Countries of Occurrence:
Portugal - Azores
Paulo A.V. Borges
Facilitators / Compilers/s:
Apamea sphagnicola is an endemic species present on Pico and S. Miguel islands (Azores, Portugal) (Wagner 2014, 2015). It has a small Extent of Occurrence (EOO = 1,958 km²) and small Area of Occupancy (AOO = 16 km²). Currently, Apamea sphagnicola is under threat due to degradation of the habitat caused by the invasive plant Hedychium gardnerianum, which is changing some of the areas and decreasing the quality of the habitat. The impact of cattle grazing and trampling, touristic activity and large-scale collecting of Sphagnum mosses is also decreasing the habitat quality. Based upon the small range, decreasing quality of the habitat and low number of locations, this species is assessed as Endangered (EN).
Apamea sphagnicola is an Azorean-endemic species present in Pico and S. Miguel islands (Azores, Portugal) with two subspecies: A. sphagnicola ssp. sphagnicola from S. Miguel and A. sphagnicola ssp. centralazorensis from Pico (Wagner 2014, 2015). It occurs mostly in native forest and the surrounding areas (Wagner 2015), and has been found in the Natural Forest Reserves of Caveiro (Pico) and Pico da Vara (S. Miguel). The Extent of Occurrence (EOO) is ca. 1,958 km2 and the maximum estimated Area of Occupancy (AOO) is 16 km2.
This species is relatively abundant and occurs mostly in wet highland Juniperus brevifolia woodland habitats with Fetusca francoi grass and Sphagnum spp. moss (Wagner 2014, 2015). A decline is inferred due to the degradation of habitat caused by human activities (agriculture, tourism) and invasions by alien plants. The species has two subpopulations, one in Pico and another in S. Miguel corresponding to two subspecies. Currently, invasive plants, namely Hedychium gardnerianum, are changing some of the areas where the species occurs and decreasing the quality of the habitat on both islands. These changes are decreasing the relative cover of endemic plants and changing the soil cover (decreasing the cover of bryophytes and ferns). In addition, Wagner (2015) observed that, on Pico island, cattle are destroying lower embankments of Sphagnum through their weight (“cattle erosion”) which impacts the species. On S. Miguel, Wagner (2014) observed the impact of cattle (at some of the sites), tourism activity (hiking in sensible parts) and large-scale collecting of Sphagnum mosses. Consequently, we assume a decline in number of subpopulations due to such major threats.
Apamea sphagnicola occurs in wet embankments or steep slopes in open heathland or, more rarely, in open woodland mostly between elevations of 700-900 m (supposedly up to 1,100 m) at S. Miguel (Wagner 2014), and in steep, mainly shady, places with Sphagnum mosses on Pico. Primarily, the larvae feed on various mosses (especially Sphagnum spp.) and grass tussocks (mainly Festuca francoi) (Wagner 2014). Possibly, the larvae are specialized herbivores, and the adults have probably only one generation per year. Wagner (2014) observed larvae in November-December. Adults are active between March and June.
In the past, the species has probably strongly declined due to changes in habitat size and quality, mostly the creation of pastures (Triantis et al. 2010). Currently, invasive plants, namely Hedychium gardnerianum, are changing some areas and are decreasing the quality of the habitat. These changes are decreasing the relative cover of endemic plants and changing the soil cover (decreasing the cover of bryophytes and ferns). In addition, Wagner (2015) observed that, on Pico island, cattle are destroying lower embankments with Sphagnum through their weight (“cattle erosion”), with associated impacts on this species. In S. Miguel, Wagner (2014) observed the impact of cattle (at some sites), tourism activity (hiking in sensible parts) and large-scale collecting of Sphagnum mosses. Based on Ferreira et al. (2016) the habitat will further decline as a consequence of climate change (increasing number of droughts, and habitat shifting and alteration).
The species is not protected by regional law, but its habitat is in regionally protected areas (Natural Parks of Pico and S. Miguel). Degraded habitats should be restored and a strategy needs to be developed to address the future threat from climate change. Education and awareness is needed to avoid large-scale collecting of Sphagnum mosses. An important first step in creating a potential species-specific recovery plan is monitoring the entire invertebrate community of this habitat. Monitoring every ten years using the BALA protocol will inform about habitat quality (see e.g. Gaspar et al. 2011). A habitat management plan is also needed, with one anticipated to be developed during the coming years. Further research is needed into its ecology and life history in order to find extant specimens in additional natural forest areas on all Azorean islands and to obtain information on population size, distribution and trends.