people are under the impression that Malta is poor in biodiversity. However,
when one considers the small size of the islands, together with the limited
range of habitats, and the pressure on the natural environment from a relatively
large human population, the country is in fact very rich in flora and fauna.
It is enough to say that over 4500 species of plants and animals have so far been recorded, not taking marine organisms into account. About 85 of these species are endemic.
together with the environment they inhabit, constitute an ecosystem. Malta
has a number of major ecosystems which are widespread, such as garigue,
as well as minor ecosystems which are rare, like sand dunes and freshwater
pools. Ecosystems can be classified according to their vegetation.
The most typical vegetation
of the Mediterranean is dominated by hard-leaved evergreen trees and shrubs.
Woodland , with trees such as Evergreen Oak and Aleppo
Pine, is the climax of the vegetation series. In Malta this habitat was
virtually exterminated following the arrival of humans on the islands.
Only some remnants are still to be found in a few areas with small copses
of Evergreen Oak. Some of these trees, still existing at Wardija, are
possibly between 500 and 900 years old.
is an ecosystem which develops on large expanses of limestone bearing
numerous depressions and fissures. Here one finds dense, low-growing shrubs,
often aromatic, such as Mediterranean Thyme, Mediterranean Heath, Germander,
White Hedge Nettle and Maltese Spurge. Several types of garigue
exist, each characterised by different dominant plant species.
The widespread steppe is characterised by herbaceous plants, especially grasses (Poaceae), umbellifers (Apiaceae), legumes (Fabaceae) and tuberous or bulbous species like Squill and Asphodel.
The steppe is derived from maquis and garigue which have been degraded through various causes, including fire and grazing. Other types of steppe are encountered, including some natural ones formed through climatic factors. These include the rocky steppe ( a sort of shrubless garigue) and the clay slope steppe.
Two of these are the Maltese Rock-centaury and the Maltese Cliff-orache, both belonging to monospecific genera.
The national endemic
plant of Malta since 1973 -
The Maltese Rock-centaury
The national tree of Malta
- Sandarac or Barbary thuja
Freshwater habitats are also scarce in Malta, especially during the summer months. In winter, water collects in small rock pools, and freshwater species live here, albeit for a limited time. A few freshwater pools and springs are also found in certain valleys, and these are enriched by a number of species, considered rare owing to the scarcity of these habitats.
In spite of the calcareous nature of Malta´s rocks, deep caves are not frequent. The few examples are home to some specialised organisms. The most well-known are bats, but there are other cave-dwelling species, especially invertebrates. Some are endemic and of great scientific interest.
One must also mention ecosystems which are found on disturbed ground. When one considers the high human population density, as well as the extensive land use, one can easily understand why these are widespread. Abandoned fields and countryside road verges fall into this category.
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