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Acta Bot. Gallica, 2004, 151 (1), 55-64.

Conservation status of Eryngium viviparum Gay

by Maria I. Romero, Pablo Ramil and Marco Rubinos

Universidade de Santiago, Escola Politecnica Superior, Dpto. Botanica, Campus de Lugo, E-15702

arrive le 31 juillet 2003, accept/de 24 septembre 2003

Abstract.- Eryngium viviparum Gay is listed as threatened in various European

documents, including the 1979 Berne Convention (Annex I), listings from the
IUCN (1983, 1992, 1997), and the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC, in which it is
included in Annex 11 and listed as a priority species. Here we report detailed stu-
dies of its distribution, especially in the NW Iberian Peninsula, and assess its cur-
rent conservation status in view of distribution, popUlation estimates and threat
assessments. Weconclude that about 93% of the total population is located in
NW Spain (23 confirmed sites, mostly in Galicia), with a highly fragmented dis-
tribution; about 57% of the Spanish population can be considered threatened
and about 2% severely threatened (i.e. immediate risk of extinction). It is thus
classifiable as Endangered in Spain, Critically Endangered in France (where it
has only a single population) and Endangered worldwide.

Key words: aquatic plant - habitats Directive - atlantic endemic species - area
of distribution - habitat fragmentation - small popUlation. '

Resume.- Eryngium viviparum Gayest une espece menacee, ainsi consideree

dans plusieurs catalogues europeens comme la Convention de Berne de 1979
(Annex i), les Iistes successiv!Js de rUiCN (1983, 1992, 1997) ainsi que dans la
Directive Habitats 92143/CE ou elle est placee en annexe 11 et consideree
comme "espece prioritaire". Dans ce travail nous avons etudie la distribution
actuelle, specialement dans le nord-ouest de la peninsule. iberique, et enrT]sme
temps nous abordons une revision du statut des sites (nombre d'individus des
sous~populations et evaluation de leurs menaces). Parmi nos conClusions souli-
, gnons que 93% de 'ses populations se localisent au nord-ouestde l'Espagne (23
stations ,confirmees,' en Galice principaI6l:nent) avec une distribution ties, frag;
mentee ; environ 57% des populations espagnoles doivent ,stre considerees
comme 'meriace'es, dont 2% forterrient 'menacees (c'est-a-dire it 'risque imrnediat
d'extinction). Enfin, nous propo$ons .de c1asser I'espece comme En daHgeren
Espagne, En danger critique d'extinction en France (u~e station seulement) et
En danger a I'echelle,du monde.

Mots cZes ,. piante aquatique - Directive Habitats - espece endemique atlantique

- aire de distribution - fragmentation d'habitat - population reduite.


Aquatic plants constitute one ofthe most threatened groups in the European flora, basically t
as a result of anthropic habitat destruction and alteration. This ecological group incltldes
European taxa like Eryngium viviparum Gay, a small umbellifer which grows in areas sub-
ject to seasonal flooding (Cook, 1983). This species is an Atlantic-region endemic with a
disjunct distribution in NW France (Morbihan department) and NW Spain and previously
Portugal (Dupont, 1962). It has been listed as a threatened species, such for over two
decades in various European documents including the Berne Convention (Annex I; Anon.,
1979), various mCN listings (1983, 1992, 1997), and the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC
(Anon., 1992). In the 1997 mCN listing, it is classified as Vulnerable.
The inclusion of this plant in Annex n of the Habitats Directive, in which it is listed as
a "priority species", puts an onus on the governments concerned to develop strategies for
its conservation. In France it is listed in various compilatory works on threatened flora
(Danton et al., 1995; Annezo et al., 1995), which contain data relating to its distribution
and conservation status (given below), as well as proposals for its conservation. In
Portugal, by contrast, it has been considered extinct for a decade (Arriegas et al., 1992), as
recognized by the mCN in 1997.
In NW Spain, E. viviparum has been known since 1850, when it was collected by Lange
(Willkomm et al., 1880; Ortiz, 1988), and its presence was again documented by Merino
in 1905. Very little has since been published about this species in this region, except for
mentions in chorological reports (Garcfa L6pez, 1992; Valdes-Bermejo et al.,1995), and
non-primary reports on its distribution (Dominguez et al., 1994, 1996); indeed, in some of
these reports it· is explicitly stated that not all the information given corresponds. to the
plant in question. It has recently been classified as Endangered (AAVV, 2000) although it
was not included in the Spanish official listing of threatened species (Anon., 1990). In the
present study, we consider the populations of E. viviparumin the wetlands of NW Iberia.
Specifically, is this species genuinely rare, or has it simply been little studied? Is its Iberian
distribution really well known? Is its global area declining? We also consider population
size and trends with a view to assessing its resilience, and catalogue the types of threat to
which it is currently subject. Our overall aim is to establish the current area of distribution
of this species, and to accurately assess its conservation status.

