Several characteristic habitats and species found on the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park in Italy are seriously threatened by non-indigenous (alien) animal species (e.g. rodents, feral cats, hedgehogs, game birds) and invasive plant species (e.g. Carpobrotus spp., Eucalyptus camaludulensis). Control measures to eradicate these invasive alien species (IAS) are necessary in order to restore the natural fauna and flora communities. Moreover, recovery actions are required to protect unique habitats, such as the only dune system in the whole archipelago.
The objective of RESTO CON LIFE was to eradicate non-indigenous animal species in the Tuscan Archipelago National Park in Italy, to restore the natural island communities and/or improve the breeding performances of autochthonous species. Specifically, the project team aimed to directly restore endemic species communities by means of attraction devices for seabirds, passive translocation for sedentary species and habitat enlargement/restoration; and to eradicate invasive alien plants on the islands of Giannutri, Pianosa and Montecristo. The team also aimed to fence off key land plots on Elba and Montecristo to protect them from invasive alien ungulates (hooved mammals), and to manage habitats of the Lacona dune system using modern bioengineering structures.
The RESTO CON LIFE project team implemented an innovative and ambitious approach to restoring habitats and populations of native species across the whole Tuscan Archipelago in Italy, through the multiple and simultaneous eradication and control of mammal, bird and plant invasive alien species (IAS). Although many project objectives, in terms of habitat restoration, species conservation, and IAS eradication/control, were not completed during the project’s lifespan, they provide a solid basis for achieving these goals in the long term.
On the island of Pianosa, 9 ha of pine forest were protected by cutting down 230 invasive eucalyptus trees (Eucalyptus camaludulensis) and re-establishing holm oaks through the planting of 14 000 acorns. This is enabling the recovery of the Habitats Directive evergreen oaks habitat ‘Quercus ilex and Quercus rotundifolia forests’ in the long term. The project team removed over 3 500 pheasants and 300 hybrid partridges (though there was strong opposition to the eradication of game birds), 57 feral cats (eradication completed), and 150 hedgehogs. The eradication of the black rat was nearly achieved, with more than 7 500 bait stations distributed and checked during the project duration. The eradication efforts are ongoing, as is the monitoring of native seabird populations for signs of recovery. Good results have already been shown for Scopoli’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea), with a mean 0.16 chicks/year rising to 0.43 chicks/year (in 2020 the reproductive success increased to 0.60) after rat reduction, though planned capture and translocation of the predatory rat snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) is expected to increase this further. Audouin's gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii) chick productivity was also significantly improved by project end. On Montecristo, the project team recovered 5 ha of deteriorated landscape around “Cala Maestra” by eradicating plant IAS, to protect Habitats Directive grasslands habitat types ‘Pseudo-steppe with grasses and annuals of the Thero-Brachypodietea’ and ‘Mediterranean temporary ponds’, by managing the wild goat population to reduce grazing pressure. Four goats were transferred to the "Città della Domenica wildlife park" in Perugia, to test the methodology (and costs) for the translocation.
On Giannutri, 1.4 ha of coastal habitats (cliff vegetation, salt marshes and dry grasslands) were protected through the eradication of invasive plant Carpobrotus spp., to improve the conservation of five habitat types: ‘Vegetated sea cliffs of the Mediterranean coasts with endemic Limonium spp.’ (3 600 m2); ‘Salicornia and other annuals colonizing mud and sand’ (800 m2); ‘Arborescent matorral with Juniperus spp.' (200 m2); ‘Low formations of Euphorbia close to cliffs’ (3 100 m2); ‘Thermo-Mediterranean and pre-desert scrub (600 m2); and ‘Pseudo-steppe with grasses and annuals of the Thero-Brachypodietea’ (350 m2).
On the island of Elba, 2.5 ha of woodland and scrub was protected from grazing by hooved animals, after the purchase of approximately 3.5 ha of land and the installation of a 550 m long and 2 m high fence. This activity is expected to increase the annual productivity of the population of Audouin's gull in the future.
The interventions on the dune habitats of Lacona on Elba were successful, but have to be restored due to the huge storm that hit the Tyrrhenian Sea in October 2018. Funds have been allocated for this.
The project team drafted a series of Action Plans, which were approved by the National Park and are now binding, concerning bio-security measures for Pianosa, Giannutri, Montecristo and Lacona on Elba (and an Action Plan specifically against the black rat on Pianosa); a Management Plan for goats on Montecristo; a Management Plan for brown hare Lepus europaeus meridiei; a Management Plan for Pianosa; and the After-LIFE Conservation Plan.
Furthermore, the National Park completed the local-level consultations for the enlargement of the Natura 2000 site "Monte Capanne e promontorio dell'Enfola" and revised the Standard Data Form and the perimeter accordingly. The formal approval of this enlargement is now a responsibility of the Tuscany Region and the Ministry of the Environment.
The project’s socioeconomic analysis took into account savings on damages caused by IAS, the improved tourist attractiveness of Lacona, and the ecosystem services generated. This found that the economic return of the project in terms of value of the ecosystem services restored is around €420 000 over 10 years. Moreover, the eradication of black rat on Pianosa will reduce the costs of regular rat control on the island, the cost of damage caused by rats, and the risk of food contamination and disease transmission to humans (zoonosis).
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).