A review on the ecology and management of the Samaria Gorge, a Greek biosphere reserve

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Journal of Geography and egional Planning Vol. 1(2), pp , April, 2008 Available online at Academic Journals Full Length esearch Paper A review on the ecology
Journal of Geography and egional Planning Vol. 1(2), pp , April, 2008 Available online at Academic Journals Full Length esearch Paper A review on the ecology and management of the Samaria Gorge, a Greek biosphere reserve Ioannis Spanos, Panagiotis Platis, Ioannis Meliadis and Alexandros Tsiontis NAGF, Forest esearch Institute, Vassilika, Thessaloniki, Greece. Accepted 14 April, 2008 This paper refers to ecological values of one of the famous Greek national parks. It concerns the White Mountains (2,453 m altitude) including a world biosphere reserve, that situated in western Crete. The area includes extensive cave systems and flat internal upland plains encircled by mountains. The typical landscape consists of deep gorges, steep and imposing vertical rocks forming narrow openings. The steepest, tallest and narrowest opening of the White Mountains is the Samaria Gorge, that was proclaimed as National Park by the Greek Government in 1962 and a Biosphere eserve by UNSCO in The Gorge is famous as a mountainous limestone area with steep rocky slopes and canyons up to 600 m deep. The area is characterized by the presence of 16 habitats of the uropean Habitat Directive, 7 of which are of priority. The vascular flora consists of more than 500 species of trees, shrubs and herbs, 77 of which are endemic species, 37 rare, and 6 vulnerable. The forest ecosystems are broadleaved evergreen woodlands, pines, cypress, maples, wetlands, garrique, maquis, phrygana and chasmophytes. The fauna is very rich in species with 16 mammals (nine are referred to in the ed Book including the endemic Capra aegagrus cretica) and 69 birds (12 are included in annex I of the Directive 79/409/.U. and eight in the ed Book). The special values of the studied area and the impact of human activities to local land-use were clearly described and taken into consideration by the General Management Plant. Key words: Samaria Gorge, World Biosphere eserve, Crete, Lefka Ori, general management plan. INTODUCTION Greece is situated in south-eastern urope (the Balkan peninsula) and it is endowed with splendid scenery, historical and archaeological interest. The country is characterized by many protected areas (320 sites-2,760,000 ha) listed in the uropean Network NATUA 2000 as Special Protected Areas (SPAs) aiming to protect wild and vulnerable species of flora and fauna. Natural sites were declared (by Greek Law) as district protected areas (360,000 ha), of which 95,000 ha consist of 10 national parks (34,254 ha are the cores and 68,742 ha are the peripheral zones). Apart from its important landscape and a high diversity of flora and fauna, two national parks *Corresponding author. -mail: Tel: Fax: (Mount Olympus and the Samaria Gorge) were declared as Biosphere eserves. Former lies in the eastern part of central Greece and the latter on the island of Crete. ach National Park consists of a core area, of strict conservation importance, which normally should not be less than 1,500 ha, and a peripheral zone, which should be at least as large as the core area (Higgs and Usher, 1980; Trakolis, 2001a). In the core area, the law allows only scientific research and environmental education. Forestry activities, grazing, hunting, and fishing are prohibited. Whereas in the peripheral zone there are no such restrictions but the Forest Service can take any neces-sary measures for the realization of the aims of the park (Malamidis et al., 1996; Trakolis, 2001b). Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, defines the southern most boundary of urope. Its unique geographical position is responsible for its being able to boast 020 J. Geogr. eg. Plann. Figure 1. Map showing orientation and vegetation of White Mountains*. *Source: Laboratory of emote Sensing (Forest esearch Institute) an incredible variety of flora and fauna, many of which are endemic with Asiatic and African relationships. The island of Crete has been inhabited since the Neolithic period ( BC). The agricultural settlements of that period were transformed into urban communities during the Minoan Civilisation ( BC) with the influx of new inhabitants (Lyrintzis and Papanastasis, 1995). Herodotos has reported that the Minoan Civilisation ( BC) was based on shipping, and cypress wood was used in ship manufacturing. Until today several remarkable studies on vegetation and human activities have been made in different regions of Crete (Tutin et al., ; Strid, 1989; ackham, 1990; Grove et al., 1993; Turland et al., 1993; Lyrintzis and Papanastasis, 1995; ackham and Moody, 1996; Vogiatzakis et al., 2003). The Cretan area is the most south-easterly of the 39 floristic territories defined by Flora uropaea and is situated in the south Aegean region covering an area of approximately 8,700 km 2. The first botanical