Europe

Interesting Facts

The LIFE European Red List project currently develops European Red Lists for five species groups, namely bryophytes, pteridophytes, saproxylic beetles, terrestrial molluscs and trees and shrubs. All of these groups contain an extraordinary diversity of species with extremely different life strategies. In order to share some of these unique features, a series of monthly social media posts have been published highlighting interesting or unusual facts about species and genera in all these groups. Below are all the posts published so far.

Overview:

Pteridophytes (ferns and lycopods)

Saproxylic beetles

Trees and shrubs

Bryophytes (mosses, hornworts and liverworts)

Terrestrial Molluscs



Pteridophytes (ferns and lycopods)
:

  • We all know what ferns look like… right? Large green fronds usually come to mind. However, ferns are an incredibly diverse group of plants, and we have picked some “unconventional-looking” ferns to highlight their diversity. Below, you can see the clover-like Marsilea quadrifolia, a fern that occurs throughout southern Europe and grows along river valleys; the moss-like Tonbridge Filmy Fern (Hymenophyllum tunbrigense), found in western Europe and growing in moist, shaded, rocky outcrops; and the Common Moonwort (Botrychium lunaria), a widespread species historically used as a wound healing herb.The risk of extinction of all European ferns has recently been assessed as part of the ongoing LIFE European Red Lists project, and the final publication with the results will be out soon. Keep an eye out to find out their Red List status in Europe! Read the full Facebook postMarsilea Quadrifolia
  • Wood ferns (genus Dryopteris) are widely distributed in the boreal and temperate zones of the northern hemisphere and many are a food source for moth larvae. The Fragrant Woodfern (D. fragrans) pictured, is one such widespread species, found in alpine rock outcrops and canyons. In Europe however, it is only found in a small area in northern Finland and in the Ural Mountains in Russia. Surprisingly, genetic studies have shown that the Finnish subpopulations are most closely related to subpopulations in Mongolia!
    Read the full Facebook post.

    Dryopteris fragrans
  • Ferns (including horsetails and whiskferns) and lycopods (clubmosses, spikemosses and quillworts) first appeared on Earth some 360 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs roamed the planet! While they are an ancient lineage, these species are by no means primitive, and ferns such as the Sea Spleenwort (Asplenium marinum) are very well adapted to their environment. This plant gets its name from its preference for maritime habitats often within range of sea-spray!
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    Asplenium marinum


Saproxylic beetles
:

  • Did you know that some beetle species need very old trees for their survival? These beetles will only lay their eggs in a tree if they find a suitable hollow cavity with enough decayed wood mould, which can take hundreds of years to form. The beetle in the photo below, Mycetochara maura, is one such species. This ecological specialist is widespread in Europe and lives in mixed and deciduous forests, old parks, orchards, and avenues. The loss of old trees with hollows or cavities is the most serious threat to these beetles in Europe, since the larvae are unable to grow in young trees.The risk of extinction of several of these old tree-dependent beetles is currently being assessed as part of the European Red List LIFE project, which will contribute to having a better understanding of the conservation status of these species, and inform policy decisions in Europe. Read the full Facebook postMycetochara Maura
  • Did you know that some beetle species are highly dependent on polypores (bracket fungi) for their survival? For example, Diaperis boleti (beetle pictured) is found in Birch Bracket (Piptoporus betulinus) and Chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), as well as on other bracket fungi. This species of beetle is often found in colonies of numerous individuals in forests, woodlands and on isolated trees. During the winter, they can be found in the rotten wood close to its host fungi.
    Read the full facebook post.

    Diaperis boleti
  • Certain types of pollen-feeding beetles which are also known as false blister beetles have larvae that are dependent on decaying wood for habitat. The adults feed on pollen, and produce a toxin called cantharidin, which is a blistering agent used as a defence mechanism and that can cause skin irritation. Many have a brilliant metallic colouration like this species, Anogcodes seladonius, which advertises their toxicity.
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    Anogcodes Seladonius
  • Most Long-horn beetles are saproxylic, which means that they are involved in, or dependent on, wood decay. They are therefore important in decomposition processes and for recycling nutrients in natural ecosystems. Rosalia Longicorn (Rosalia alpina) is a European saproxylic species that lives in the deadwood of a wide range of trees. This species has already been assessed for the European Red List (Least Concern), but many others have not and their extinction risk remains unknown.
    Read the full Facebook post.

