FAUNA AND FLORA
The botany of the Pelagian archipelago is without any doubt, the most studied of all the Italian islands: in fact, one finds an almost uninterrupted collection of botanical data ranging from the Nineteen Century up to the present times. In particular, the total number of species recorded to date from the island of Linosa amounts to around 308 different species of vascular plants.
Linosa hosts a small number of endemic species; this is probably the result of its relatively young geological age. The endemics are: Limonium algusae, Plumbaginacea present in along the southern and eastern rocky coastline; a species of Geraniaceae Erodium neuradifolium var. linosae, common in fields during spring; Valantia calva, a tiny annual Rubiacea, typically growing for a short period of time on the lava slopes; Pancratium maritimum, a psammophile species of Amarillidaceae found growing in the sandy pockets in the eastern rocky coast of Cala Pozzolana and is also encountered in various other sites along the northern coast (Cala Mannarazza, Punta Calcarella). Linosa also hosts a number of endemics present in the Sicilian channel; including Logfia lojaconoi, present also on Pantelleria and Linaria pseudolaxiflora, also known from the Maltese Archipelago.
The Pelagian Islands are iconic for the Loggerhead Turtle Caretta caretta, a marine turtle which regularly lays its eggs on the lava beach at Pozzolana di Ponente on Linosa and along the Spiaggia dei Conigli on Lampedusa. For many years, volunteers from the “Centro Recupero Tartarughe” on Linosa and Legambiente on Lampedusa have been monitoring the breeding of these animals on both islands.
Without any doubt, the most ubiquitous species of the terrestrial fauna present on Linosa is the Maltese Wall Lizard Podarcis filfolensis, present also on the islet of Lampione and is considered as an endemic subspecies (ssp. laurentiimuelleri); apart from these islands, this species is also found on the Maltese Archipelago; in the last decade the ssp. laurentiimuelleri is also present on Lampedusa where a small population was deliberately introduced on the island. Commonly encountered is the Ocellated Skink Chalcides ocellatus; the dark skinned (melanistic) form found on Linosa has been attributed to the sub-species tiligugu, while the population present on Lampedusa and on the small isolotto dei Conigli is believed to be a hybrid form between the Sicilian population and the sub-species present in North Africa (ocellatus); the species is also present on the islet of Lampione. Also common is the Turkish Gecko Hemidactylus turcicus, first recorded on Linosa and Lampedusa by Pietro Calcara in 1847. The Moorish Gecko Tarentola mauretanica is present on Lampedusa and on Isolotto dei Conigli; quite recently it was also introduced on Linosa, where it is now quite common.
Lampedusa possess an important variety of endemic species, but it also hosts a number of African species present at the limit of their geographical distribution (in fact, the calcareous rock formation of Lampedusa lies on the African continental plate). Linosa, being of volcanic origin was never linked to Sicily or to Africa. A species of great biogeographic interest is the Large Psammodromus Psammodromus algirus, present in North Africa, Spain, Portugal and southern France; in the Pelagian islands it is only found on Isolotto dei Conigli. This population appears to have a strong genetic affinity with those found in Morocco, rather than the one present in Tunisia, the latter being geographically closer to Lampedusa; leading one to believe that this was a human induced introduction. Some authors have hypothesized that this lizard was also present on Lampedusa but became extinct due to loss of habitat and/or due to the presence of two species of snakes that prey on lizards, the Eastern Montpellier Snake Malpolon insignitus and the False Smooth Snake Macroprotodon mauritanicus, both species are absent on Isolotto dei Conigli. The False Smooth Snake is found in the northern regions of Algeria extending into parts of Tunisia, while in Europe it is found exclusively on the Balearic Islands and in Italy, with the only population present on Lampedusa. The Eastern Montpellier Snake occurs in Spain, Portugal, Southern France, the Adriatic coast of the ex Yugoslavia, Greece, southern Bulgaria, Turkey, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, northern Egypt, northern Libya, Tunisia; In Italy, apart from Lampedusa, there are doubtful sightings in the Trento and Friuli regions. It prefers sunny arid and semi-arid habitats like maquis and garrigue.