studies in Crete started during the Minoan Civilisation ( BC). The vascular flora of Crete is the most remarkable in urope and comprises of about 1,800 native species many of which are widespread Mediterranean and uro- Siberian plants. Many of these species (up to 180) are endemic, as a result of the geographical isolation and adaptation to human activities such as intensive grazing and wildfires. The most important references to the flora and fauna in the Samaria Gorge are the following: Schultze-Western, 1971; Maurommatis, 1976; Husband, 1977; Nicholson et al., 1994; Husband and Davis, 1984; Husband et al., 1986; Husband and Brown, 1994; Malamidis et al., 1996; Strid, 1989; Strid and Kit, 1991; Turland et al., 1993; Spanos et al., The main aim of this study is reviewing the ecological value of Samaria Gorge and evaluate the role of the General Management Plan for future conservation efforts. The evaluation of these values in combination with proposals of the last integrated General Manage-ment Plan (GMP) are discussed in order to conserve this World Biosphere. MTHODS Site description Location: Crete island has long been renowned for its agreeable Mediterranean climate that has always been attractive to humankind and allowed the ancient Minoan civilisation to flourish over four thousand years ago. Although mountains run from east to west across the island, the most rugged and handsome is the White Mountains in the west, which rises to 2,453 m. It is called White Mountains since it is covered with snow until late in the spring and during the summer the sun is reflected off the limestone summits and makes them appear white as well. The highest summit is Pachnes (2,453 m). The mountain has played a significant historical, economic and cultural role throughout the centuries. It includes extensive cave systems and flat internally upland plains away from the coast encircled by mountains named Polje. The typical landscape consists of deep gorges, steep and imposing vertical rocks forming narrow openings, as a result of water action on limestone for thousands of years. The steepest, tallest and narrowest opening of the White Mountains is the famous Gorge of Samaria, that was proclaimed a National Park in 1962 (Figure 1). The Samaria Gorge covers the core of the National Park (4,850 ha). This gorge is the longest in Spanos et al. 021 urope (18 km long) and is famous world wide. In 1981, it was declared by UNSCO as a Biosphere eserve due to the great interest of its natural resources. Classified as a National Park, the gorge is one of the most spectacular natural parks in urope (IUCN 1993). The gorge is unique for its great importance and for its fascinating geology. It is a mountainous limestone area with steep slopes and canyons up to 600 m deep. The gorge is extremely narrow (minimum 2 m wide) extending to the north in an almost straight line 6 km long and contains an intermittent stream. There are exceptional geological formations of limestone and silica schist. It is an area with important biotic and abiotic natural elements, landscape diversity and exceptional biodiversity concerning its flora and fauna. It is open to visitors during the summer for approximately six months. Hiking down the gorge is permitted form May to the end of October, depending on the weather. Hiking the Samaria Gorge takes about four to five hours. Climate The climate can be characterized as typical mild Mediterranean with a long dry period, favourably influenced by the sea (Maurommatis, 1980). The nearest meteorological station is situated to the Gorge in Kantanos at 466 m altitude, and the meteorological data is recorded by the National Meteorological Service of Greece. The mean yearly precipitation is relatively high (depending on the altitude) and it is estimated by the equation P = x h (oseman, 1965), where P = annual percipitation and h = altitude. Thus, for a period of 35 years ( ), the mean annual rainfall at sea level is P = 600 mm and at high altitudes P=1797 mm. The xerothermic period starts at the beginning of May and finishes at the end of September. Most of the rainfall occurs between October and April. MTHODOLOGY The study was based on the general management plan (GMP) for the national park of the White Mountains with special emphasis on the Samaria Gorge (the core zone). The GMP was created by the National Agricultural esearch Foundation (Forest esearch Institute of Thes-saloniki) and was funded by the.u. (LIF program) and Greece (Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of nvironment and Public Works). Five persons were the core group for the execution of this GMP (the four authors of this paper, and their colleague Mr. G. Malamidis, who unfortunately has died). The first GMP proposed to extend the area of the Samaria Gorge including a peripheral zone to the White Mountains to reach 22,110 ha (the core of the Samaria Gorge-6,315 ha, plus the peripheral zone-15,795 ha, (Figure 1). The area is characterized by the presence of 16 habitats according to the uropean Habitat Directive, seven of which are of priority. It