A. The study species
Eryngium viviparum is a small bluish-green biennial plant not generally exceeding 8 cm'
in height (Charter, 1968). It lives submerged for 7-9 months ofthe year. It has a basal roset-
te oflinear lanceolate pinnatifid leaves, narrower at the base and terminating in small teeth.
When its habitat dries up, it develops dichotomous-branching stems that extend parallel to
the substrate, bearing small opposed acute lanceolate pinnatifid leaves. The flowers are
bright blue and grouped (6)7-8(9) in small globose capitulum-type inflorescences with
acute linear oblong pinnatifid bracts. The fruits are globose with small scales on the upper
part, separating into two mericarps on maturation. Plants show a strong capacity for vege-
tative propagation, by fragmentation of stems during the winter. This strategy appears
important for the species' biology, and explains its characteristic "contagious-patchy"

Frequently this species has been confused with E. galioides Lam., an Iberian endemic that
occupies similar habitats, juveniles of which may be difficult to separate from other taxa.

B. Habitat
This plant grows in flats and depressions subjected to seasonal waterlogging under
Atlantic climate. It forms part of the community Littorelletea uniflorae Br.-Bl. & Tiixen
1943, of the alliance Hyperico elodis-Sparganion Br.-Bl.& Tiixen ex Oberdorfer 1957.
Frequent companion species include Ranunculus jlammula, Baldellia ranunculoides,
Chamaemelum nobile and Isoetes velata.

C. Data collection
We first reviewed published data on the distribution of this species and additionally revi-
sed the major herbaria of the central and northwest Iberian Peninsula (FCO, LEB, LOU,
LUGO, MA, MAF, SALA and SANT) (Appendix I). On the basis of these starting data,
we then visited all sites in the NW Iberian Peninsula from which E. viviparum has been
reported over the period 2000-2002 and also prospected other sites which we considered
potentially suitable for this species. The full data thus obtained were mapped on the 1 x 1
km2 UTM grid.

Population size and trends

Our estimate of the size of the Iberian population was based on our own census data
from those sites at which we found the species (i.e. counts oframets or basal leaf rosettes).
Plantlets were not counted, as they were very difficult to detect, because they are general-
ly covered by organic matter when the habitat dries up. We likewise did not consider non-
reproductive juveniles, since the rosettes enabling species identification do not appear to
show any variation in size or leaf number allowing prediction of whether or not the plant
is going to flower. In view of this species' biennial character, we consider that adult ramets
(as included in our censuses) all have reproductive potential, and can be considered "matu-
re individuals" as defined by the IUCN. During these census visits, we looked for signs of
pathology (e.g. fungal pathology) and predation; however, in no case did we detect evi-
dently pathological appearance or significant signs of predation.
The size of the French population was estimated on the basis of the data published by
Buord et al. (1999). We also considered other data included in older compilatory studies
of threatened flora (Danton et al., 1995; Annezo et al., 1995).


A. Distribution
Distribution and chorology in NW Iberia
Within Iberia, this species is currently present only in Spain (Fig. 1), not in Portugal.
Most sites are in the Spanish region of Galicia, in inland parts of Lugo Province (notably
the Terra Cha area) and to a lesser extent Ourense Province. Further east it is found in a
wetland close to the city of Le6n, which appears to be its distribution limit, since it here
overlaps with its Iberian-Mediterranean vicariant E. galioides. We have also been able to
confirm its presence to the southeast, in Zamora Province, not verified in recent years
(Annezo et al., 1995).

+++ ++++ ++++
+ ~A+ + + + + ++
+ f'.+ + + + + ++
+++ ++++
+ + ~MH- N/ + + +

+1- 1-+ + +
+'"'" ~+ + +
+ + -e +
+ }I++

++ +
++ +

++ +
+ + +
+ + +
+ + +

+ + +
+ J

Fig. 1.- Map showing the current area of distribution of E. viviparum in Europe on the top
right and map showing the location .of the E. viviparum populations in NW Iberian
Peninsula (clusters 1, 2 and 3 in Galicia; clusters 4 and 5 in Castilla-Le6n).
Fig. 1.- Carte de la distribution d' E. viviparum en Europe (en haut) et localisation des popu-
lations du nord-ouest de la Peninsule Iberique (clusters 1, 2 et 3 en Galice; clusters 4 et
5 en Castilla-Le6n).