In recent years, the Italian Wall Lizard Podarcis siculus was accidentally introduced on Lampedusa. A species of Amphibian breeds in some of the natural rock pools found in karstic rock formations, the North African Green Toad Bufo boulengeri, typical example of African taxon with a unique European population, found only on Lampedusa. No less than 10 species of reptiles are present on the archipelago; of these, one species is possibly extinct, Hermann`s Tortoise Testudo hermanni: its presence on Linosa and Lampedusa was reported in 1847 by Calcara, but exists the doubt that this species might have been introduced there in the past.
Since a long time now, the islands have lost their population of the Mediterranean Monk Seal Monachus monachus, the same applies for the Red Deer Cervus elaphus and the Wild Boar Sus scrofa, the latter two species were most probably introduced by the Princess Tomasi for hunting. The situation regarding the Chiropterofauna is more complex where to-date four species have been recorded: Schreiber`s Bent-winged Bat Miniopterus schreibersi, Large Mouse-eared Bat Myotis myotis, Kuhl`s Pipistrelle Pipistrellus kuhlii and Greater Horse-shoe Bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum; the latter was recorded by Sanvisente in 1849 but considered as doubtful by Benedetto Lanza (2012), meanwhile the record of Myotis myotis on Lampedusa should probably refer to the Maghrebian Bat Myotis punicus according to Lanza (2012). Finally Pipistrellus kuhlii is reported for both Lampedusa and Linosa while Miniopterus schreibersi is reported only on Lampedusa.
Among the terrestrial mammalian species present on Lampedusa, one also finds the smallest European mammal and one of the smallest worldwide, the voracious insectivore the Etruscan Shrew Suncus etruscus. The Wild Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus is found on Lampedusa and Linosa where it was introduced for hunting purposes. Two species of rodents, the House Mouse Mus domesticus and the Black Rat Rattus rattus are present on both Linosa and Lampedusa. The latter species was the subject of an eradication project for the conservation of the pelagic seabird, the Scopoli`s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea. In fact, the Black Rat is an active predator of eggs and young seabirds, particularly the Scopoli`s Shearwater, with the most important breeding colony in Italy being the island of Linosa with an estimated 10,000 breeding pairs. An EU funded LIFE Natura project entitled “Pelagic Birds” was specifically initiated for the conservation of this pelagic bird and the eradication of the Black Rat. With the exception of the shearwater and a few breeding species, the majority of birds seen on the Pelagian islands are migrants, most of which are trans-Saharan migrants, that is, birds that winter south of the Sahara desert and nest in Europe. The number of bird species recorded to date on Linosa is 202 while 221 species have been recorded on Lampedusa; and these numbers continue to increase thanks to new records, mostly of accidental species, which occasionally turn up on small islands, such as the ones found in the Sicilian Channel. The Pelagian Islands are particularly important sites for the observation of North African birds as well as some African migrants like the Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis, Rufous Bush Robin Cercotrichas galactotes, Moussier`s Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri, Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina, Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti, African Desert Warbler Sylvia deserti, Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus and many others. A particular note of mention on one of the Pelagian breeding birds is the relatively recent extinction of the Mediterranean Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis which used to breed on Lampedusa. Apart from the Scopoli`s Shearwater, in the Pelagian islands one also finds the smaller Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan, breeding on Lampedusa with an estimated breeding population of 500-800 pairs, one of the largest Italian colonies for this species, a small population is also known to breed in an inaccessible area on Linosa. The third pelagic species, which is also the smallest, is the Mediterranean Storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus melitensis, which breeds on the islands of Lampione and Lampedusa. Of particular importance is the breeding population of Eleonora`s Falcon Falco eleonorae, a colonial and migratory raptor with a small colony of around 10 pairs on Lampione and of 45-50 pairs on Lampedusa.