Habitat loss poses a major threat to biodiversity, affecting species interactions, such as those between plants and their pollinators. This poses greater threats for self-incompatible plants which rely on pollinators to reproduce and sustain their populations.

Sílvia Castro and João Loureiro (member of COST Action CA18201: ConservePlants), in collaboration with other researchers, have studied and evaluated how habitat loss affects the pollination system, individual plant-pollinator species interaction networks, and plant reproductive fitness of a threatened, self-incompatible dune species: Jasione maritima var. sabularia.

While this species is visited by over 100 different pollinator species, this has since been reduced as a result of habitat loss, leading to a decline in the species’ ability to reproduce (reproductive fitness). While the number of visits to individual plants was not affected, the persistence of the plant population may be compromised due to a reduction in pollen quality affected by the genetic structure of the separate habitat populations.

In the Maltese Islands, sand dunes are one of the rarest and most vulnerable habitats. While this is primarily due to the fact that only circa 2.4 per cent of our coastlines are sandy beaches, over the past half-century, this has been exacerbated by leisure, tourism and other activities. This has led to the extinction of species such as the dune-fixing (dune-forming/sand-binding) Ammophila littoralis (Mediterranean Marram Grass; Birrun/Qasba tar-Ramel), and Valerianella microcarpa (Small-Fruited Comsalad; Valerjanella tar-Ramel).

By providing novel insight into the study of such interactions in degraded environments, this highlights the necessity for further investigation to better understand these interactions and their effects.

Their work is one of the first of its kind to investigate the effect of habitat loss on species, and how the plant-pollinator interaction pattern is affected. This is a testament to why future studies are required and why it is vital to integrate fine details of individual-level species networks to understand such interactions, and the consequences that such losses pose to the future of populations.

This is vital especially for self-incompatible species such as this which are dependent on pollinators for proliferation. Such information may therefore eventually aid in devising strategies to implement sustainable conservation measures.

Andrea Francesca Bellia is an environmental biologist and represents the University of Malta in the Cost Action CA18201 – ConservePlants. More information can be found here: https://www.conserveplants.eu/en/.

Sound Bites

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For more soundbites, listen to Radio Mocha www.fb.com/RadioMochaMalta/.


•        Dolphins belong to the whale family. Scientifically, all whales, dolphins and porpoises are classified as cetacea.

•        Dolphins sleep with one eye open because they must be constantly on the lookout for predators.

•        They never chew their food and only use their teeth to catch their prey. Food is swallowed whole.

•        They have two stomachs – one for storage of food and one for


•        Killer whales or orcas are the largest dolphins and can reach up to a length of 10 metres.

For more trivia, see: www.um.edu.mt/think.

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