Mediterranean temporary ponds are seasonal flooded wetland habitats that are subjected to extreme and unstable ecological conditions. Due to their uniqueness and natural value, they are listed as a priority habitat for conservation in Annex I of the Habitats Directive. The coastal plain of southwest Portugal is a Natura 2000 site (Costa Sudoeste) and hosts a large number of such temporary ponds due to its climatic and edaphic (soil-related) characteristics.
However, over the pastcouple of decades, modern industrialised agriculture and tourism have caused a steep decline in the condition of this habitat in the site. Previously seen as non-productive areas, temporary ponds are now subjected to strong anthropogenic pressures, such as deep soil turning, accelerated drainage, flattening of the surface topography or transformation into permanent reservoirs for irrigation. Urgent action is needed to halt this degradation and ensure their long-term protection.
The LIFE Charcos - Conservation of Temporary Ponds on the Southwest Coast of Portugal - projects overall aim was to enhance the conservation status in southwest Portugal of Mediterranean temporary ponds. Specifically, the project aimed to:
The LIFE Charcos project helped conserve Mediterranean temporary ponds at the Costa Sudoeste Natura 2000 site, whose coastal plains include the main patches of temporary ponds in Portugal. The project team acquired essential information for their long-term conservation, such as updated cartography of the 133 temporary ponds and updated knowledge of the hydrogeological functioning. Such information was organised in a database and an index defined for assessing the temporary ponds' conservation status.
The project reduced habitat fragmentation by promoting connectivity between temporary ponds of four complexes (15 temporary ponds in total) and by erecting 28 wildlife shelters and constructing two small water dams. It also installed 180 m of barriers along a road to prevent amphibians being run over. Additionally, the project demonstrated good management practices for recovering the functionality and improving the conservation status of 29 ponds (nearly a quarter of all those located at the site). Practices focused on livestock and agricultural management measures, the closing of drainage ditches, topography restitution, improvement of flora and control of shrub vegetation and exotic species. A key outcome was the creation of a best-practice manual and an illustrated guide, among other communication materials.
An increase in the specific richness of flora, large branchiopods and amphibians in the temporary ponds was observed in areas where project actions occurred. The project moreover created a germplasm bank for the flora of temporary ponds, collecting more than 5 000 seeds from 116 plant species, of which 87 were indicator species of the habitat. Duplicates of the seeds were sent to two other germplasm banks in accordance with Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing.
For demonstration purposes, the project restored a complex of five ponds and supported visits to the site. Finally, it also created land stewardship network of 46 members for protecting the habitat via monitoring activities. Additionally, the team informed competent authorities temporary ponds, improving their surveillance skills and ensuring their protection in land management plans.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).