We travelled from the sea at Alvor, ascending the hills and mountains of Monchique, to Mt Foia at a height of 902m. With Prof Matthijs Schouten guiding us through the wide variety of habitats encountered, we were certainly in safe hands. We made various stops along our journey and I was delighted that we got to put our few days experience identifying species in the Algarve to good use. Asphodelus was one species of flower we found in the mountain zone (pictured). We were all quite excited to see a short-toed eagle soaring overhead at the foot of the mountain. Other novel species we noticed included Geckos and Tree frogs.
I was particularly interested hearing Prof Schouten talk about the important role of wildfires in the Monchique region. There may be up to 2000 wild fires in Portugal every year. We saw Rockrose (Cistus sp) flowers on our travels, which contain aromatic oils, and when they evaporate the plant can ignite spontaneously at a temperature of 33 C! Many species in this habitat are specially adapted to survive wildfires, for example Quercus suber (Cork Oak) has a very thick bark. Many other plant species have thick seed coats, and fire is necessary for these seeds to germinate.
It was fascinating to hear how the land use has changed in the region, and we could see this for ourselves, with plantations of Quercus suber for cork production for wine and plantations of Euclyptus which is pulped to make paper.
Before we knew it, it was time to hop back onto the bus and make our journey back down the mountain towards to sea. The first five days of this field trip have gone by so fast, our adventure will be coming to an end all too soon…