Conservation of Zelkova abelicea in Crete
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). This partership is funded by the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.