    Rosalia longicorn


Tree and shrubs
:

  • Did you know that some plant species can occur as either shrubs or trees, depending on the environmental conditions they face during their growth? Some Sorbus species, a genus belonging to the rose family (Rosaceae), show this characteristic. The Rowan or Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia) is the most common Sorbus in Europe and occurs mostly as a tree.
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    Sorbus cf aucuparia
  • The Mediterranean Dwarf Palm (Chamaerops humilis), native to southern Europe, is well-adapted to the Mediterranean climate and can grow on rocky soils. It attracts pollinators by releasing chemical compounds from its leaves instead of releasing them from its flowers, which is rather unusual!
    Read the full Facebook post.

    Tato grasso
  • Have you ever heard about dragon trees? Belonging to the Dracaena genus, these succulent trees mainly grow in arid semi-desert areas. When the bark or leaves of these trees are cut, they secrete a reddish resin known as Dragon's blood.
    The Canary Islands Dragon Tree (Dracaena draco) pictured below is found on the Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, Madeira and Morocco. The Guanche people of the Canary Islands used the sap of this tree in their mummification processes, and the resin has been used in traditional medicine.
    Read the full Facebook post.

    Dracaena draco


Bryophytes (mosses, hornworts and liverworts):

  • We usually think about trees when discussing the subject of carbon sequestration. Recognised as a tool for climate regulation, storing carbon in plants can help reduce the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and mitigate climate change. However, some species of moss are actually better than trees, or any other group of plants, when it comes to storing carbon.Peat moss (genus Sphagnum) is generally found in boreal areas in the Northern Hemisphere and is best known as a typical species of bogs, coniferous swamps, and fens. In fact, northern peatlands may contain two to three times the amount of carbon stored in tropical rainforests! There are more than 50 species of Sphagnum in Europe and their risk of extinction is currently being assessed as part of the European Red Lists LIFE project. Knowing their status will make it possible to prioritize conservation action for these species. Read the full Facebook postSphagnum Austinii
  • Not everything that glitters is gold. For example, Goblin's Gold (Schistostega pennata) - in spite of its name - is actually a moss. This moss species is widespread in Europe and has the incredible ability to concentrate light which allows it to grow in shady places where other plants cannot survive! Some of this light is reflected, giving the moss its characteristic glow.
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    Schistostega pennata

  • Collar mosses in the genus Splachnum such as the ones shown below (Splachnum luteum and S. vasculosum) have a remarkable life strategy. These mosses only grow on organic matter – mainly on animal droppings, but also on dead animal remains. In order to disperse, they produce fragrances that attract dung flies. When the flies land on the parasols built by the moss capsule, the sticky spores of the mosses get attached to their legs. The flies then spread the spores as they visit other animal droppings nearby.
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    Splachnum luteum
  • Bryophytes, such as mosses, are the oldest lineage of land plants and are believed to be a vital link in the migration of plants from aquatic environments onto land. Given that they lack roots and take their nutrients from the atmosphere, mosses are sensitive indicators of atmospheric pollutants, and changes in their distribution can be a warning signal.
    Read the full Facebook post.

    Conostomum tetragonum


Terrestrial Molluscs
:

  • Have you ever seen such a bright slug in your garden? This one belongs to the Arion genus, a group known as Roundback Slugs. It is impossible to determine the exact species in this photo, since according to our experts, some species in this genus have few obvious differences and can vary in colour. It could be the ‘Spanish’ or ‘Vulgar’ Slug (Arion vulgaris) which is widespread in Europe and has even become a pest in some areas, or the ‘Red Slug’ (A. rufus), which is probably native to northwestern Europe and is commonly found in gardens, or even another closely related species!
    Read the full Facebook post.

    Arion spp
  • Did you know that some snails are hunters? Species in the genus Oxychilus, which belong to a group known as the glass snails, tend to attack and eat small, slow-moving insects, worms and other snails. They are known for their blue bodies, golden shells and predatory behaviour. In one of the photos below you can see Oxychilus deilus attacking a different snail species.
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    Oxychilus delius attaching Monacha claustralis
  • Did you know that terrestrial slug species evolved from snails? While shells provide protection, from predation and dehydration for example, they take a lot of energy to make and to carry around. Slugs can instead crawl into shelters and crevices that are too narrow for snails. The evolutionary transition from snail to slug involves a progressive reduction of the shell. However, there are species like Daudebardia sp. which have only gone half-way down this road. These species are known as semi-slugs, meaning they have an external shell too small to withdraw into.
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    Daudebardia rufa, semi-slug

 

 

 

 

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