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Project Description

This project will involve the University of Coimbra (IAV) and local Institutes both within Central Portugal. Exchange of knowledge between a main centre of research and a rather remote part of the country is to be encouraged for the desirable outcomes in strengthening the scientific and social structure of the country. Thoughtful education away from the main centres stimulates local innovation and encourages a healthy establishment of the population in the countryside. All the proposed activities within transference of knowledge to the general public (environmental education) do bear this in mind.


The project has a multidisciplinary approach to the grasses of higher altitudes (above 1400 m) of the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela (PNSE), central Portugal. It involves:


Poaceae is a taxonomically difficult family. Keys for identification are not user-friendly which makes family classification rather cryptic and mainly addressed to the full-time agrostologist. In Portugal the family is large (c. 273 species) and the PNSE is an ideal area for the study of it. Among other reasons, the PNSE has reputedly endemics and challenging ecological problems due to recent fires. Representative sites for grass diversity will be under scrutiny. Innovative approaches will be used in the taxonomic treatment of the family:

  1. user-friendly multi-access keys
  2. use of orbicules as new characters
  3. differential colonisation by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF).


Recent studies have reported that AMF communities enhance productivity and plant diversity in grassland communities. The biogenetic reserves recently destroyed by fire need diversity restoration. Grasses will be collected from: (1) the area in the central parts of the fire, (2) and in non-burnt adjacent areas, Index of mycorrhizal colonization will be assessed in all plants from the every single plot selected, in order to achieve the diversity of mycorrhizal fungi and the structural types of mycorrhizae in the grasslands of PNSE, commonly called cervunal . Index of AMF colonization in grasses and the diversity of AMF fungi in soil will be evaluated. These are expected to be bioindicators that may help regional policy makers to design a grassland restoration programme.


Exchange of knowledge between the University (IAV) and the community is to be encouraged for the desirable outcomes in strengthening the scientific and social structure of the country. The information gathered during this project will be disseminated via: a site in the Internet, local events (seminars, guided walks, slide-show), booklets and leaflets. We hope these proposed activities stimulate local innovation and encourage a healthy establishment of the population in the countryside.


Research focus is on the grass family diversity within the higher altitudinal areas of the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela (PNSE).

A multidisciplinary approach will be carried out aimed to:

  • update the taxonomic treatment of high altitude grasses of PNSE, with special emphasis on endemics, Nardus grasslands and meadows;
  • develop and adapt a pioneer alternative (multi-access key) to classic dichotomizing key for the identification of high altitude grasses;
  • investigate the usefulness of orbicules in the taxonomy of grasses;
  • clarify mycorrhizal dependency in a stable high altitude grassland succession;
  • evaluate the influence of fire in the AMF diversity;
  • produce bioindicators of soil sustainability indispensable to any attempt to a grassland restoration programme;
  • monitor the health conditions of grassland vegetation of Serra da Estrela both for the duration of the project and beyond it, in collaboration with local partners;
  • contribute, together with the PNSE & the Centro de Interpretação da Serra da Estrela (CISE), to effective educational programmes on plant life and natural environment for both the local communities and the general public.

Task 1

Taxonomy of the high altitude grasses of the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela (PNSE)

Grassland in the PNSE will be investigated above 1400 m. The areas for investigation come within 3 categories, 2 sites per category: intermediate (1400-1600m), transition (1600-1700m) and upper (1700-1850m). The habitats involved will be dry and humid Nardus grasslands and meadows. This selection should cover most of the diversity of the grass family at higher altitudes in the PNSE. Small “hot spots" of diversity may need to be added later.

All species of grasses will be:

  1. collected
  2. added to the herbarium (COI), especially those that are vouchers of the various studies involved in the project
  3. identified
  4. studied for characters to build up a multi-access key for identification inspired in the experience of Flora of Turkey
  5. illustrated.

Areas of particular density for each species will also be identified.

Leaf anatomy, SEMs of vegetative and reproductive parts, orbicules, DNA, morphology and ecology will be investigated.

Task 2

Morphology, ultrastructure and ontogeny of orbicules in selected taxa of the Poaceae

This study will be based mainly on living material, of which voucher specimens will be deposited at the herbarium of the Department of Botany (COI).

Over the 3-year programme, anthers at different developmental stages will be collected and processed for morphological, ultrastructural and cytochemical studies. Observations will be carried out with both the SEM and TEM, and an orbicule typology will be constructed based on the morphological, ultrastructural and chemical variations of the orbicules. The taxonomic usefulness of this typology will be discussed further.

Acetolyzed pollen grains collected from the same anthers will also be examined with the SEM and OM. Permanent slides will be obtained and will be added to the existing pollen collection.

Task 3

Effects of fire on the structural diversity of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) communities

Four study areas will be selected from the zones affected by fire and the surrounding zones. Impacts on vegetation cover will be assessed in:

  1. area strongly affected by the fire with > 80% vegetation cover damaged
  2. area less affected by the fire with 20-40% vegetation cover damaged
  3. area not affected by the fire (control).

For all plots, the following parameters will be evaluated:

  1. Plant cover analysis (plant species composition and richness).
  2. Soil analysis (pH, organic matter, basic nutrients, i.e. P, N and water content)
  3. AMF colonization. Samples of grasses will be collected seasonally, two times per year during two years (alternate seasons will be considered). Direct statistical comparisons will be made measuring the percentage of colonization. The percentage of AMF colonization will be assessed as the number of AMF segments per total number of root segments.
  4. Determination of fungi diversity. Root samples and soil cores will be sampled two times a year during the growth period of grasses. Fungi diversity will be assessed by DNA-based methods (DGGE-PCR techniques).

Task 4

Knowledge transfer to the general public (Environmental Education)

Activities will take place discontinuously during the 3 years of the project:

  • a website will be developed in the 1st year and the information gathered during the project will be added periodically;
  • a seminar will be organised on the 2nd year of the project;
  • guided walks will take place during spring and summer and will be organised by the Centro de Interpretação da Serra da Estrela (CISE);
  • leaflets and booklets will be made at the end of the 3rd year assembling information collected during the project;

Knowledge transfer will be prepared having 4 main public targets:

  • small groups of persons who will be able to: (i) register on seminars on grassland, collect and prepare herbarium grass specimens, (ii) join in guided walks to grassland territories, and (iii) book in for slide-show (diaporama) presentation;
  • general visiting public to the headquarters of the PNSE and CISE who will be encouraged to attend our activities by simple advertising leaflets;
  • general public who will be able to consult our Website which should be visually attractive and user-friendly; this site will be the “public face" of the project and should have a professional design;
  • biologists in general and educated amateurs who will be able to make use of the book on the grasses of the PNSE.


The multidisciplinary information derived from this project will have various impacts.

It will:

  1. benefit the PNSE by contributing to better educated decisions on sustainable land use
  2. contribute to the dissemination of scientific information on the grasses of PNSE
  3. contribute to maintain diversity of species, ecosystems and ecosystems processes
  4. facilitate greening and restoration of natural vegetation in degraded areas
  5. contribute to effective environmental education programmes by producing booklets, leaflets, seminars, guided walks, slide-show (diaporama) and the site in the Internet addressed to the general public
  6. inspire Eco-tourism in the Park.
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