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From Maine (USA) and tested for the first time in Italy and Europe, the new monitoring system allows the identification of the so-called ‘umbrella species for monitoring’, making it possible to simultaneously track other species thus maximising the effectiveness of their observation and control. The concept of umbrella species has long been known in conservation biology, but is being readapted in this case for monitoring purposes. The creator of the protocol is Alessio Mortelliti, associate professor of Ecology in the Department of Life Sciences of the University of Trieste, and first associate professor in Wildlife Habitat Conservation at the University of Maine.

Under its coordination, the University of Trieste and the Julian Prealps Natural Park, who are already engaged in a study on the behaviour of micromammals, will collaborate as partners in the project Optimal Monitoring of Mammals. This project was won on the call for the National Biodiversity Future Center, one of the five national centres dedicated to frontier research, funded by NextGenerationEU, Ministry of Universities and Research and NRRP.

Launching in April 2024 and scheduled to end in December 2025, the project aims to develop a mammal monitoring system within the park and surrounding areas, spanning 100 km2 of extraordinary biodiversity and located in Friuli Venezia Giulia on the border with Slovenia. It was also recognised in 2009 as a cross-border protected area by the EUROPARC Federation. 

Specifically, the project has two highly innovative objectives at national and international level. The first is to identify the protocol with the most cost-effective ratio for a specific management purpose and budget, which is also adaptable according to variable economic availability and aim of the institution. The second goal is to identify the so-called umbrella species. 

Alessio Mortelliti, associate professor of Ecology at the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Trieste explains, ‘Identifying umbrella species means identifying species on which to focus our effort, but at the same time ensuring that other species will be included in the monitoring. This approach is therefore an excellent tool to minimise the cost of monitoring while maximising the number of species covered. For example, monitoring the wild cat by means of phototraps makes it possible to simultaneously monitor other species, such as martens, roe deer and foxes.’

The data, collected in two field campaigns using traps, nest tubes and phototraps (the first during spring/summer 2024, the second in spring/summer 2025), will be used for the development of protocols and statistical analysis able to detect significant trends in the decline of umbrella species. As another distinctive feature of the project, a number of citizen scientists, i.e. pupils of local primary and secondary schools, will participate in the sampling activities as part of the environmental education activities promoted annually by the Park, accompanied and supported by the students of the course in Ecology of Global Changes of the University of Trieste.

 Additionally, in order to ensure sustainability in the medium to long term and remain achievable in relative autonomy, the project includes various training activities for Park staff on field techniques, the acquisition and management of data, and the identification of species. The protocol is also structured to allow for its replication in other protected areas characterised by similar forest types, and to export the results related to umbrella species in different contexts.

‘There is a passing of the baton and a transfer of know-how between the University of Trieste and the Julian Prealps Natural Park. The protocol is to be understood as a real investment for the institution. It is applied research, a model that becomes professional practice in the field’, continues Alessio Mortelliti, ‘The involvement of schools and the local community is also fundamental, so that they may feel part of this great ecosystem and become increasingly informed, conscious and empowered.’

President of the Park Annalisa Di Lenardo expressed satisfaction with the funding obtained, and emphasises that, ‘the project is significant for the area due to its innovation and capacity to create a network between a research institute, a managing body of a protected area and the local community. The data collected will increase the knowledge available to administrations and citizens in order to raise awareness of the importance of protecting biodiversity and its proper management.’

Alessio Mortelliti has twenty years of experience in the development of monitoring protocols and is co-author of some of the Ispra monitoring protocols. He has developed others for the state of Maine (USA), the Regional Agency of Lazio Parks (formerly ARP), the Selva del Lamone Nature Reserve and the monitoring of babirusa (Sus celebensis) in Indonesia. In the past, he has conducted numerous courses specifically focused on field techniques and the analysis of monitoring data in numerous countries, including Italy, Austria, the United States, Indonesia, Tunisia and Mauritania.