PP-ICON - Plant-Pollinator Integrated CONservation approach: a demonstrative proposal

LIFE09 NAT/IT/000212

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Contact details:

Contact person: Marta Galloni
Tel: +39 051 2091318
Fax: +39 051 242576
Email: marta.galloni@unibo.it

Project description:


Around 90% of flowering plant species profit from animal pollination for their reproduction. Current human activities, for instance the fragmentation of habitat, changes in land use and the modernisation of agricultural practices (e.g. an increase in the use of pesticides and herbicides chemicals) put pollination systems increasingly under threat.

In addition, wild pollinators are facing a widespread decline. This is brought about by changes to the climate and in the use of soil, habitat fragmentation and pollution which in turn cause floral resources and nesting sites for pollinating species to become ever scarcer.

Both of these trends affect Europe's natural populations of the rare plant Dictamnus albus (more commonly known as burning bush, dittany, gas plant or fraxinella). This species is declining because of a scarcity of pollination services but also because their preferred habitat (woodland fringes and clearings) is slowly decreasing due to land-use changes as result of the abandonment of traditional agro-forestry activities.


The main objectives of this LIFE Biodiversity project were to ensure the survival of an isolated population of Dictamnus albus (in a regional park in the province of Bologna and to restore the community of natural pollinators. Management activities, including selective shrub clearings in two sites each of 16 m2, were carried out in the woods in order to halt forest closure. The population of insect pollinators was increased by creating sites for nesting and egg-laying, by reintroducing new colonies of the most important pollinators for the plant and by strengthening populations of other nectariferous plant species in the area.


The project accessed the relationships linking flora, pollinators and their environment, which are threatened in the project area by various factors and problems. An integrated approach was used and it took into account the complex network of ecosystem interactions. The interconnected elements on which we actively intervened to guarantee effective conservation action were habitat, the plant species and its pollinators, the latter being fundamental to guarantee the reproduction of the targeted plant. The integrated strategy proposed in this pilot project can be applied for the conservation of other Dictamus albus populations in Europe, as well as other entomophilous plant species and their respective pollinators subject to similar threats.

PP-ICON was implemented in the Natura 2000 site Gessi Bolognesi e Calanchi della Abadessa in the province of Bologna. Here parts of the deciduous forest were identified where the target population of Dictamnus albus grows and four 16 m2 pilot sites were selected for the purpose of the project. Two of these sites were used for monitoring and two were cleared in order to let more light into both young and mature woodland and to re-create D. albus’ preferred habitat.

In addition, plants that attract the most pollinators of D. albus were selected in these pilot areas and their seeds and/or adult individuals were collected from these wild populations for reproduction purposes. The seeds were germinated and planted in the Botanical Gardens of Bologna and subsequently reintroduced as adult plants to the pilot area. The target was to collect at least 100 viable seeds for each species in order to produce at least 25 adult individuals for each species. The beneficiaries managed to reach almost 80% of this target.

Field surveys were also carried out to identify the most important D. albus pollinators. Insect species that effectively pollinate the plant were observed and sampled in the area studied over six full days (two days at the beginning, two days peak and two days at the end of the flowering period). Plant species visited by pollinators were recorded and specimens of wild bees collected. About 22 pollinator species were identified in total but the main ones pollinating D. albus are: Bombus pascuorum, Bombus terrestris, Bombus lapidarius, Xylocopa violacea and Habropoda tarsata. The surveys also showed that small bees did not contribute to pollination and that woodland margins are the best habitat for D. albus and its pollinators.

Once the pollinators had been identified specific nesting sites were provided. 10 artificial bumblebee nests were placed in the area and were rearranged and supplied with new litter every year in early spring to increase their attractiveness. Unfortunately, none of the nests were used by bumblebee queens. The project team compensated for this by releasing a higher number of bumblebees from artificially reared and purchased colonies into the area. In total 13 colonies of bumblebees were artificially reared and reintroduced to increase the number of pollinators available in target areas.

Nests for solitary bees were also placed in the target areas but the first type of nest did not work well so different nests were installed later that were more effective. Two large "bee hotels" were also installed. The exact number of cavities colonised by pollinators was hard to define but the nests were occupied. By the end of the project 25% of the artificial nests were successfully colonised by Osmia, Megachile and Xylocopa species all of which are very good pollinators for the target plant.

Events and other activities were organised to help disseminate the results of the project and to promote networking amongst people working in the field and stakeholders. Three scientific workshops were organised and attended by 174 people in total. Eight events were also organised for the local population and stakeholders. Finally, a Technical Handbook on plant conservation strategies was published in English and Italian and is available in printed or electronical format.

After the end of PP-Icon, the health of the D. albus populations targeted, the advancement of woodland fringes in the project area, and the status of the nectariferous plant populations that were introduced will be monitored by the project coordinator as part of an institutional research activity. Further, the Conservation Measures and Management Plan of the Natura 2000 site now contains advice provided by beneficiaries to help the conservation of the target species and its pollinators.

The projects method of focusing on rare plant conservation as well as the conservation of its natural pollinator community is one that can be applied to many entomogamous endangered species. This kind of approach would be extremely valuable if implemented on a larger scale. It would help halt the loss of pollinators and biodiversity in general and benefit the whole ecosystem.


Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Invertebrates
Species - Plants


botanical conservatory‚  biodiversity‚  introduction of animal species‚  nature conservation‚  restoration measure‚  population dynamics

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directiv ...
  • COM(2011) 244 final “Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 ...

Target Habitat types

  • 02 - Specific (i.e.for technical reasons or specific issue)

Natura 2000 sites

SCI IT4050001 Gessi Bolognesi, Calanchi dell'Abbadessa



Coordinator ALMA MATER STUDIORUM Universitàdi Bologna
Type of organisation University
Description The Alma mater Studiorum-University of Bologna is located in central Italy and has specialisms in flowering plants, pollination ecology and management of plant-pollinator systems.
Partners Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura (CRA), Italy Fondazione Villa Ghigi, Italy


Project reference LIFE09 NAT/IT/000212
Duration 01-JAN-2011 to 30-JUN -2015
Total budget 603,007.00 €
EU contribution 300,966.00 €
Project location Emilia-Romagna(Italia)


Read more:

Leaflet "Dictamnus: Conserviamo, impolliniamo, raccontiamo ...
Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Conservation Plan After-LIFE Conservation Plan (Italian version)
Publication: Guidelines-Manual "PP-ICON - Plant Pollinator integrated CONservatio ...
Publication: Guidelines-Manual "PP-ICON - Plant-Pollinator Integrated CONservatio ...
Publication: Layman report Layman report
Publication: Technical report Project's Final technical report
Slides Presentation "Results and good practices of the project Life+ P ...


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version