Geobotany at ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’

Professor Salvador Rivas-Martinez has spent his whole life dedicated to the study of ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ mountain range. He defines this sierra as one of his favourite… Term that acquires great value, considering he is an expert on worldwide mountain ranges. Using methodology developed and updated by him and his research team, a comprehensive geobotanical study of this mountain range is being carried out.

For a few years now, Professor Salvador Rivas-Martínez has been leading a project whose objective is geobotanical characterization of three iconic Iberian Peninsula’s massifs, protected by three National Parks: ‘Picos de Europa’, ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ and ‘Sierra Nevada’. This project’s working team consists of researchers from several universities: ‘Universidad de León’, ‘Universidad de Granada’ and ‘Universidad Complutense de Madrid’, as well as scientists from the Research, Monitoring & Evaluation Centre of ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ National Park.

083 01 laderas sierraMountainsides from ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ with their typical natural vegetation. Author: Jose Luis Izquierdo.

There are few things that one could add to Salvador’s figure. His work and methodologies related to flora and vegetation are applied and cited constantly, even nowadays, in every study conducted about vegetation or biogeography all over Europe. Moreover, he has travelled around the world and his methodology has been employed in numerous mountain ranges worldwide. On an international level, Professor Rivas is an extremely relevant figure on ecology and botany. Geobotany, as he loves to call it, gathers diverse disciplines such as phytosociology, vegetation taxonomy, bioclimatology, biogeography, edaphology and geomorphology.

Recently we have had the opportunity and immense luck of accompanying him along many field trips through mountain ranges and mountainsides, in order to update and complete the information and data gathered by him at ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ after many years of study. Each stop of the way turned to be a geobotanical masterclass. The simple and informal finding of a small grass plant makes the miracle appear: plants and landscape tell their tale through the professor’s lips, revealing many, many things… The amount of information collected during a field trip with Salvador is unimaginable, thanks to all the subjects he excels at. His global and integrating vision is admirable, as a result of his travels as well as his geographical and botanical knowledge of the world.

Due to recent data obtained, related to botany and climatology, some concepts have changed and the biogeographic and climatic approach to ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ has modernized. And so, some bioclimatic belts have been reformulated, resulting in intermediate concepts between Mediterranean mountains and temperate ones, especially in certain areas of ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ singular valleys and at the top of the mountains where the supratemperate and orotemperate thermotypes can be identified, apart from the classic supramediterranean and oromediterranean ones. That has been possible thanks to the interpretation of the climatic indexes used, mainly ombrothermic ones. In addition, from the biogeographic point of view, the territory has been classified up to biogeographic county level, which is considered to be one of the most detailed categories taking into account flora and vegetation indexes as well as bioclimatic ones. Some of the conclusions of these studies have been presented recently at two Conferences organized by EVS (European Vegetation Survey) in Bilbao (2017) and in Madrid (2019).

083 02 indicadores vegetacionMain vegetation indicators’ diagram from Orotemperate High Guadarrama County (obtained from Cantó P., Pizarro J.M., Rodríguez R., Izquierdo J.L. & Rivas-Martínez S., 2019, 28th EVS Meeting).

Currently, his restless and enthusiastic spirit continues travelling and spreading geobotanical science wherever he goes. While that study is taking place, he is also immersed in other investigation works in Morocco, Cape Verde, Portugal, Sierra Nevada…Precisely, a compelling article on Northwestern Africa’s flora and vegetation (Rivas-Martínez & col., 2020; Naturalia Cantabricae, 8esp) has just been published. However, in-between his research trips, he always returns, as repeated again and again, to his beloved ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’.