EXPLORATION OF THE PELAGIAN NATURAL HISTORY
In 1828, between the 2nd and 31st August, Gussone explored the island of Lampedusa (visiting also Lampione on the 15th and Linosa on 30th August), he then published in 1839 an account of the 274 species of plants he found.
Eighteen years after Gussone`s visit, in 1846 Pietro Calcara published his "Report on the scientific journey performed in the islands of Lampedusa, Linosa and Pantelleria, and elsewhere in Sicily", presenting the first serious contribution to the description of these islands. Appointed by the King to carry out "study of the natural sciences" of the island of Lampedusa, the following year he published his "Description of the island of Lampedusa", which we can consider the first accurate compilation of its characteristics, taken from the visit that he took place between 18th May and 15th June 1846, and also provided the first list of invertebrates of the island, listing 16 species of insects, which were added to the three previously found in Linosa between the 8th and 10th June 1846. With regards to the islet of Lampione this author has limited himself to reporting the notes of the botanist Giovanni Gussone, who had described it as a calcareous slab corroded by the impetus of the sea, yet once inhabited and cultivated by man, as evidenced by the mosaic floor formed by irregular cubes of raw marble embedded in the cement, as well as the roof of another building supported by an arch, already described by Captain Smyth in 1824. With regards to the plants, Calcara reports a total of 114 species, 23 of which were not previously reported by Gussone. He also created a geological map of Lampedusa and Linosa and carried out the description of the latter.
Calcara wrote, in 1847 on Lampedusa there was a luxuriant vegetal mantle consisting of a thick Mediterranean scrub in its most diversified and evolved form, in which there were abounding Aleppo Pines, Mock Privet, Juniper, Carobs, Strawberry trees and Olives; the larger species were found inside the characteristic gullies which run out along the southern coast, fossil river beds similar to the African oued, which crossed the island when this was an integral part of the African continent. The Strawberry trees formed impenetrable expanses of maquis and its fruits rich in alcohol are the dialectal name of the toponym "Imbriacola", which still exists today. When Captain Sanvisente colonized Linosa, there was a considerable number of wild goats, but almost certainly these must have been domesticated goats which turned feral, as noted by Calcara in 1847; moreover he observed a consistent number of mice, of which, however, were not mentioned by other authors of the time.
Wherever he went on Lampedusa, Sanvisente found rich vegetation in which rabbits sought shelter, wild boars, wild cats (more probably feral ones), turtles, feral goats and a form of small deer, similar to the Sardinian one, probably introduced by man. Along the coast the monk seals were abundant, about which Calcara writes: "... they live in harmony with each other, their night time snoring on the beaches close to the port, was heard by the island’s inhabitants". The most curious aspect, however, was represented by the regular presence of "cranes" (these were Demoiselle Cranes Grus virgo), who stopped in Lampedusa between May and June, causing destruction of the harvest.
Like Lampedusa, Linosa is also mentioned by Ludovico Ariosto in his Orlando Furioso: “D'abitazioni è l'isoletta vòta,/piena d'umil mortelle (poisonous fruits) e di ginepri (junipers)/ioconda solitudine e remota(??)/a cervi (deer), daini (Fallow Deer), a capriuoli (Roe Deer), a lepri (hares);/e fuor ch'a piscatori, è poco nota,/ove sovente a rimondati vepri/sospendon, per seccar, l'umide reti:/dormono intanto i pesci in mar quïeti." (Canto XL, st. XLV). In 1824, captain Smyth wrote about Linosa stating that the island was sparsely inhabited and that it lacked any quadruped, so much so that in a subsequent visit to the island he introduced some rabbits: the island had previously been inhabited by the Romans and perhaps also by the Arabs, after at least four centuries of total abandonment, it was re-colonized in 1845 by the Bourbons.
The complex natural and human history of the Pelagian Islands has profoundly influenced the fauna of the archipelago, causing the extinction of some species, but also new colonizations. The relatively recent colonization by humans of the Pelagian islands has been described by various naturalists and this allows us to have a clear picture of the evolution of the islands` fauna. The main bibliographical references on the matter are found in the writings of Calcara of 1846 and 1847, Sanvisente in 1849, Enrico Hillyer Giglioli in 1884, 1891 and 1907 and, with regard to the invertebrate fauna, the articles by Luigi Failla-Tedaldi of 1887, Enrico Ragusa of 1892 and Trabucco of 1890. In the first half of the 20th century several authors published data and information on the Pelagian islands; in the second half of the 20th century studies intensified, including those of Edoardo Zavattari of 1954, 1957 and 1960, who discovered the only Italian population of Psammodromus algirus on Isola dei Conigli. With reference to birds, the work of Edgardo Moltoni of 1970 remains fundamental, it was recently updated by a monograph Uccelli delle Isole circumsiciliane by Massa et al. (2015). A lot of data on the arthropod fauna has been collected during field excursions coordinated by Baccio Baccetti in 1991 and 1992 on behalf of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, with the support of the oceanographic vessels Bannock and Urania. For the arthropod fauna the volume of Il Naturalista Siciliano, published in 1995, remains a fundamental piece of literature; since then, however, numerous new reports have been reported and new species endemic to these islands have been described, while others are awaiting a description in the context of wider taxonomic list.