M4b - Mountain Biodiversity as a sentinel of environmental change

Lead Author: FORTH/Samaria NP (Dimitris Poursanidis, Nektarios Chrysoulakis, Antonios Barnias, Petros Lymberakis)
Contributors: Guy Ziv (UnivLeeds)
Editor: Asja Bernd (UBT)

Long term monitoring of the distribution of species can provide insights in the population dynamics, allowing understanding the trends of them. Such data coupled with environmental parameters collected in time series or observed by satellites can show off areas suitable for a certain species. When these are coming from climate change scenarios, allow us to predict possible declines in species occurrence and population decline. Mountainous areas are highly sensitive to climatic and environmental changes, while the loss of biodiversity is driven by such changes.

Samaria National Park on Crete, Greece, hosts endemic plants and animals, among them the Cretan lizard Podarcis cretensis. This endangered reptile is mainly found in the West of Crete, though small populations can be found in the islets of the East Crete but not on the main island. The National Park receives a large number of tourists every year as they visit the gorge of Samaria, a popular landmark of Crete. Some of the main touristic routes, match up with sites of high populations of the Cretan lizard, thus, there is an urgent need for a conservation plan that enables tourism that does not further endanger the Cretan lizard.

The storyline aims at making the best use of satellite remote sensing products, such as data from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellites, for conservation. Because it is impossible to monitor the complete national park to detect lizard populations due to both costs and the remote locations within the park, we combined Earth Observation data with in-situ data on known lizard occurrences to model the species distribution. To put it simply: Species Distribution Models (SDMs) analyse the environmental conditions in places where a species is known to occur, and that are therefore favourable. This knowledge is then applied to the remaining area to determine further sites that have a high likelihood of providing a good habitat. The resulting prediction maps provide previously unknown areas that are likely to host the Cretan lizard. In the following, these sites are then visited in the field for validation.

 During this process, we have worked closely with the local Protected Area staff, both drawing on their expert knowledge, as well as providing our results to inform further conservation planning. We can also support the managers by monitoring illegal activities within Samaria National Park, such as logging, through Sentinel data. Our research can, thus, also support law enforcement, while the use of open access satellite data provides a cost-effective approach.

 In the upcoming months we want to feed the results from the SDMs into connectivity models. Habitat fragmentation is a major driver of biodiversity loss, so a better understanding of how well or poorly the lizard populations are connected is crucial to plan further conservation activities.


Figure 1: The Roussies Plateau in the White Mountains. Credit: Antonis Tsakirakis/Samaria National Park.

Figure 2: The Samaria Gorge is the major touristic attraction within the national park. Several gorges like the gorge of Aradaina (photo above) show similar topographic characteristics. Credit: Dimitris Poursanidis/FORTH.

Figure 3: A Cretan lizard on a rock. Like all reptiles they rely on external heat sources like sunshine to increase their body temperature. Credit: Apostolos Trichas/NHMC.

Figure 4: This map of the Samaria National Park shows the likelihood of Cretan lizard occurrence, based on a species distribution model. Credit: Dimitris Poursanidis/FORTH.


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ECOPOTENTIAL-related presentations and publications:

Pasetto D., Arenas-Castro S., Bustamante J., Casagrandi R., Chrysoulakis N., Cord A. F., Dittrich A., Domingo-Marimon C., El Serafy G., Karnieli A., Kordelas G. A., Ioannis M., Lorenzo M., Monteiro A., Palazzi E., Poursanidis D., Rinaldo, A., Terzago S., Ziemba, A. & Ziv G. 2018. Integration of satellite remote sensing data in ecosystem modelling at local scales: Practices and trends. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 9(8), 1810-1821. Special issue Improving biodiversity monitoring using satellite remote sensing. http://doi.org/10.1111/2041-210X.13018.

Poursanidis D., P. Lymberakis, Spaneli V., & Chrysoulakis N. 2017. Topographic factors promoting the distribution of the endemic lizard Podarcis cretensis in Samaria National park. 19th SEH European Congress of Herpetology, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria, September 18th-23rd 2017. Programme & Abstracts. 284 pp.

Poursanidis D., Barnias A., Lymberakis P., Giamberini S. & Chrysoulakis N. 2018. Copernicus Sentinel data for local scale conservation activities. The use of Sentinel-2 data, combined with landscape factors provides insights of the distribution of the endemic lizard Podarcis cretensis. In “The ever growing use of Copernicus across Europe’s regions - A selection of 99 user stories by local and regional authorities” pg 116-117. Available at https://www.copernicus.eu/sites/default/files/PUBLICATION_Copernicus4regions_2018.pdf

Click here to download the storyline presentation
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 641762.

Last update: March 2020