The two sites from which this species was knownin Portugal were in the Douro Litoral
district, the corresponding herbarium material being dated between 1881 and 1883
(Carvalho et al., 1994). The sites at which this species was present are included in Table 11
under Unconfirmed. For more than three decades this coastal belt has been subject to inten-
se building pressure, and there are currently no natural or seminatural habitats suitable for
E viviparum.

Table 1.- Number of known E viviparum sites in Brittany, as reported between 1975 and
Tableau 1.- Localites d' E viviparum citees en Bretagne entre 1975 et 1999.
Unconfirmed sites Confirmed sites Site area

1975-1980 15 I
1991 2
1995 2
1999 I 0.1 ha

Total 0.1 ha

Table 11.- Number of known Eviviparum populations in NW Iberia (* populations at which

E viviparum is considered extinct),
Tableau 11.- Nombre de populations d' E viviparum connues du Nord-Ouest iberique.
(* populations ou I'espece est consideree c6mme eteinte).
Province Confirmed sites Unconfirmed sites New sites Site area

Lugo 14 10 57.89 ha
Ourense 4 3 39.11 ha
A COfufia I I 0.44 ha
Lean 2 2 0.5 ha
Zamora 2 I 2 0.5 ha

Total 23 10 18 " 98.44 ha

Distribution in France
Most sites for this species are in Morbihan department (Brittany), in the littoral mariti-
me subdistrict of the Basse-Bretagne/La Hague biogeographical district. Riviere et al.
(1992) report the loss of 15 documented sites over the preceding five years, as again~t one
new site found in 1991. Buord et al. (1999) report a single confirmed site only (see Table.

B. Population size
The region containing the majority of individuals of this species is Galicia. The Galician
,sites can be grouped into three well-differentiated clusters (Fig. 1). Cluster 1 (Lugo - Terra
Cha) is located in the sedimentary depression of the upper Mino watershed, and comprises
:14 populations (Table Ill), separated by an average of 2.8 km. The highest density is in
UTM 29TPH18, for which we have estimated up to 3500ramets per site (Fig. 2). This clus-
ter thus contains the majority ofIberian individuals. Cluster 2 (Ourense - A Limia) is loca-
ted in another sedimentm:y depression, that of the River Limia inthe far south of Galicia.
The mean, distance between sites is about 4.5 km, markedly higher than in Cluster. 2.
Cluster 3 (Melide - A Coruna) is located in the upper Ulla watershed, in a flat area of soils
formed from mafic T,Gcks, and consists, of a single site with very few individuals, in. a small
depressionofanthropic origin.· Cluster 4 is located. close 'to southeast Galicia b.ut in fact
outside this region (in Sanabria, Zamora Province, Castilla-Le6n, Regi.on), at f020 m alti-

Table 111.- Estimated numbers of individuals of E. viviparum in its known population areas
and current habitat protection and principal threats affecting E. viviparum (A: sand extra-
ction, B: land use change, C: drainage, D: nutrient input, E: livestock grazing). (SCI = Site
of Community Interest; IBA = Important Bird Area). 1 - Compatible impact: impacts suffe-
red do not constitute an immediate threat to the existence of the population; 2 - Moderate
impact: if existing impacts continue population size is likely to decline, though without
short-term risk of extinction; 3- Severe impact: if existing impacts continue there is a signi-
ficant short-term risk of local extinction; 4 - Critical impact: if the existing impacts conti-
nue, local extinction is expected in the near future.
Tableau 111.- Relation des differentes sous-populations d'E. viviparum avec estimation du
nombre d'individus, appartenance ou non El des sites soumis El un statut legal de protec-
tion d'habitats et principales menaces sur E. viviparum (A : extraction de sable, B : chan-
gement d'usage du site, C : drainage, D : fertilisation, E : paturage du betail). (SCI = Site
d'interet communautaire ; IBA = Aire d'interet pour les oiseaux). 1 - Impact compatible:
I'impact supporte ne represente pas une menace immediate pour le maintien de la popu-
lation. 2 - Impact modere: si I'impact continue la taille de la population se reduira tres
probablement, mais sans risque d'extinction El court terme. 3 - Impact severe: si I'impact
continue il existe un risque significatif d'extinction locale El court terme. 4 - Impact critique
: si I'impact continue I'extinction locale est imminente.
N° of UTM N° of N° of % of total Habitat Threates / Impacts
UTM 1x 1 km populations ramets population protection
squares Iberia Europe A B C 0 E

