Workshop 4: Island endemism



  • Keynote Speaker Biography – Dr Sandro Lanfranco


Sandro Lanfranco is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biology whereby he mainly teaches Plant Biology and Evolutionary Biology. His research, and that of his students is mainly concerned with vegetation dynamics in terrestrial and freshwater habitats. He also carries out research on temporary freshwater rock pools and their biota.



  • Workshop/Excursion Summary
  • Topic Overview


There are two ways by which islands become inhabited by flora and fauna species once they form.  Islands of volcanic origin are usually too far from the mainland and they take longer to exhibit life, and this often constitutes mainly avifauna, or else seeds or gravid female species that reach the island by mistake.  Conversely, sedimentary islands that are still connected to the mainland via land-bridges, become islands only once interglacial periods increase the surrounding sea level. Hence these form diverse ecosystems much more easily.  This is because during Ice Ages, species from the mainland would have already populated the island, and are only cut off once sea level rises. Being connected to both Sicily and Italy via shallow underwater land bridges, the latter method  explains the history of Malta’s biodiversity. These two methods by which islands gain biodiversity as well as the distance of the island from the mainland also shape the number of endemics that an island hosts. Since our country was once connected to mainland Europe, most indigenous species have not yet had enough time isolated from the mainland to evolve into endemics.  However, Malta does host a number of endemics, the most common of which are the 4 subspecies of Maltese Wall Lizards spread across the Maltese archipelago. Aside from endemism, island species sometimes display Island Gigantism and Island Dwarfism, phenomena which the Maltese Islands experienced to a high degree, whereby dwarf hippos, dwarf deer, dwarf elephants and giant swans dwelled on the island until they eventually went extinct.



  • Workshop & Excursion:
  • Learn to distinguish between different applied biological terms such as indigenous, endemic, archaeophytic and invasive species
  • Learn about island endemism phenomena as well as the flora and fauna of the Maltese Islands


      • Discuss the relationship between island formation, human influence and island biodiversity


  • Visit the Ghar Dalam cave in southern Malta, which hosts remains of most of Malta’s extinct endemic fauna along with evidence of early human settlements.
  • Conduct line transects in 3 different locations along Malta’s NE coast in order to identify Malta’s major coastal plant species and to observe and learn about the  ecological islands’ phenomenon.


    • Conduct questionnaires to improve visitor experience in museums


  • Number of Participants: 15 students