Middle East
17 May 2014

Growing hope for plants in Lebanon

Examining rare, endemic Sofar Iris to ensure their long term survival in a micro-reserve in Lebanon. Photo: Hicham Elzein
By Shaun Hurrell

Within the Mediterranean hotspot for biodiversity, surrounded by the mountains of Lebanon, hope is growing for rare and endemic Lebanese plants that are at risk of extinction. After a recent workshop, a collaborative team based at the University of Saint-Joseph (USJ) is on a data-collection mission to classify just how at risk of extinction they are. Once determined, the team can then target conservation and create Plant Micro-Reserves to protect these species.

Lebanon’s mountainous landscape shelters a large diversity of habitats and species, but as one of the most densely populated countries these are increasingly under pressure. For plants (2,600 different species in Lebanon with 12 percent of these endemic), the smallest pocket of ideal conditions – humidity, altitude, temperature, etc. – can be a refuge for an entire species.

Collaboration for Lebanese plants at a comprehensive workshop</br>at University of Saint Joseph. Photo: Hicham Elzein

The workshop sits within a Lebanese conservation project that has already set out to conserve rare and endemic plants in the country. The project, called Determination of Important Areas for Plants and Creation of Micro-Reserves to Conserve Rare or Endemic Species in Lebanon, aims to do just that – study their threats, assess the risk of extinction and then create three micro-reserves to save them. The project is coordinated by Dr. Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat from USJ and funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF)*.

Each Plant Micro-Reserve has a unique micro-climate and characteristic species - one on Mount Lebanon is a carnivorous sundew plant Drosera rotundifolia found in bogs, marshes and fens. Another micro-reserve is already famed for its beautiful endemic iris Iris sofarana Foster, which was recently depicted in the winning photo of 36 finalists in CEPF’s Photo Contest – earning more than 750 votes on CEPF's Facebook page.

A practical third day of the workshop at a</br>proposed Plant Micro-Reserve.</br> Photo: Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat

The comprehensive 3-day workshop (9-11 May 2014) instructed the thirty participants how to identify and classify extinction threats for the plants, following the protocol of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List – criteria and categories, data to be collected, types of threats, etc.

The workshop, led by Dr. Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat, brought together trainers Thomas Alan and Forrest Christian from the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh) with participants from different Lebanese universities and institutions.

On the third day, the team headed straight out into the mountains to find the shin-high purple petals of sofar iris and put the theory into practice. By the next workshop in autumn team will be well on the way to making the national Red List of threatened plants in Lebanon.The contest-winning photo of Sofar Iris, endemic to specific areas in Lebanese mountains. </br>Photo: Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat

This data will be used to liaise with landowners to establish the three micro-reserves (less than 20 ha and used in a network) at Ehmej, Sarada and Baskinta to secure the long term survival of the species. This kind of protected area offers new opportunities for biodiversity management and conservation and ensures the beautiful flora and fauna found there will remain for others to enjoy.

Read more about the project goals and the importance of floral biodiversity in Lebanon on the blog post by Hicham Elzein, Project Coordinator.

*BirdLife International - including its Middle East office and the BirdLife Partners DOPPS/BirdLife Slovenia and LPO (Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux, BirdLife in France) - is providing the Regional Implementation Team (RIT) for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) in the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot (CEPF Med). Find out more at www.birdlife.org/cepf-med.

*The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Conservation International (CI), the European Union, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation. More information on CEPF can be found at www.cepf.net.