Cluster 1 19 14 11.856 58.6 54.55
29TPH08 4 2 360 1.77 SCI 3 2
29TPH17 1 1 30 0.14 No protection 4
29TPH18 10 7 8.710 43.05 SCI 2 2 2 2 1
29TPHI9 1 1 5 0.,02 SCI 2
29TPH27 I I 5 0.02 No protection 4
29TPH28 2 2 2.750 13.59 No protection 2
Cluster 2 4 4 3.796 18.74 17.46
29TPG06 1 1 30 0.14 No protection
29TNG95 2 2 3_736 18.46 SCI 1
29TPGI6 1 1 30 0.14 No protection 2 2
Cluster 3 I I 18 0.08 0.08
29TNI-I85 1 1 18 0.08 SCI 2
Cluster 4 2 2 2.052 10.14 9.44
29TPG96 2 2 2.052 10.14 Nature reserve
Cluster 5 2 2 2.510 12.40 11.54
30TTN71 2 2 2.510 12.4 IBA

Total (Iberia) 28 23 20.232 93.09

Morbihan 1.500 6.90 SCI

Total (Europe) 29 24 21.732

tude, the highest recorded altitude for this species. Cluster 5 (the single Lean site, with a
small population) is located further east, at an altitude of 850 m, in an area where E.
galioides is also present.
These clusters are thus not directly linked by a river system, although genetic inter-
change may occur as a result of dispersion by waterbirds, particularly among the Galician
sites, which are closer together.



II 40
E 35
~ 30





29TA-108 29TPH18 29TPH28 29TNG95 30TTN71 29TFG96 otros
Squares UTM
Fig. 2.- Percentages of the total Iberian population (ramets) within each of the main UTM
10 X 10 km 2 grid squares.
Fig. 2.- Pourcentage de la pORulation iberique totale (ramets) present dans chacun des
principaux carres 10 x 10 km 2 de la cartographie U.T.M.

The area of Brittany including the E. viviparum sites (Beltz) has since 1988 been sub-
ject to specific measures to favour its conservation (Amlezo et al., 1995). Population size
at these sites has varied markedly among years, from 200 to 1500 individuals (Buord et al.,

c. Population trends
Our data suggest that rather more than 70% of the current world population of E. vivi-
parum is located in Galicia, and only a subset of the Galician subpopulations are in areas
with any sort of protected status. Specifically, some sites are Sites of Community Interest
within the Spanish proposal for the Natura 2000 network. Even so, most sites are affected
to a greater or lesser extent by anthropic habitat degradation or fragmentation, due to acti-
vities including drainage and sand extraction (Table Ill). By contrast, the sites located in
the Castilla-Lean Region (about 20% of the world population) are more effectively pro-
tected. The Lean site (Cluster 5) is a Important Bird Area (as defined by Birdlife
International), though it can be considered particularly sensitive due to its proximity to a
small town, thus increasing pressure from human activities and livestock. Cluster 4 is loca-
ted within the Sanabria Nature Reserve, in a location orographically isolated from the rest
of the population. Livestock grazing is probably the most severe threat to which these sites
are subject.


A. Is there any evidence of population decline?

One of the aims of this study was to obtain a better knowledge of the distribution of this
species, although it should be stressed that we have only carried out field studies in NW
Iberia, relying on published reports for our assessment of distribution in France. Our field
studies (seeTable II) summarizes our information on the number of sites at which this spe-
cies occurs in the Iberian Peninsula. We have been unable to confirm seven previously
reported sites, and consider it likely that it has become extinct at these sites, all of which
were reported from before 1905, since when there have of course been very significant
changes in land use throughout the region.
On the other hand, the new sites found for this species in Spain indicate that it extends
rather further east than was previously thought, and allow more accurate identification of
its geographical range. Accurate data on the distribution of a plant are of course of key
importance in conservation biology, with erroneous distribution assessments frequently
leading to incorrect assessments of conservation status (see Valdes et al., 2000).
Bearing in mind the highly specific habitat required by E. viviparum, even under ideal
circumstances it would occur only in a tiny percentage of its overall geographical area (see
IUCN, 2001), with a highly fi-agmenteddistribution. At the same time, we need to bear in
mind the likely importance of vegetative propagation for this species, so thata single site
may comprise only one or a few genetic individuals. We have insufficient historical data to
precisely quantify this population decline, but consider that iUs probably significant and
relevant to the species' conservation (see Rodriguez et al., 2000).

