On 27 of November 2017 the LabOr was present at the initiative of the Municipality of Coruche “European Week of Waste Prevention and Portugal Reforestation”. The farm Herdade dos Concelhos received 196 students from pre-school and first cycle of basic education for a full day of activities in the middle of the Mediterranean forest. In the atelier “Birds of the Montado”, students and teachers learned how the jay (Garrulus glandarius) is important for the regeneration of cork oaks, how tits (Parus major and Cyanistes caeruleus, among others) can contribute to controlling insect pests which spread diseases in these agro-silvo-pastoral systems, and even how the barn owl (Tyto alba) can help to prevent small mammals that consume acorns to proliferate to the point of compromising the natural regeneration of the montado.
One story served as a motto for an exploratory conversation with children, supported by resources resulting from research and scientific dissemination projects developed by LabOr. Based on the contents of the book “O montado e as aves: boas práticas para uma gestão sustentável” (Portuguese only), published in 2015 by LabOr/ICAAM/University of Évora and by the Municipality of Coruche, the story was about the reunion of two friends, a jay and a cork oak. The jay can harvest more than 400 acorns per hectare in a season, storing them on the ground and then consuming them. Many of the buried acorns eventually germinate, making of jay the main dispersing agent for acorns in the Mediterranean (see box 3.1 “Gaio: o grande promotor da regeneração natural no montado” (Portuguese only), on page 47).
The role of the tit as a consumer of cortical insects potentially damaging to the montado was also explored in this action. Since 2008, more than 700 nest boxes have been installed in projects of LabOr in the municipalities of Benavente, Coruche, Évora and Ponte de Sor, contributing to increase the populations of insectivorous birds as a form of biological control of cork oak diseases. To know more about the models of nest boxes and the insectivorous species for which they are intended, see box 8.1. “Potencial do controlo de pragas florestais através do aumento de cavidades para as aves insectívoras” (Portuguese only, see page 239).
Another star of the day was the barn owl. Some barn owls radio tracked under the TytoTagus Project remained in montado areas of Coruche during much of their dispersal, using cork oaks as shelter during the day and hunting during the night within a radius of 3km. Through the study of the barn owl diet we know that one of its main prey in montado areas is the wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), which feeds on acorns. Predators such as barn owls contribute to the balance of their prey populations and are in various contexts used as biological control aids, as they help to prevent population explosions of animals with potential to cause crop damage.During the action, teachers received a copy of the Digital Atlas of Birds of Mitra, a content produced under the AviSkola Project, with the objective of supporting the experimental teaching of the biological sciences through birds as ambassadors for the conservation of ecosystems.