Safeguard and Protection of Mediterranean Sea Daffodil (Pancratium Maritimum L.): A Case of Extinction in Progress?

Project location: ITALY, Naples, Palermo, Mediterranean Coast
Project start date: November 2012 - Project end date: November 2015
Project number: 2012-083
Beneficiary: Dipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II


Pancratium L. (Amaryllidaceae) includes about 20 species of bulbous perennials with wonderful flowers distributed in the Old World. A recent study on the phylogeny and biogeography of Pancratium genus from Mediterranean and adjacent areas (De Castro et al. 2012, Botanical Journal of Linnean Society 170: 12-28) provided new insights and helped formulating new working hypotheses for Pancratium species, especially for Pancratium maritimum L. (sea daffodil). This research project (Principal Investigator: Dr Olga De Castro) is the realization of some working hypothesis described in the article of De Castro et al. (2012).

Pancratium maritimum, differently from the majority of the other species, has a wide geographic range growing in the coastal sands of the Mediterranean to Black Sea, including part of Atlantic coast. Up till now, Pancratium maritimum is an enough studied species, with contributions addressing pollination, seed and pollen morphology, dispersion or germination, phytochemistry, and genetics (De Castro et al. 2012, references therein). Beside, an important fact is that this plant produces important chemicals of which antiviral and antitumor properties are well known: one of these is the lycorine, mainly expressed in bulbs, roots and leaves (Bogdanova et al. 2009, Biotechnology & Biotechnological Equipment 23/2009/SE).

Although this plant is widely distributed, the excess of flowers sampling, urbanization and tourism put serious threats to this species, resulting in a significant decline in the amount of its populations. In fact, its habitat is threatened from human activities (e.g., sunbathing). A notable example is the total disappearance of the species from the island of Ischia (Naples, southern Italy) because of human impact on the beaches (Ricciardi et al. 2004, Webbia 59: 1-113). Very few and fragmentary studies are available on the threat status of this species as a consequence of anthropogenic habitat disturbance [Lebanon: Zahreddine et al. (2004), Biodiversity and Conservation 120: 11-18; northern Italy: Grassi et al. (2005), Biodiversity and Conservation 14: 2159-2169; Tunisia: Sanaa & Fadhel (2010), Scientia Horticulturae 125: 740-747].

For this reason, surely a more complete conservation study must be performed in the future for all distribution range of this plant. In fact, owing to the lost of its natural habitats and populations the species is endangered along Mediterranean coasts, but it is not result again under protection by "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (International Union for Conservation of Nature, Red List,

The aim of this project, which has received a grant from the Nando Peretti Foundation, is to perform a complete study to preservation and protection about this plant (sea daffodil or Pancratium maritimum).


The Project will be performed through three fundamental approaches.

(1) Molecular approach.

Characterization of structure genetics of Pancratium maritimum populations using both chloroplast (A) and nuclear (B) DNA markers.

(A) Analysis of the distribution of the genetic variability through the chloroplast markers, will provide information about the possible processes of colonization and/or dispersal by seed. In fact, except in the few cases of biparental inheritance, the genome of plastids is inherited maternally (seeds) for most angiosperm plants; therefore, it is also possible to gain insight into genetic composition based on the dispersal of the seeds themselves in Pancratium maritimum populations investigated.

(B) Instead, to understand the genetic structure and population dynamics, hypervariable nuclear DNA markers will be analyzed [i.e., Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (AFLP) or Short Sequence Repeat (SSR)]. These molecular markers are considered a powerful tool to analyze intra-individual variability and to provide information for an efficient strategy for the conservation of genetic resources of plant in question.

(2) Geographic Information System (GIS) approach.

In order to analyze the spatial distribution of Pancratium maritimum populations in study, we will use geographic information systems, and photo interpretation of aerial photos. We will collect information related to cartographic environments beach. In this regard will be consulted the CORINE land cover and maps of the "coasts" of the geo-portal of the "Ministero dell'Ambiente e della Tutela del Territorio e del Mare" ( The aim will be to identify the potential distribution area of the sea daffodil. While through the photo interpretation of the sampled areas will be possible to identify the environmental components that can facilitate the distribution of the species or, on the contrary, to determine the disappearance.

(3) Eco-morphological approach.

Pancratium maritimum or sea daffodil can be defined as an important plant to monitor the sandy beaches and its vegetation. Particularly, it is very important to know the morphological structures of sea daffodil because they are fundamental for the maintenance and regeneration of the coastal dunes.

An eco-morphological comparison of these structures will be performed among some Pancratium maritimum specimens of different localities and similar species of different habitats to understand and to verify the adaptations employed in the sea daffodil.


Outcomes of the project.

In their complex, the obtained data will allow an increase the knowledge about the biodiversity and/or conservation of the sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum) and its Mediterranean coastal sand environments.

The combined use of different categories of scientific approaches should allow to understand more deeply the colonization and adaptative strategies of this plant species and therefore to plan efficient programs for the conservation of genetic diversity and adaptation to habitat changes. Besides the production of evolutionary hypotheses will allow understanding the role that anthropical pressure has having in the actual distribution of the biodiversity in the sea daffodil. This information will produce proposals of conservation.

Finally, an indirect assessment will be performer about the state of health of Mediterranean sandy beach.



A number of foreign and Italian botanists will be involved in the sampling of Pancratium maritimum populations in the Mediterranean area (sandy beaches).

Approach (1): Dr Antonietta Di Maio, Dr Sara Barbarito (University of Naples Federico II).

Approach (2): Dr Giancarlo Sibilio, Dr Bruno Menale, Prof. Paolo De Luca (University of Naples Federico II).

Approach (3): Dr Rosaria Perrone, Prof Paolo Colombo (University of Palermo); Dr Simona Carfagna (University of Naples Federico II).

Dipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II
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