B. Current conservation status

The French populations of E. viviparum are apparently being effectively maintained as
a result of the species' conservation status (Cl), which calls for strict protection of the bio-
tope; furthermore, a specific programme of conservation and habitat management is being
implemented (BuoI'd et al., 1999). Nevertheless, this programme does not appear to be
maintaining population levels stable, since marked year-to-year fluctuations have been
reported (Table I). These French populations can be considered as a regionaLpopulation
Applying mCN criteria atthe regional level (Ginsburg, 2001) with categories as defi-
ned in mCN (2001), this species should be classed as Critically Endangered in France,
since it meets the following criteria: a) population decline of more than 90% over the per-
iod 1980-1990, and b) estimated area occupied less than 10 km 2 , and within this area only
a single location. Furthermore, there has been a continuous decline in the area occupied at
this site, and the remaining population shows marked interannual fluctuations.
In the Iberian Peninsula, the situation is clearly less critical: despite its extinction in
Portugal, the Spanish populations are geographically scattered, and probably maintain
considerable genetic diversity (which is of course an aspect that would merit specific
study). Despite the generally positive sihmtion in Spain, however, it should be noted that
this species' distribution is highly fragmented, and that more than half of the Spanish popu-
lation - including some plants at sites with legally protected stahlS - is currently threatened
(see Table Ill). Thus we estimate that about 56.9% of the Spanish population is threatened
with likely decline in the short-term due to habitat-modification impacts such as sand
extraction, drainage and land-use change (notably clearance for pasture or for Pinus or
Eucalyptus monoculture); a further 1.8% is subject to severe habitat-modification impacts

and is likely to be eliminated in the near future unless urgent protective measures are taken
(indeed at some of these sites the situation is already critical, only reversible by managed
recovery measures); the remaining 41.4% is located in areas in which impacts are compa-
tible with the natural development of the population.

In conclusion, the current status of Eryngium viviparum in Spain can be defined as

Endangered on IUCN criteria, i.e. a) declining population size due to reduced area of
occurrence and/or habitat destruction/degradation, and b) estimated area of occurrence less
than 500 km2 , severely fragmented and with declining number of sites.

Acknowledgements - We thank J. Izco, J. Amigo, I. Pulgar, G. Nieto, E. Rico and P. Bariego for discusion and help
during the fieldwork of this study. We also thanks S. Waldren for useful comments on the final manuscript. The study
was funded under proyect PGIDT01 MAM291 01 PR from The Galician Government.

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Appendix.- Listing of UTM 10 x 10 km 2 grid squares containing E. viviparum sites, in each

case indicating corresponding references and/or herbarium vouchers.
Appendice.- Liste desdifferents carres 10 x 10 km 2 (cartographie U.T.M.) contenant des
localites d'E. viviparum, avec pour chacun la reference bibliographique ou I'echantillon
d'herbier en faisant faL
UTM Altittide Pi'ovince Source Herbarium (voucher)

29TPH08 440 Lugo Lange, 1866; COl (no ref.) LUGO 772, 774, 765'.
Willkomm & Lange, 1880;
Merino, 1905; Ortiz, 1988
29TPHI7 400 Lugo SANT 06228. MA 179139, 179140, 197309.
SALA 3139.
29TPH18 387-421 Lugo SANT 17595,41391,38490.
MA 421613. LEB 38546. MAF 131173.
LOU 10423. LUGO 763, 764, 766, 767, 768, 769, 770.
29TPH19 400 Lugo LUGO 820
29TPH27 410 Lugo LUGO 773
29TPH28 400 Lugo LUGO 818, 819
29TPHl1 450 Lugo Merino, 1905
29TNG95 660-610 Ourense SANT 45414,45415,45416,45319,46390.
MA 565175. LEB 61822. LUGO 771.
FCO 23332. SALA 55639.
29TPQ06 630 Ourense SANT45417
29TPG16 620 Ourense SANT45969
29TPG56 1200 Ourense Merino, 1905
29TPG27 1600 Ourense Merino, 1905
29TPG24 400 Ourense Merino, 1905
29TPG18 800 Ourense Merino, 1905
29TNG97 400 Ourense Merino, 1905
449 A COfllfia Valdes-Bermejo et al., 1995 LUGO 775
30TTN71 850 Lean LEB 29178, LEB 19921. SANT 45312
29TPG86 1000 Zamora Gat'cia Lapez, 1992 MA 510388
29TPG96 1020 Zamora SANT 47268
29TNF24 0 Douro Litora1 Sampaio, 1946; PO 6076GS; LISU P27001, P27002. COl (no ref.).
Carvalho & Arriegas, 1994