Conservation Science

Plant-animal interactions: Phoenicean juniper dispersal

This project is set up to assess the effect of historical and contemporary processes in the dispersal and population structure of Phoenicean juniper in Cabrera Archipelago National Park.

Juniper forests are an important element in coastal ecosystems of Southern and Western Europe. In particular, juniper forests located in coastal dunes are highly susceptible to climate change. Phoenician juniper is distributed mainly along the Mediterranean, with its coastal form J. phoenicea subsp. turbinata having a global conservation status of near-threatened, due to habitat loss and degradation caused by urban development in coastal areas.

Song thrushes (Turdus philomelos) are important long-distance dispersers of juniper seeds and results from a previous project led by Dr Santamaría (Estación Biológica de Doñana, EBD) in Majorca Island and the Cabrera Archipelago showed that song thrush is the main (almost exclusive) disperser of Phoenician juniper. A collaborative landscape genetics project with EBD assessing the effect of landscape features, past human impact, song thrush movements and wind speed on gene flow of coastal Phoenician juniper within the Archipelago and from/to the nearby island of Majorca. The outcome of this research has revealed that significant genetic structure is present within the Archipelago despite the high levels of gene flow and that populations differ greatly from those on Majorca Island. More importantly, detailed assignment analyses revealed that contemporary gene flow between Majorca and the Archipelago of Cabrera is almost exclusively in a N-S direction (i.e. from Mallorca Island to the Cabrera Archipelago). Further studies will focus on expanding the geographical scale of the study to assess long-distance dispersal of Phoenician juniper so we can develop models that estimate and project long-distance dispersal movements of plants by migratory birds in Europe. Please contact Dr Sílvia Pérez-Espona for further information.