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The Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences, University of Catania, is responsible for all actions in Sicily.
The Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences is arranged in three sections: Animal Biology, Plant Biology and Earth Sciences. In particular, educational activities and scientific researches of the Plant Biology section are focused on plant biology, ecology, systematics, biodiversity, plant/habitat conservation, management and environmental education, with the support of several laboratories (floristic, molecular, etc.), the Herbarium (CAT), the Botanical Garden, and the Seed Bank (BGS-CT). The Herbarium (CAT) consists of some historical collections (such as the pre-Linnaean “Herbarium Cupani” and the Flora Sicula of F. Tornabene) as well as several modern collections. Actually, more than 350,000 specimens, mostly sampled all over the Mediterranean area, are preserved under controlled climatic conditions. Most of the dried specimens (exsiccata) are now available on-line (www.dipbot.unict.it).
The Botanical Garden, founded in 1858, is well known for its rich collections of exotic plants, especially succulents and palms, but also for the so-called “Sicilian Garden” where hundreds of native plants are cultivated, and where the most representative environments featuring the Sicilian landscape have been created. The main aim of this part of the garden is to preserve and show the extraordinary diversity of habitats and plants occurring in Sicily: sandy dunes, volcanic and carbonatic rocky stands, temporary ponds, wetlands, maquis, garigues, thermophilous woods, etc. Actually, several endemic, rare or endangered species are cultivated here. A Seed Bank was established in 2004 for enhancing the ex-situ conservation of the Sicilian flora, especially for those endemic or endangered taxa whose taxonomic, phytogeographical and ecological value is rather relevant.
In addition to the financial supports provided by the University of Catania, the Botanical Garden, Seed Bank and Herbarium have been involved in several international conservation projects, e.g. GENMEDOC, SEMCLIMED, SIMBIOTIC, GARDMED, Ensuring the survival of endangered plants in the Mediterranean” (funded by MAVA “Fondation pour la nature”), Global Tree Seed Bank Project (funded by Garfield Weston Foundation), etc. The Seed Bank of Catania participates to many international seed conservation consortia, such as the European Native Seed Conservation Network (ENSCONET), the Network of Mediterranean plant conservation centres (GENMEDA), and the Italian Network of Germplasm Banks for the Ex Situ Conservation of Native Flora (RIBES).
The research activities of the Plant Biology section of the Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences are chiefly focused on the marine seaweeds and terrestrial plants of the Mediterranean Basin. In particular, plants are in-depth investigated from different viewpoints (morphology, systematics, taxonomy, biochemistry, karyology, anatomy, etc.), and at various levels of organisation, from cells up to communities. Biotic and abiotic interactions between plants and environment are also examined. Other research activities are specifically devoted to the knowledge of the phanerogamic and cryptogamic vegetation of the Mediterranean area. Phytosociological surveys are widely used to analyse the conservation status of (semi-)natural ecosystems and vegetation types, whose knowledge is fundamental for the implementation of any conservation or restoration programme.