Natural habitats have disappeared from most of Syria. They have been converted into arable land, pastures, or orchards. Due to a long lasting over-exploitation most of these areas became desolate bearing hardly any vegetation and moreover lacking the typical desert flora and fauna. For these reasons Syria was largely neglected by entomologists in the past.
There is not much left of Syria's once-abundant mountain forests (about 3% of the total area of Syria). The most vegetation diversity of Syria is concentrated in western part of the country (in the west of the line Aleppo - Damascus - Busra). The coastal region shows typical Mediterranean habitats and vegetation represented by shrub-land of Oleo-Ceratonion alliance with e.g. Calycotome villosa, Juniperus phoenicea, and Pistacia atlantica. Mediterranean dwarf forests dominated by hard-leaved oaks (Quercus calliprinos, Quercus ithaburensis and/or Ostrya carpinifolia), and mixed pine forest with Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), are woodland communities of the coastal mountain region and Anti-Lebanon Mts. Ocasionally, also small relict areas of Cedrus libani woodland can be seen in highest altitudes. Some isolated areas of Quercus calliprinos woodland are also present in the south of the country, e.g. near Busra. Diversified vegetation with many annual herbs and grasses (e.g. from the genera Medicago, Trifolium, Aegilops, and Avena), semishrubs (e.g. Salvia, Sarcopoterium, and Artemisia) and scattered shrubs (Rosa, Crataegus, Phlomis) are the main units in deforested parts of all this area. Other parts of Syria are relatively uniform in their vegetation being formed by agricultural or post-agricultural vegetation, semi-desert and desert. Certain small-scale fragments of woody vegetation are only present along rivers, e.g. scrub with Tamarix spp., Nerium oleander, and Vitex agnus-castus. Only along the Euphrates river, some remnants of alluvial forest with Populus euphratica still survive.
We decided to visit these rare remnants of Syria's natural habitats. Our first stop was Bludan NW Damascus in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains (Figure 1a-b). It is a locality situated in a beautiful mountain valley with relatively rich steppe vegetation. Cerambycidae frequent this locality in unbelievable numbers, the majority of them being species developing in tissues of herbaceous plants. To name the most interesting ones we mustn't forget: Coptosia ganglbaueri (Pic), Pedestredorcadion libanoticum (Kraatz), Musaria astarte perrini (Pic), Musaria wachanrui (Mulsant), Oxylia argentata languida (Ménétries), Phytoecia kabateki Sama (type locality), Pilemia griseomaculata Pic, Pedostrangalia riccardoi Holzschuh, and Semnosia imperatrix imperatrix (Abeille), (type locality). Besides these species several more are currently being described.
We left the Anti-Lebanon Mountains and after a short stop in Krak des Chevaliers (W Homs) we went on to Slinfah, a village situated in the the Jabal an Nusayriyah mountains. This locality substantially differs from the Anti-Lebanon Mountains in richer vegetation and consequently the number of xylophagous insect species is much greater here (Figure 3). Among the xylophagous Cerambycids we would like to name: Brachypteroma holtzi Pic, Callidium syriacum Pic, Chlorophorus dinae Rapuzzi et Sama, Clytus kabateki Sama (type locality), Compsidia quercus ocellata (Abeille de Perrin), Grammoptera baudii pistacivora Sama, Grammoptera grammopteroides (Pic), Phymatodes lividus (Rossi), Rhagium phrygium Daniel, Rhamnusium testaceipenne Pic and several species associated with herbaceous plants: Agapanthia coeruleipennis Frivaldszky, Blepisanis vittipennis vittipennis (Reiche), Pedestredorcadion saulcyi saulcyi (Thomson), Helladia humeralis (Waltl), Helladia praetextata nigricollis (Pic), Musaria astarte astarte (Ganglbauer), Phytoecia achilleae Holzschuh, Phytoecia geniculata Mulsant, Phytoecia nepheloides Sama (type locality), Phytoecia rufipes latior Pic, Pygoptosia speciosa (Frivaldszky), and a number of others.
On our journey back to Europe we shortly visited several localities in Turkey. The first one was Gemecik W Refahiye (Figure 4), the type locality of Phytoecia behen Sama et Rejzek. Besides this species we recorded Agapanthia osmanlis Reiche and a number of other species here.
The next locality we stopped at was Suhut S Afyon (Figure 5) with a number of interesting beetles like: Pedostrangalia tokatensis Sama, Clytus kumalariensis Johanides (type locality), and Anisorus heterocerus homocerus Daniel for instance.
Finally, before leaving the Asian Turkey we stopped in Bolu (NW Turkey) and while taking the fresh mountainous air we recorded Xylosteus spinolae caucasicola Plavilstshikov, a species associated with fir trees growing in great numbers here (Figure 6).
MH & MR © August 1, 2006