Hic Sunt Lupi: a new project to monitor the return of wolves in Salento

Hic sunt leones“, although historically unclear, is an expression used in cartography to describe unexplored, unknown territory. Similarly, the Hic Sunt Lupi project aims to understand the causes of a hitherto unknown situation: the wolf’s return to Salento (Italy).

Partners of this project are Regione PugliaCNR-IRET, and the Sapienza University of Rome, which will implement it with the support of LifeWatch Italy, the National Biodiversity Future Center and the University of Salento.

In recent years, people have spotted several wolves in the Salento area. However, gathering data and understanding the situation better is crucial before taking any measures to manage this phenomenon. Where do they come from? Have they crossed with dogs?

Thanks to this project, researchers will start investigating and answering these and other questions. Data collected throughout the project will be hosted and made accessible to the scientific community through LifeWatch Italy web services, such as its Data Portal and MetaData Catalogue. Moreover, the Italian Node of the Research Infrastructure will also support citizens’ engagement thanks to its Citizen Science platform, where data coming from people’s observations will be collected, validated and hosted.

Why this project matters

“The wolf has a crucial role in local ecosystems” – explains Francesco Cozzoli, CNR-IRET researcher. Its presence can help renature heavily anthropised habitats in Salento. Also, it controls the populations of wild or feral animals like wild boar. Although it can be a catalyst for ecotourism, the presence of large carnivores can create management issues. 

Francesco De Leo, researcher at the CNR-IRET, says it’s crucial to comprehensively understand the local situation: “The wolf is a mammal that adapts to changes in its environment, including its diet and habits”. This knowledge will be the foundation for an informed and effective management plan.

Therefore, the Hic Sunt Lupi project will systematically monitor the Salento area to determine the wolves’ demography, distribution and diet, mainly through photo-trapping and scat collection. This phase is aimed at mapping wolves’ population in the area. Furthermore, studying their genetics will help to understand their origin, most likely the nearby Apennines. Also, the analysis will provide information on their family structure and the degree of hybridisation with domestic dogs, thanks to molecular analysis technologies and spatial modelling.

“In an era in which human beings have colonised a large part of the habitats of wildlife, the issue of coexistence with large predators, such as bears and wolves, arises with increasing urgency. The latter has started re-populating Salento and its presence is arousing curiosity and concern. In order to find a solution, we need to put aside prejudices and ideologies and rely on research, on science. This is why I strongly wanted this project.” – says the regional Councillor for Environment, Anna Grazia Maraschio – “The first step we can take is to know, in as much detail as possible, its presence in the Salento area, so that we have the necessary tools for any assessment”.

A Dive into Parque das Serras do Porto’s Invertebrate Habitats

The park Serras do Porto in Portugal spans almost 6000 hectares across the municipalities of Gondomar, Paredes, and Valongo in the metropolitan area of Porto. It boasts a stunning array of natural wonders, including the mountains of Santa Justa, Pias, Castiçal, Santa Iria, Flores, and Banjas.

To better understand this region, which is so crucial for biodiversity, LifeWatch Portugal has published a free guide to invertebrates that includes 117 species observed in 6000 hectares of protected territory.

This guide is in two parts. The first looks at the challenges and needs of species conservation, providing valuable insights and guidance. The second part delves into the park’s landscapes, with photographs and information on the 117 species divided into 15 groups – including butterflies and moths, flies, beetles, dragonflies, grasshoppers, crickets, bees, wasps and leeches. Sónia Ferreira, the content coordinator and researcher at Associação BIOPOLIS/CIBIO, explains that the purpose of this guide is to provide valuable and accessible information to people of all ages, whether they are using it as a reference at home or during a visit to the park.

The guide celebrates the diverse ecosystem and beckons nature enthusiasts, families, and scholars to explore the enchanting world of butterflies, grasshoppers, and other species that live in this regional protected landscape. Inside, you will find species like the European stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) and the Kerry slug (Geomalacus maculosus), as well as invaders like the Red Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus). 

The guide also includes a chapter on the history of research carried out on the park, from the first observation by Spanish naturalist Ignacio Bolivar in 1887 to the legal creation of the protected area in 2017, which was written by José Manuel Grosso-Silva, curator of entomology at the Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto.

Are you ready to explore the species that inhabit Parque das Serras do Porto? Then grab your boots and your guide, and immerse yourself in nature! You can find more information on this page.

LifeWatch ERIC at the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting 2023

The British Ecological Society Annual Meeting from 12-15 2023 December in Belfast offered LifeWatch ERIC the perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the infrastructure’s cloud-based and free data management facilities and many chances to network and understand what tools and services biodiversity and ecosystem researchers most want. The British Ecological Society is the oldest association for ecologists and the largest in Europe, boasting more than 7,500 members worldwide. 

Eight researchers from LifeWatch ERIC, the Italian National Research Council and the University of Salento presented their work on biodiversity loss, climate change and invasive alien species. Angela Carluccio and Alexandra Nicoleta Muresan gave oral presentations online. Daniel CrespoCristina Di MuriLucia FaniniVanessa MarroccoJustine Pagnier and Jessica Titocci attended the whole conference and actively directed participants to the LifeWatch ERIC stand in the main hall, helping maintain a presence, answering enquiries and distributing branded merchandise. An online survey canvassing researchers’ data requirements was particularly popular.

Plenary presentations by Isabella Tree (author of ‘Wilding’), Stuart Davies (ForestGEO) and Jane Stout (Trinity College Dublin) provided worrying updates on the complex challenges facing planet Earth but also offered glimmers of hope in that Ecology has demonstrated its central role in governance and policy at all levels.

LifeWatch ERIC’s sponsorship of the Poster Sessions captured the attention of many of the 1300 ecologists present, and Chief Executive Officer Christos Arvanitidis and Service Center Director Alberto Basset contributed enthusiastically to answering enquiries about the rapidly evolving tools and services to accelerate and extend the scales of biodiversity and ecosystem research.