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A Mediterranean microclimate in the Maritime Alps

Rocca San Giovanni-Saben Nature Reserve

Another wall of grey limestone rises as a backdrop to the village of Valdieri, half way up the Gesso valley. This is where you find the Rocca San Giovanni-Saben Nature Reserve (formerly the Juniperus phoenicea Special Nature Reserve), which has been protecting the northenmost group of phoenician junipers since 1984. This is a mediterranean plant and it manages to survive here along with a number of endemic species that love a hot, dry situation, thanks to the favourable micro-climate of these south-facing limestone cliffs. Here are some of them, thuriferous juniper (Juniperus thurifera), Campanula macrorrhyza, Cardus litigiosus, Crocus versicolor and Primula allionii.

The particular climate and geomorphology of the Reserve have also influenced its wildlife. An important species for entomologists is Papilio alexanor, a mediterranean butterfly limited to a few small, residual spots where it lives in close connection with an umbelliferae Ptychotis saxifraga which serves as food for its caterpillars. Other macrolepidoptera found here are the rare Euchloe tagis, Celerio vespertilio and Proserpinus proserpina. Another insect curiosity is the slave-maker ant (Polyergus rufescens), which uses other ants as food and for slave labour. The Reserve, thanks to its position and climate is used all year round by numerous bird species, among these the majestic peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus).

Because of its great natural value, the fragility of the environment and the species living there, access to the Reserve is regulated and only one path is open to the public.


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