The largest population of a rare and protected orchid discovered in a military base in Corsica

In Corsica, hidden from the gaze of locals and tourists, hides a population of unprecedented proportions of a rare and protected orchid: the little-known Serapias (Serapias neglect). In a closed military base in the east of the island, researchers discovered 155,000 individuals of the plant.

Globally, this orchid is only found in southern France (including Corsica), Italy, and along the eastern Adriatic coast, but none of its known populations have been as abundant as that documented in Solenzara.

Margaux Julien, Dr Bertrand Schatz, Simon Contant and Gérard Filippi, researchers from the Center for Functional Ecology and Evolution (CEFE) and the firm Ecotonia, met this population while studying the plant diversity of the Solenzara air base. Their research, published in Biodiversity Data Loghas documented an impressive plant richness, including 12 other species of orchids.

The maintenance of the closed military zone turned out to be really favorable to the development of orchids. The flower was abundant on the edges of the tracks and on the lawns near the military buildings.

“Military bases are important areas for biodiversity because they are closed to the public, are little impacted and these areas have soils that are often poorly fertilized and untreated due to old installations, so they often have high biodiversity”, explain the researchers in their study.

The grasslands around the airport are regularly mowed for safety reasons, allowing the orchids to thrive in an environment of low vegetation with little competition. In addition, the history of the land with its position on the old bed of the Travo river favors low vegetation, offering rocky ground a few centimeters below ground.

“The business of S. neglected is particularly noteworthy, as this species enjoys national protected status and it is a sub-endemic species with a very localized distribution worldwide,” writes the research team. Additionally, the species is listed as Near Threatened in the Global and European Red Lists. of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Ecotonia design office has also carried out several inventories on the air base, noting a biodiversity of rare richness: 552 species of plants, including 19 protected in France. On only 550 ha, they found 23% of the plant species distributed in Corsica. Among these are very rare plants, as well as endangered species such as gratiole (Gratiola officinalis) and Anthemis arvensis subsp. inlaida subspecies of corn chamomile.

The military base of Solenzara hides a rich floristic diversity due to its history, its management and the absence of public access. While the Corsican coast suffers from urbanization, this sector bears witness to the local flora, with several protected species.

The protection of this wealth is crucial. “If logistical arrangements are carried out on this basis, they should promote 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”, conclude the researchers.

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