The Akrotiri wetlands are an internationally important habitat complex and a Ramsar site. There is an urgent need to improve understanding of the ways in which the functions of this important site will change with increasing pressure from invasive non-native species (INNS), climate and land-use change, from hydrological, ecological and societal perspectives. Knowledge of the interplay among these factors will inform conservation decision-making and sustainable management. Land-use changes, as urban development plans progress around the Akrotiri peninsula (Pescott et al. 2018), are likely to interact with the increasing impacts of climate change (MWO 2014) and may facilitate the incursion of INNS into natural habitats. This is predicted to affect locally-rare native plants and animals, but also undesirable resident mosquitoes, e.g. malaria and West Nile Virus vectors and nuisance species. Ecological and hydrological monitoring, underpinned by capacity building and supported by the development of an INNS database (established through project DPLUS056), will provide opportunities to use an evidence-based approach to manage the Akrotiri wetlands in the context of environmental change. The monitoring proposed here will address key aspects of the UKOT Biodiversity Strategy, responsibilities within the SBA’s Ordinances (SBA Administration, 2012), including favourable conservation status, and priorities under the Ramsar
The project focuses on monitoring and understanding drivers of change in the Akrotiri wetlands, Cyprus. We will use remote sensing, on-the-ground measurements of water quality and vegetation, and assess. community interactions between native and non-native species including mosquitoes. We will establish baselines and procedures for evaluating the health of this highly-valued wetland. All tasks will be underpinned by capacity-building and public engagement, ultimately providing long-term species and environmental data as an evidence-base for the SBAs and wider Cyprus.
Our programme of work will be carried out in the following four work packages (WPs):
WP1: Developing online wildlife recording
An online database of INNS (CyDAS) was created through DPLUS056. WP1 will build on this to enable citizen scientists and professionals to submit records. We will contract the University of Cyprus to manage marine INNS information, whilst CEH will oversee terrestrial/ freshwater INNS. Capacity-building (WP4) will ensure
that SBA/Cypriot staff will continue to manage CyDAS, alongside volunteers, after project completion.
WP2: Hydrological and vegetation sampling
We will collect baseline data for water quality, soil moisture and vegetation in the summer of the first year (dry season) and the spring of the second year (wet season) to develop indicators for saline Mediterranean wetlands. Vegetation data will be linked to remote sensing WP3 through ground-truthing. We will carry out sampling along hydrological and land-use gradients, and share methods with local staff to ensure monitoring continues post-project.
WP3: Remote sensing of vegetation
We will use high resolution (50cm-4m) multi-spectral (8 bands in the 400nm–1040nm range) WorldView imagery to establish a baseline vegetation map, suitable for future monitoring of hydro-ecological change. We will aim to separate the main distinct vegetation types for the Akrotiri peninsula (open salt pan, salt marsh, dunes, rush salt meadow, phrygana, maquis) and identify invasive tree species (acacia and casuarina), aided by a 3D surface model. Seasonal behaviour between vegetation types will be investigated.
WP4: Capacity-building, biosecurity and engagement
Capacity-building through workshops, field training and guides will underpin the delivery of WPs1-3. The three strands are:
1. Monitoring priority INNS and their interactions to inform understanding of ecosystem functioning.
We will develop technical training (building on DPLUS056) and resources to support online recording of wildlife in Cyprus, including interactions between INNS (WP1) and native species e.g. pollinators. We will produce a conceptual diagram demonstrating interlinkage between the wetland, surrounding habitats and
wildlife (using field survey data from WP2 and WP3), highlighting the values of ecosystem functions for engaging people.
2. Development of mobile recording app and methods for participatory engagement
The project will develop education packs for the AEEC to engage people in species recording, including introduction to an app, and highlighting the importance of wetland conservation and management e.g. sustainable water use and interactions of ecological communities within wetlands.
3. Biosecurity guidance and pathway action plans for species identified from DPLUS056 Horizon Scanning exercise
We will work with civilian and military personnel to develop an accessible document advising on pathway action plans and biosecurity for SBAs in Cyprus. The document will be relevant for other UKOTs and will include a Code of Practice for Managing Mosquitoes in Wetlands. Local communities, schools, civilian and
military personnel will be given training in INNS identification and biosecurity to minimise risk of establishment.
The partners are the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH), the Joint Services Health Unit (JSHU) at Akrotiri and the Akrotiri Environmental Education Centre. Many other stakeholders will be involved throughout the project through the workshops and capacity building we will undertake.