Zelkova abelicea (Lam.) Boiss. (Ulmaceae) is of outmost scientific and conservation interest as it is a Tertiary relict species and an endemic tree of the Mediterranean island of Crete, Greece. It is found in open, mountain forest communities between ~800 and ~1,800 m above sea level in all mountain massifs of Crete in the Lefka Ori, Psiloritis, Kedros, Dikti and Thripti. All these populations are significantly threatened by overgrazing and browsing by goats and sheep, soil erosion, drought, fire and the cutting of young branches for making "Katsounes", the traditional Cretan walking sticks. Given the level of threat to various populations, Z. abelicea has been included as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and is protected by the Greek legislation (Presidential Decree 67/1981), the Bern Convention (Appendix I) and is also included in Appendices II and IV of the European Habitats Directive (92/43).
In 2010, the Botanic Garden of the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), in collaboration with the Natural History Museum Fribourg and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (United Kingdom), initiated an interdisciplinary project (project ZELKOVA) to undertake the scientific review and coordinated conservation actions on the relict tree genus Zelkova.
In 2014, the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania in partnership with the University of Fribourg and in collaboration with the four Forest Directorates of Crete (Chania, Rethymno, Heraklio and Lasithi) implemented the first phase (2014-2016) of a project entitled: “Conservation of Zelkova abelicea in Crete” and are currently implementing its second phase (2017-2020). The overall objective of this project is to promote and enable the long term conservation of the natural populations of Z. abelicea in Crete through i) the implementation of in situ conservation actions such as fencing selected plots in all mountain massifs of Crete to examine the effect of excluding grazing and browsing on the growth of the species, ii) the implementation of complementary ex situ conservation actions such as the ex situ conservation of plant material in seed banks and ex situ plantations and iii) the implementation of public awareness and dissemination actions to promote and advertise the values of Zelkova abelicea to the general public and influence decisions-makers. This partnership is funded by the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.
CIHEAM-Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania - Greece