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The spatial patterns of disruption of plant -animal interactions within a population dynamic approach

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Island lizard preserves natural environment

Field observations and a detailed knowledge of natural history were matched with advanced computer modelling techniques to help conserve biodiversity on a group of Mediterranean islands. An EU-funded project was set up to investigate how ecosystems are degraded following the disruption of a mutually beneficial relationship between two species.

Climate Change and Environment

Decline or extinction of native plants and animals can upset the delicate natural balance among species and cause major changes in ecosystems. The effect can be especially serious in biodiversity hotspots such as the Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean, which are particularly vulnerable due to their small size. The project 'The spatial patterns of disruption of plant -animal interactions within a population dynamic approach' (Disloop) enabled scientists to gain a better understanding of what happens in an ecosystem when the relationship ceases between a plant and its only seed disperser. Researchers studied the result of interactions between the endangered shrub Dapne rodriguezzii Teixidor and the fruit-eating lizard Podarcis lilfordi Gunter. Two plant populations were assessed; in one population the reptile was present while in the other it was absent. Researchers tested the hypothesis that the reptile's activities directly influenced shrub distribution by integrating results from field experiments into advanced computer models. They included habitat quality models for both plant populations that characterised the landscape from the perspective of the shrub and the lizard. The models identified the most important factors involved in influencing habitat structure and lizard activity, and used them to predict the presence of adult and juvenile plants. The Disloop initiative greatly increased knowledge concerning the medium and long-term effects of disrupting species interactions. The study also provided valuable information regarding the conservation of endangered species and the protection of vulnerable ecosystems.

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