Box 91 Influence of humans on the forests of Crete and Cyprus

The deposits of Knossos, Crete, provide an almost continuous record of the activities of humans since 6000 BC, including Minoan times when wild boar were numerous. Human influence has greatly changed the forests of this Mediterranean island, which is some 160 miles from west to east. Beneath the bare peaks of the limestone mountains, remnants of the once extensive cypress Cupressus sempervirens and pine forests clothe the upper ranges. The Calabrian pine Pinus brutia, sometimes treated as a subspecies of the extremely drought-resistant Aleppo pine P. halepensis, is also associated with the stone or umbrella pine P. pinea. Relatively few trees of these three species now remain; two are illustrated in Fig. 9.3a. Old records show that exports of cypress timber to other countries were formerly extensive. Amongst the oaks Quercus coccifera, Q. macrolepis, Q. cerris and Q. brachyphylla, the last sometimes no more than a large shrub, are still present. The evergreen Holm oak Q. ilex and other species of the Mediterranean maquis must also have been much more abundant especially on the lower slopes and the ravines, and other wet places would have had an extensive population of

Cyprus Mediterranean Forests

Figure 9.3 (a) Cypress Cupressus sempervirens and stone (= umbrella) pine Pinus pinea at Mona Preveli monastery, south-west Crete. Lower branches of the cypress have been trimmed; this tree and the native pines are now of limited distribution on the island. (b) Riverside Cretan palm Phoenix theophrastii and tamarisk Tamarix forest with giant reed Arundo donax near Mona Preveli on the south-west coast of Crete. (Photographs by John R. Packham.)

Figure 9.3 (a) Cypress Cupressus sempervirens and stone (= umbrella) pine Pinus pinea at Mona Preveli monastery, south-west Crete. Lower branches of the cypress have been trimmed; this tree and the native pines are now of limited distribution on the island. (b) Riverside Cretan palm Phoenix theophrastii and tamarisk Tamarix forest with giant reed Arundo donax near Mona Preveli on the south-west coast of Crete. (Photographs by John R. Packham.)

Tree Branch Reeds Tile
Figure 9.4 Outlines of Cyprian cedar Cedrus libani var. brevifolia (= C. brevifolia) growing at 1300 m near the tomb of Archbishop Makarios. (Photograph by John R. Packham.)

oriental planes. In contrast, the number of olive trees is said to total 35 million, and there are many fruit trees including almonds, apples and pears. On the positive side many rare orchids and other native herbs characteristic of the very rich Cretan flora are beneath and between the trees in many of these plantations, particularly on the Lesithiou plateau (Sfikas, 2002). Of the many exotic trees Washingtonia palms Washingtonia robusta from the New World and eucalypts from Australia are especially prominent, while Agave americana is common in more open places. The date palm Phoenix dactylifera is now widely planted. In contrast the Cretan palm P. theophrastii (Fig. 9.3b), whose fruits are fibrous, blackish and inedible, is now restricted to a few small metapopulations of which the largest is at Vai on the eastern coast. This rare species, here found mainly in shallow damp valleys near the sea, also occurs in south-west Turkey.

Destruction of the native forests has greatly accelerated rates of soil erosion, while extensive agriculture and poorly controlled building in many parts of the island is greatly reducing the area available to natural vegetation. The loss of natural forest together with the introduction of exotic species, many of them weeds, and of disease organisms, are all too commonly part of the globalization being experienced in many parts of the world.

The situation in Cyprus, another large Mediterranean island, is in many ways similar, with extensive areas of Calabrian pine Pinus brutia, whose maximum height is around 25 m and which has very narrow paired leaves varying in length from 11-16 cm. The Austrian (or European black) pine P. nigra var. nigra, that can reach a height of 45 m, is especially prominent in the Troodos Mountains where it was planted many years ago. Strawberry tree Arbutus unedo and moderately sized oaks commonly grow beneath it. Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani var. brevifolia is now planted by the Forestry Service in many hilly areas (Fig. 9.4). The wood of acacias, introduced by the British in 1878, is used for firewood as is that of mimosa which grows in the lowlands. Eucalypts are particularly prominent amongst the introduced trees and were planted in a swamp in the Akrotiri Peninsula. The swamp dried out within 30 years and the area is now used for growing pineapples. Few areas have been so extensively worked on as the extensively terraced hills of Cyprus, but some are now falling into disuse and in a few hundred years may be covered by a naturalistic vegetation in much the same way as areas of New England are today (see Section 9.4.2).

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