Maltese plants respond positively in COVID-19 shutdown

Every cloud comes with a silver lining, even in the COVID-19 pandemic, as plants are making a comeback in the lockdown

Maltese Stocks: thriving under COVID-19
Maltese Stocks: thriving under COVID-19

Every cloud comes with a silver lining, even in the COVID-19 pandemic, as plants are making a comeback in the lockdown, according to Andrea Francesca Bellia and Sandro Lanfranco, two leading Maltese scientists and researchers from the University of Malta’s Department of Biology.

“Species are returning to their old haunts and air quality is improving. Suddenly, our conservation efforts do not seem so futile,” the two scientists wrote in an article penned for a European conservation website.

Accompanied by photos of Maltese endemic plants like the Pyramidal Orchid and the Maltese Everlasting, the scientists say that as a result of the necessitated change in human actions, “the environment seems to be responding positively to the reduction of individuals in direct and destructive contact with it”.

The conservationists augured that “once this is all over, we will be able to maintain the changes that have led to it in order to be able to appreciate our natural environment. Change human behaviour... and we have changed everything.”

While acknowledging that cooperation on conservation efforts were dealt a blow due to the impossibility of holding conferences which bring together “seasoned and budding scientists” to share and discuss ideas, modern technology and countless technological advancements had aided them in mitigating this effect “by enabling us to reach other individuals at the click of a button”.

One such event particularly affected was ‘CA18201’, one of many COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) actions dedicated to scientific collaboration.

The main aim of this particular action is to implement an integrated, 21st century approach to the conservation of threatened plant species.

This is being done by establishing a network of scientific specialist experts and stakeholders across 37 participating countries, including Malta. Due to issues such as climate change, conflicts of land use and overpopulation, the current goals set to protect native plants from extinction however were not attained.

“Unfortunately, conservation campaigns for plants are less likely to attract public attention as those targeting ‘cuter, cuddlier’ flagship species such as pandas, snow leopards and the like,” the two scientists said.

While plants are cast aside when it comes to conservation priority, they contribute far more to our everyday lives by providing us with vast exploitational and cultural services. Out of the 391,000 known plant species, over 20% are threatened by extinction. Much remains unknown about their biology and conservation status, especially for rarer and more threatened species.