The crux of the problem about the revival and conservation of the Cantabrian capercaillie could be that the decline in pine forests has not been linked with its survival. This is the conclusion of a study published in the most recent number of the Journal of Biogeography. The scientists are requesting urgent conservation measures to protect the natural pine forests of Cantabria.
A team of researchers from the Universidad Politécnica of Madrid (UPM) has re-constructed the landscape of the Cantabrian Mountains to interpret the current situation of the Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) woodlands and their implication in the survival of the Cantabrian capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus cantabricus), a bird now in danger of becoming extinct.
The research was carried out in Vega de Viejos, an area at an altitude of 1,300 metres where today hardly any Scots pine trees remain.
According to the study, which is published in the most recent number of the Journal of Biogeography, the pine forests in the oceanic regions of the Cantabrian Mountains began to decline 10,000 years ago. However, the first evidence of the deterioration caused by the actions of human beings (grazing, tree cutting and farming) is 5,000 years old. Since that time the situation of the pine forests has worsened, and the same is true for the Cantabrian capercaillie.
Juan Manuel Rubiales, the principal author of the study, confirms to SINC that the Cantabrian capercaillie, a genetically unique bird and emblematic of the mountain woodlands, has changed its habits, “probably because it has had to”, to ensure its survival.
Rubiales insists that the population instability of these birds “can be aggravated by the absence of natural conifers in the best preserved ecosystems of its habitat” situated in the Cantabrian mountain region. In the major part of their area of distribution in Europe, the capercaillies survive in winter thanks to a food-source based on leaves and pine leaf buds.
Although the Scots pine forests in the Cantabrian mountain region are protected by the regional laws, they are not protected by the European directive, Hábitats. Not only do the scientists suggest urgent conservation strategies, but also request that these should be included in this directive “because of their implications for biogeography”.
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