Archipelago of Species

It is difficult, if not impossible, to think of Greece without taking into account the islands. In many ways the islands are what we call the quintessence, the "hardcore" of the country, having to show to their visitor a vast variety of all unique elements and treasures. Among them the natural environment stands out. Tens of endemic species, both from the animal and plant kingdoms, which exist only in this small corner of the globe, make the Aegean Sea a quite sui generis case, the "Archipelago of Species generation" as the Greek National Geographic edition characterize it.

There are two main reasons for the high biodiversity of the Aegean. First, the geographical position of Greece. The contiguity with three continents had a large-scale impact on its fauna and flora. It is considered to be the southernmost distribution point of many European species and the westernmost and the northernmost for Asian and African species respectively.

Second, the particular history of each island. Greek islands today are relics of Aigais, uniform areas of land that existed in the eastern Mediterranean basin during Tertiary. In the beginning of Pleistocene the mass of Cyclades was still unique whereas the great islands of the eastern Aegean were connected with Asia Minor via terrestrials corridors. Crete was separated from the Miocene and became an isolated part of land. Those phenomena had a dramatic effect on the fauna of the islands.

The Latin term for the word island is insula, which in modern Italian evolved to "isola" and the resemblance with the word "isolamento" (isolation, but insulation as well) certainly is not accidental. In the limited insular ecosystems species had their time to change by piling characteristics and, generation-by-generation, to distinguish in new ones.  

The particular significance of insularity in ecological studies was distinguished quite early. One and a half century ago, Wallace, a famous contemporaneous biologist to Darwin, noted the special importance of such insular ecosystems by formulating the hypothesis that in studies we could better understand the relations between the distribution, the speciation and the adaptation of the species. In the middle 20th century a new scientific topic emerged: insular biogeography. Scientists McArthur and Wilson introduced their theory back in 1967 remolding ecological thought.

Nowadays islands are considered as natural laboratories where many theories can be tested since they represent simple and closed systems in comparison to inland areas.

  Read about our sailing adventures called "Wild Tales" which focus on introducing you to the biodiversity of the Aegean Sea...

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