Technological innovation to support the ‘fight’ against alien species

A database of the invasive plant and animal species present in the Mediterranean area is being developed to counteract the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services and, at the same time, promote the restoration of sites. The technological innovations supported by the actions of the researchers of the FAST – Fight Alien Species Transborder project within the Interreg V-A Italy-Malta 2014-2020 have recently been illustrated during an event at the University of Malta. This project studies the impact of alien species on our environment’s natural biodiversity.

“The database of alien plant species of Sicily and Malta, still being updated, already includes about 700 species, more than one to be considered invasive, and over 900 alien animal species, of which 150 invasive” explained Prof. Pietro Minissale (University of Catania) and Mr Thomas Cassar (University of Malta). The Department of Biology, Geology, and Environmental Sciences of the University of Catania is the Leading Partner in the Sicilian-Maltese partnership.

A project that also provides an innovative character in the process of eradication of alien species scrub thanks to the use of drones in the pre and post-intervention phases that will allow the effectiveness of the interventions to be monitored over time. The theme of the control of exotic species in Malta was addressed by Dr Darrin Stevens, Deputy Director of the Maltese Authority for the Environment and its Resources.

“Once again international collaboration is of fundamental importance to concretely address ‘global’ problems such as those of invasive alien species” explained Prof. Joseph Cacciottolo, Vice-Rector of the University of Malta.

Mr Arthur Lamoliere of the University of Malta and Mr Immanuel Grima, a Senior Agricultural Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights of Malta illustrated the actions already carried out or underway in the Maltese archipelago on Carpobrotus acinaciformis, Ricinus communis, Pennisetum setaceum, and some monitoring carried out with the drone to verify intervention effectiveness.

The three Natura 2000 sites chosen for this project around the Maltese islands are:

•          The areas of Buskett and Girgenti

•          Il-Magħluq ta’ Marsaskala

•          The areas of Xlendi and Kantra Valley in the island of Gozo

Dr Gaetano Torrisi and Umberto Troja of the Metropolitan City of Catania presented the interventions that will be carried out with non-invasive techniques in the natural reserves “Oasi del Simeto” and “Fiume Fiumefreddo” and which will concern in particular the invasive alien species Agave americana, Carpobrotus acinaciformis, Opuntia ficus indica, Acacia saligna, Yucca elephantiphes, Wasghingtonia filifera, Nicotiana glauca, Pennisetum setaceum, Ricinus communis and Phyllostachis aurea.

Dr Maria Di Maio and Dr Roberto Cundari of the Libero Municipal Consortium of Ragusa showed interventions similar to the previous ones carried out always with non-invasive techniques, in the natural reserves “Macchia Foresta del Fiume Irminio” and “Pineta di Vittoria” on invasive species: Agave americana and Saccharum aegyptiacum aegyptiacum. The professor Oscar Lisi from the University of Catania, responsible for the communication of the project, illustrated the numerous and articulated activities for the dissemination of results and environmental education carried out in Malta and Sicily where, next October, a new workshop will be held.

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