NEWS

Rare Mediterranean plant species are now under threat of extinction

Ten of the 50 threatened species of plants on Mediterranean islands are to be found in Greece, according to a book published by the World Conservation Union that was recently translated into Greek. «Throughout the Mediterranean are to be found about 30,000 different species and subspecies of plants, that is 10 percent of the world’s recorded higher plant forms,» said Grigoris Iatrou, associate professor at Patras University’s biology department who edited the Greek edition along with Costas Kadis. «Greece has about 6,500 species and subspecies, of which 1,300 are found only in Greece and nowhere else in the world.» Some of these are only found in certain places, sometimes as small as a hectare. «There are species that have a very small distribution, for example on a single island or mountain, or in one particular gorge. For example, there are 40 endemic plants in the Leonidio gorge, of which seven or eight are only found in that particular place in a 300-square-meter area,» explained Iatrou. The limited distribution of certain plants is often the reason that some species become extinct. Ten of these species are included in «The Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants» (the Greek edition of which is accessible at http://www.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/2005-025-El.pdf). «The publication includes four plants from Crete, two from Evia and one each from Samos, Kythera, Elafonisos and Skyros-Skyropoula,» said Iatrou. «The plants were chosen on the basis of their rarity and the pressure on the biotopes in which they grow. For example Consolida samia, a small annual plant with mauve flowers, is believed to have almost disappeared from the steep slopes of Mt Kerki on the island of Samos. If it reappears, steps should be taken to protect it.» Human activities are often behind the disappearance of a species. «In Greece many rare plant species are threatened with extinction because of urbanization, tourism, fires and changing farm practices. There is also pressure from the invasion of foreign species, as well as the systematic collection of plants by biologists,» Iatrou said. «The rarity of a species increases the interest of scientists and museums.» What all experts appear to agree on is that the public needs to be made more aware of the problem, particularly in areas where rare endemic plants are found. «Unfortunately, most people don’t know that certain species grow on their own island – and nowhere else in the world. So greater awareness is needed,» he concluded. «Perhaps schools need to play a greater part in this process.»