is an important area with native forests of calabrian pine, common cypress and maple with high diversity, which many wild animals and plant species inhabit. The avifauna is very rich and 69 birch species have been identified, 20 of which are very important (12 included in annex I of the Directive 79/409/..C. and eight in the ed Book). Flora analysis was based on field data collections and on previous botanical studies in the area (Mavromatis, 1986; Spanos et al., 1998; Turland et al., 1993; Vogiatzakis et al., 2003). Many plants (herbs particularly) were collected from October 2000 to June 2005 and samples were transferred to Thessaloniki (labora tory of Forest esearch Institute) for identification. The botanical nomenclature of the plant species is taken from Mountain Flora of Greece (Strid,1989; Strid and Kit, 1991) and Flora uropaea (Tutin et al., ). The distinction of habitat types was made according to the Annex I of the Habitats 92/43 of the uropean Communities. Fauna analysis was based on field observations and previous studies in the area (Karandinos and Paraschi, 1992; Katsadorakis 1985, 1999, 1994; Phitos et al., 1995). Land use types were classifies via orthophoto maps of the area, while data for visitors and threats were taken from the local Forest Directorate of Chania. SULTS Flora and vegetation The types of forests are the result of the impact of mankind (grazing, cultivation, cutting of rich forests, hunting, fires for clearance and many wildfires) from pre-historic and historic times, to the Neolithic period (6,000-2,800 BC), through to the Minoan Civilisation (2,800-1,000 BC), Christian, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman periods until today, as the result of dominant human activities. Greek flora is unrivalled in richness and diversity by other equivalent Mediterranean countries and possesses many lesser known species, and comprises of 739 ende-mic species (IUCN, 1982). The vegetation and diversity of plant species in the Samaria Gorge are influenced by the typical Mediterranean climate and human activities such as pasture, harvestings and hunting throughout successive historical periods. Much of the vegetation shows obvious adaptations to the Mediterranean climate and many plants are scleroplyllous with thick leaves, others are small-leaved, or densely covered with hairs so that they transpire less during the hot dry summers. Three vegetative zones (types) with five sub-zones (sub-types), according to altitude (Dafis, 1973; Athanasiadis, 1978; Maurommatis, 1980; Spanos et al., 1998) can be distinguished, as illustrated in Table 1. It is remarkable that many shrubs or high trees of Quercus coccifera L. and Phyllirea latifolia L. are spiny, making them resistant to browsing. Additionally, in the sub-type of Quercetum cociferae criticum there are extended plant communities of hemispherical, usually spiny, often aromatic dwarf shrubs, resistant to drought and grazing and rarely growing above 50 cm high named phrygana such as Calicotome villosa Link, uphorbia acanthothamnos Heldr.& Sart., Satureja Juliana L., Verbascum spinosum L., Berberis cretica L., Origanum microphyllum Bogel and Sideritis syriaca L. The forests consist mainly of seven tree species (Pinus brutia Ten., Cupressus sempervirens ssp. Horizontalis L., Acer sempervirens var. creticum L., Quercus coccifera L., Quercus ilex L., Phylirea latifolia L. and Platanus 022 J. Geogr. eg. Plann. Table 1. Vegetation types of white mountains Vegetative Zone Sub-Zone Altitude (m) Main species Quercetalia ilicis Quercetalia ilicis Pistacietum lentisci- Ceratonieto Quercetum cocciferae creticum Pinus brutia, Curpessus sempervirens Pistacia lentiscus Ceratonia siliqua Myrtus communis Sarcopoterium spinosum Pinus brutia Cupressus sempervirens Quercus coccifera Quercus ilex Phillyrea latifolia Cistus creticus Sarcopoterium spinosum Cupressacea-Aceraceae Cupressaceae cretici Cupresus sempervirens Pinus brutia Acer sempervirens Quercus coccifera Berberis cretica Zelkova abelicea Cupressacea-Aceraceae Aceretea cretici Acer sempervirens Cupressus sempervirens Quercus coccifera Quercus ilex Phyllirea latifolia rica manipuliflora Berberis cretica Sub-alpine zone *Source: Spanos et al Astragalo- Acanthomonetalia Juniperus oxycendrus Astragalus sp. Berberis cretica Verbascum spinosum orientalis L.). Many plants, resistant to hot, dry and infertile conditions (Achillea cretica L., Adiantum capillusveneris L., Asperula incana L., Ceterach officinarum Willd., benus cretica L., Coronilla globosa Lam., Linum arboreum L., Onosma erecta Sibth.&Sm., Petromarula pinnata L., Putoria calabrica Pers., Scutellaria globosa L., Symphyandra cretica L., Verbascum arcturus L.) grow on calcareous rocks hung in small openings named Chasmophytes. Also, many endemic plants, such as Berberis cretica L., Calicotome villosa Link., uphorbia acanthothamnos Heldr.