The Sintra Mountains (Portuguese: Serra de Sintra) formed about 60 to 70 million years ago, through a geological phenomenon known as “magmatic intrusion“. This process involves the entrapment of a magma bubble within the earth’s crust that slowly solidifies, forming the crystals that make up the granite. With the movements of the earth’s crust, this mass of granite emerges to the surface, forming a mountain range.
The microclimate of Sintra
Because it stands perpendicular to the coastline, the Sintra Mountains is the first natural obstacle to the moisture-laden winds from the Atlantic Ocean. This fact makes possible the creation of a Mediterranean micro climate of oceanic character, with humidity levels typical of the subtropical climates.
The evapotranspiration generated by the forest and the protection conferred by its canopies, as well as the layer of dead manta generated by the fall of leaves and branches, contribute to the maintenance of temperatures and soil moisture levels suitable for the development of a great diversity of species.
In the Fungi Kingdom
Mushrooms are fungi grown in humid environments and play a major role in forest systems, particularly their action on water cycles, soil matter and the very sustainability of trees. The way they obtain nutrients for their subsistence occurs when they release enzymes into the environment, which will degrade organic matter and also inorganic matter, which will later be absorbed by them, such as a purification that occurs in autumn, at first rain. The great production and variety of substances allow the mushrooms to develop in environments where degradation is complex, such as tree trunks and even contaminated soils. In 2012, in a study carried out for the publication “Mushrooms of the Parks of Sintra” (in portuguese:
“Cogumelos dos Parques de Sintra” ), conducted by Professor João Baptista Ferreira (specialist in mycology) and by Mestre Sofia Gomes, 156 different species were identified, of which 65 are mentioned for the first time for the Sintra region and 17 for the first time in Portugal.
Do you know that…
The associations that we often find among fungi and roots of certain plants, called Mycorrhizae, help in the absorption of water and minerals from the soil, mainly (phosphorus and nitrogen) and protect the host plants from environments contaminated with heavy metals , giving them greater probability of survival? There are several fungi that act as a protective barrier to form mycorrhizae, allowing plants to absorb more water. In exchange the fungi receive carbohydrates and amino acids essential to their development, however, not all fungi have the same degree of tolerance the heavy metals. Mushrooms have incredible properties that are now beginning to be discovered, for example, the species “Aspergillus tubingensis” has a unique particularity: it is able to decompose plastic in weeks.
Slugs in November
During the longest period of activity of the mushrooms (October to November), the slugs, which are gastropod molluscs, appear in the Sintra Mountains in great numbers. On the rails of the forest it becomes necessary to redouble their attention, they slowly walk the paths between the carumas and the earth. In agricultural fields can be a serious problem, because they feed massively of plants, but in the forest of Sintra they contribute decisively to the balance of the ecosystem. When the fungi decompose, along with worms and worms, slugs take on the leading role. They feed on decaying matter and can eat up to twice their weight in one night.
If in the fall the agents of decomposition, such as slugs, earthworms and worms, take action, and as in nature everything transforms, it is also the time comes for amphibians to take part in their role in the complex, but harmonious, ecosystem of the Sintra Mountain. The common salamanders, popularized by their attractive colors: black and yellow, speckled with red, are the only oviparous amphibians in Portugal. Their activity mainly lasts from September to the end of spring, when they enter a process similar to hibernation, which is called estivation and whose basic difference to the first one is that it happens when the ambient temperature is high. At that time, these amphibians are collected to dry sites, where they can remain sedentary for more than a hundred days. The salamanders feed on slugs, snails and some insects. From autumn to winter, it is common to see them in wells, in the lakes of Monserrate and at the entrance of the many entrances of water mines in Sintra.
Do you know that…
Popular beliefs about these animals have been propagated and developed, one of them has to do with their resistance to fire, hence they are also called “Fire Salamander“, but in fact, these amphibians are only lestos when it comes to escape the heat of a fire. Salamanders coexist poorly with heat and it is normal in summer to rest (stand) under logs. Hence, when in the cleaning, or more in antiquity, for the food confection, people made a bonfire with the old trunks stored, it was common to see to leave, unusually among the flames, the salamanders that were there to lay. Certainly many swore to see the animals come out unharmed from the fire, but it was more to do with the fact that the flames were a little above the ground.
The Marble Newt, which appears here in a photograph taken at the door of one of our houses, Villa Maria, is also of the family “Salamandridae“. It behaves similarly to the common Salamander, and also feeds on slugs and worms. Both species release skin secretions that can be fatal to their predators, including some fish.
The Green Frog
Of the most popular amphibians in Sintra and throughout the Iberian Peninsula, we have the species Frog-Green, a very common amphibian that reproduces in the spring and that we can see in activity until almost the beginning of winter, when it hibernates. These frogs also feed on mollusks and control, with great voracity, the insect population throughout the entire period of activity. Before the metamorphosis, tadpoles feed on algae and debris. In Sintra, the Green Frog is, among others, food for owls, herons, eagles, gherkins, weasels and snakes, such as the Viperine Water Snake, very common in Sintra, in lake and brook areas.
In a direct or indirect way, other animals belonging to other classes, such as reptiles, rodents, birds, etc., depend on amphibians to survive. Amphibians, instead, depend on humid environments to survive and these wetlands are important for biodiversity, because in addition to these animals, they house a variety of endemic species of unique characteristics that can only survive in these places.
In addition, wetlands play a vital role in the process of adaptation and reduction of climate change as these environments draw large amounts of carbon from the air.
Plant for tomorrow
Loving and protecting the Sintra Mountain is one of the best contributions that locals and their visitors can give to nature conservation. For those who live here, it is the responsibility of educating the next generations about responsible behavior on the environment and adopting the best practices in their day-to-day life. We Sintra Houses, take on the commitments of Sustainable Tourism and we pass this legacy to all who visit us and choose our holiday homes, so that they too can take this seed of life further in harmony with our planet earth.
Sintra Houses is part of the Natural.pt network and is awarded by GreenKey.