The biodiversity crisis in the world is pressing. The decline of wild species is "unprecedented"as warned by the UN in 2019."scientists agree in which species are disappearing hundreds, if not thousands, of times faster than the natural rate of extinction". Behind the scientific data, at the foot of the ecosystem, many specific varieties of animals and plants are simply lost.
Spain is no stranger. Considered –and distinguished– as one of the richest spots in biodiversity in Europe, extinctions are also looming. The Government plans to add five new species to the list of maximum danger of extinction: an exclusive plant from the Mar Menor and another from the mountains of La Rioja, two steppe birds and the Pyrenean capercaillie.
Stories about extinction that, according to scientists, are increasingly numerous, abrupt and widespread. Intensive human action and the climate crisis hover over all of them.
Spain is the safeguard of the ricoti lark in Europe. An elusive bird, almost undetectable due to its camouflage, typical of the steppe ecosystem and that does not live in any other country outside of North Africa. "It is a jewel. It is almost unique and the symbol of the extinction of a very scarce type of habitat," explains researcher Juan Traba Díaz.
Doctor in biology from the Autonomous University of Madrid, Traba promoted the inclusion of the ricotí as an endangered species in the face of "the great regression" it has experienced. "In Andalusia there are fewer ricoti larks than lynxes: 14 against 200," he recounts. Their populations have fallen by more than 40% since 2005. The Government has accepted, in principle, their new classification. The most serious.
The ricoti has been in almost free fall for decades and has been known for a long time. "But a conservation plan was not made when it was classified as vulnerable. Now the attention is more urgent," says the scientist. The law requires the launch of a recovery strategy for varieties in danger of extinction. "The autonomous communities will be obliged to do something. Until now we are being notaries of extinction." Without measures, the biologist's calculations say that "it is at risk of disappearing in 20 years."
So elusive that the counts of their groups are done at night and listening to the song of the males, Juan Traba explains that the lark is competing with "the implantation of photovoltaic energy fields". And he proposes that one solution is "the improvement of their habitat through extensive livestock farming that favors the steppe ecosystem."
"There was no room to do anything else," analyzes Pedro García of the ANSE environmental organization. The asparagus from the Mar Menor, a plant that only grows in the sandbanks around the lagoon, is on the list of next varieties on the verge of disappearance. "It only has one chance to get ahead since the few undeveloped plots where it grows are developable land," he stresses. "And if something is not done, it will be built."
This creeping plant with yellow flowers and which has male and female specimens is protected, but "the problem is that its habitat's days are numbered," insists García, who asks "that the Administration buy the plots" in order to recover it.
The ecological collapse that surrounds the Mar Menor lagoon is connected to the intensive exploitation around it: discharges from industrial livestock and agriculture. But also the urban pressure on its limits. However, ANSE is not resigned to the fact that La Manga is given up for lost: last August they sent a letter to the town councils involved and the Murcian Ministry of Development so that what remains with new infrastructure is not destroyed. "There are still natural values that can be saved."
Who does not know that the capercaillie is on its way to extinction? In reality, the populations most at risk were those of the Cantabrian capercaillie. The birds of this species that live in the Pyrenees were, at least officially, less threatened. Until now. They have disappeared in almost half of the areas of the mountain range in Aragon where they lived, according to a study by the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology of the Csic coordinated by the Government of Aragon.
If there are grouse, there are healthy forests. The researcher from the Javier Martínez Padilla Institute concludes: "They are an indicator of forest quality since they are found in very well preserved and mature wooded areas, in forests with large trees and with an abundance of undergrowth that provides food and shelter along of the year".
Capercaillies count themselves by listening to their sexual calls. The areas that males use to try to attract females are called cantaderos. Of the 47 cantaderos visited by these scientists, in 18 "no signs of the species were detected." That is to say: silence of capercaillies in heat.
So the Tetrao aquitanicus will join its Cantabrian cousins on the sad list of "in danger of extinction". The causes? The study points to changes in their habitat, human activities, climate change and hunting, now prohibited, but whose disastrous legacy they still carry.
Very shortly before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the little bustard received some good news based on its bad luck: it became an internationally protected species. The International Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Wild Species included it in its lists.
In Spain, this bird – also steppe like the lark – has lost half of its population in about ten years. The request for the Government to include it in the catalog as "endangered" is years old. After the countries of the International Convention requested to incorporate into the tetrax tetrax Among the armored varieties, the SEO sent the Executive that "the delicate situation of the Spanish population, which is in serious and accelerated decline, makes it meet the criteria."
Although this species already had a "vulnerable" status, going up a notch will give it "more strength and relevance when it comes to taking it into account in environmental assessments for photovoltaic energy projects," they analyze in the SEO. Little bustard and ricoti, together with the great bustards, share those steppe ecosystems that are proving to be susceptible to installing these infrastructures.
What criteria govern the Spanish regulations to indicate that a species is on the way to extinction? They refer to the population drop of 70% in ten years or the reliable projection of loss of half of the population, the very significant reduction of its habitat or that the probability of extinction in the wild is 35% in 20 years, according to the decree that regulates this catalog.
One of the elements that make Spain form a hot spot of richness in biodiversity is the amount of endemic plants –that is, exclusive– that grow in the peninsula and the archipelagos. Approximately 20% of the more than 6,000 species of which some knowledge is known. The review of the Catalog of endangered species now underway plans to introduce, in addition to the Mar Menor asparagus, a small flower that is only found in two populations of the Sierra de la Demanda in La Rioja: the Androsace rioxana that flourishes only in the Circo de San Lorenzo and in the Pancrudo Suroriental.