& Sart, Satureja Juliana L. and, Verbascum spinosum L., have developed spines making them resistant to grazing and other human activities. The medicinal and aromatic plants which flourish on White Mountains and in the gorge are of the greatest interest, consisting mainly of chicory (Chicorium intybus L. and C. spinosum), marjoram, mallow, sage and thyme. One other plant is dittany (Origanum dictamus L. or Dictamus creticus L.), a Cretan endemic plant which grows in the ravines of the Cretan mountains. It is an evergreen plant with small heart-shaped fleshy leaves, light green in colour and covered with fine white hairs. It is very difficult to collect because it prefers high places, where it grows in the cracks of tall, steep cliffs. It is known for its therapeutic properties: according to the ancient writers, wild goats eat dittany to heal their wounds. Spanos et al. 023 Table 2. Principal habitat types, listed by the codes of habitats directive annex I*. Code Name % 1210 Annual vegetation of drift lines Intermittently flowering Mediterranean rivers ndemic oro-mediterranean healths with gorge Juniperus phoenica arborescent matorral Diss-dominated garriques Aegean phrygana (Sarcopoterium spinosum) Cretan, Sardinial, Italian and Balearic phrygana formations Screrophyllus grazed forests Balkan screes Pioneer vegetation of rock surface Caves not open to the public Cypress forests (Acero-Cupression) Oriental plane woods (Platanion orientale) Thermo-Mediterranean riparian galleries (Nerio-Tamarix) Olea and Ceratonia forests Mediterannean pine forests with endemic Mesogean pine 29.5 *Source: Malamidis et al Important habitats According to the Habitats Directive Annex I in the Berne Convention esolution of 1996, the principal habitat Type on the studied site (the Samaria Gorge and pro-posed peripheral zone of the national park) are listed on Table 2. Sixteen important habitats were recorded, form which approximately 80% are forest habitats. As men-tioned above, the vascular flora of the national park consists of up to 500 species of trees, shrubs and herbs, 77 of which are endemic, 37 rare, and 6 threatened. (Lam.). ndemic, rare and threatened plant species of the Samaria Gorge are listed on the Table 3. Fauna The fauna is very rich with many important and threatened species (16 mammals, 69 birds, 29 terrestrial malacia, 24 orthoptera, 7 isopoda, 3 trihoptera, 3 amphibians and 8 reptiles). Many mammals (16) inhabit the national park and nine are listed in the ed Book (Katsadorakis, 1985; Nievergelt and Stocker, 1986; Karadinos and Paraschi, 1992; Katsadorakis, 1994; Malamidis et al., 1996). The most important are; four endemic (Capra aegagrus cretica, ptesicus serotinus, Felis sylvestris cretensis, hinolophus blasii), four vulnerable (Glis glis argenteus, Meles mels arcalus, hinolophus ferrumequinum, hinolophus hipposideros), and one rare (Acomys minous). A native mammal of Crete (Capra aegagrus cretica) is a relative species to the domestic goat but distinctively wild, that has been isolated in the gorge. It is the emblem of the Samaria Gorge. It is one of the two remaining habitats of the Cretan wild goat or Kri-Kri (Capra aegagrus cretica) that lives in secluded hollows on the mountainside. The Kri-Kri are usually seen in the afternoon but their shyness makes it unlikely to glimpse one. Unfortunately, there are only about 2,000 animals remaining on the entire island and they face an insecure future: hunters still seek them for their tender meat, grazing grounds have become more scarce and disease is a harsh reality for these beautiful creatures. The list of mammals are illustrated in Table 4. The avifauna is very rich with many birch species, since the total area of the mountain Lefka Ori (core and peripheral zone) is extensive and the number of bird species depends on the length of the forest edge (Katsadorakis, 1991; Malamidis et al., 1996). More than 69 birds nested in the national park, 28 of which are very important (20 are included on the annex I of the Directive 79/409/.U, and eight in the ed Data Book; Acrocephalus melanopogon, Aquila chrysaetos, Gypaetus barbatus, Gyps fulvus, Falco peregrinus, fasciatus, Neophron percnopterus, Pyrrhoco-rax pyrrhocorax). The most important are the raptor species A. chrysaetos which may disappear from the island of Crete as only seven or eight pairs are left. The list of avifauna (birds) is illustrated on the Table 5. Landscape The White Mountain region is mountainous with many 024 J. Geogr. eg. Plann. Table 3. List of endemic (), rare () and vulnerable (V) plant species growing in Samaria Gorge* Allium bourgeaui ech. ssp.creticum Allium dilatatum Zahar. Állium rubrovittatum Boiss.& Heldr. Allium tardans Greuter & Zahar. Asplenium creticum Lovis,eich., Zaffman Anchusa cespitosa Lam. Arabis cretica Boiss.& Heldr. Arum idaeum Coustur.& Gand. Arenaria guicciardii Boiss. Asperula idaea Halacsy Ásperula pubescens (A. incana) (Wild.) hrend & Schonb. Asperula rigida Sm. Avenula cycladum (ech.& Scheff.) Greuter Bellis longifolia Boiss.&Heldr. Bolanthus creutzburgii Greuter Brachypodium sylvaticum (Huds.) P.Beauv. ssp.creticum Scholz & Greuter Aufonia stricta (Sm.) Gurke ssp. Stricta Bupleurum kakiskalae Greuter Campanu
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