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Huge population of rare orchid found on military base in Corsica

A research team led by the Center of Functional Ecology and Evolution (CEFE) and the Ecotonia consultancy has recently discovered a population of unprecedented proportions of a rare, protected orchid (Serapias neglecta) in a closed military base from east of the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Among numerous species of other rare plants, the scientists found a massive population of 155,000 individual S.neglecta orchids.

Although this near-threatened orchid can be occasionally found in the south of France, Italy, and the east coast of the Adriatic too, none of its known populations has been as abundant as the one discovered in the Solenzara military base in Corsica. According to the scientists, the maintenance of the closed military area was extremely favorable to the development of orchids around the edges of runways and on lawns near military buildings.

“Мilitary bases are important areas for biodiversity because they are closed to the public, are not heavily impacted and these areas have soils that are often poorly fertilized and untreated due to old installations, so they often have high biodiversity,” wrote the study authors.

Since the meadows around the airport are regularly mowed for security reasons, orchids can thrive in a low vegetation environment with little competition. Additionally, the positioning of this land on the old Travo river bed favors low vegetation, providing rocky ground only a few centimeters beneath the soil.

Thus, due to its history, management, and lack of public access, the Solenzara military base hides a rich floristic diversity. The researchers found a total of 552 species of plants, including 19 with protected status in France, spread throughout just 550 hectares of land. While the Corsican coastline is increasingly urbanized, this area remains an important testament to the local flora, comprising a large diversity of plants that need to be carefully conserved.

“If logistical developments are carried out on this base, they will have to favor the conservation of this exceptional floristic biodiversity, and, in particular of this particularly abundant orchid. Military bases are a great opportunity for the conservation of species and would benefit from enhancing their natural heritage,” the authors concluded.

The study is published in the Biodiversity Data Journal. 

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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