basin, many of which are home to an exceptionally diverse flora. Nearly 25,000 species of flowering plants and ferns are native to the countries surrounding the basin and 60% of these are endemic (found nowhere else in the world).

“The diverse and varied islands that make up the Greek archipelago support a great wealth of plant species” said Greek plant expert Professor Gregoris Iatrou based at the University of Patras “at least 2850 species have been recorded, of which 650 are found nowhere else in the world” he added.

Over the past few decades, intensive agriculture, infrastructure development, urbanization and mass tourism have wreaked havoc on natural habitats. Rapid population growth, climate change and the spread of alien invasive plants have also eliminated many native species and many more are on the point of extinction.

“On Cyprus we have selected seven species to illustrate the diversity of the rich plant heritage on the island” said Cypriot botanist Dr Costas Kadis, of Frederick Institute of Technology, Nicosia, “and to highlight the many pressures that are threatening them” he continued.

Endemic species are often highly localized with a small number of individuals, making them particularly susceptible to extinction. Any major disturbance such as fire or construction work could wipe them out. The ‘Top 50’ presented in the book have been selected from these many rare and threatened species. It outlines why they are threatened, what is being done to protect them, and what more is needed to prevent them being lost forever.

The book emphasizes the need for on-site conservation rather than cultivation and reintroduction, as this is complicated and expensive. It is far more efficient to protect plants where they naturally occur and maintain “insurance” populations for worst-case scenarios. Only about 50% of the Top 50 species are found in protected areas and many of these areas are not being managed adequately.

“Protected areas are an important tool in conserving entire ecological communities, not just the Top 50 species,” says Bertrand de Montmollin, Chair of the Mediterranean Island Plant Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “However, monitoring the conservation status of specific species can serve as an indicator for how well we are managing these areas.”

Many more species than those listed in the booklet need urgent conservation action. The Mediterranean Island Plant Specialist Group, together with partners and the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation, continues to identify threatened species in the region and propose further conservation action

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