Mediterranean forests: key ecosystem services and their vulnerability

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Traditional forest protection and management approaches, which are mainly based on existing and static habitats and ecosystems’ functions, may be totally ineffective if they neglect the effects of the changing environmental conditions. So, how can we delineate new and suitable strategies and plans for forest protection and management? It appears crucial in particular to consider the vulnerability due to combined climate change, land use transitions and human pressures over forest structure, productivity, resilience and services’ provision.

This is true in particular for the Mediterranean forests in Southern Europe, whose threats are mainly related to climate and management. Future atmospheric CO2 concentration coupled with rising temperature are expected to stimulate plant growth and carbon sequestration in natural ecosystems as well in short rotation forestry plantations. However, most of the climate models project more frequent, prolonged and intense either hot or dry events and, despite the general drop in annual precipitation amount, also more intense rainfall episodes are expected. All that, in case of forests, reflects in reduced regeneration and growth, decrease of leaf life span in evergreen species and increase in length of growing period in deciduous species. Moreover, it was observed and it is expected an increase in fire risk and water stress. Finally, the higher vulnerability of ecosystems could exacerbate the damages caused by insects and pathogens.

The resilience, health, and stability of forest ecosystems are crucial to a large set of Forest Ecosystem Services (FES), intended as the direct and indirect contributions to human well-being by ecosystems, such as timber and non-timber products, habitats for wildlife, sinks to regulate and mitigate biogeochemical and hydrological cycles, and cultural and historical heritages. In this context, the report “Mediterranean forest ecosystem services and their vulnerability” by CMCC researchers Sergio Noce and Monia Santini (IAFES Division) aims at providing a synthetic overview about the existing key forest ecosystem services in the Mediterranean area, and about how they seem currently impacted by climate and, in some cases, by land use changes, human pressures and/or wrong management. Attention is paid to known risk hot spots and drivers of these risks, by relying on scientific evidence from available literature and existing datasets.
The report has been realized in the framework of the MADAMES – Mitigation and ADaptation Analysis for Mediterranean Ecosystem Services project, with the overall goal of designing a service, benefiting of the wide and increasing availability of accessible platforms on environmental and climate data (e.g. observations, predictions and projections from the Copernicus Programme), to support stakeholders of the forestry sector to make choices and find solutions toward a proper forest management, taking into account feedbacks (synergies and trade-offs) between climate adaptation and mitigation.

Building on the present assessment, MADAMES will tailor the future service to represent at the best some of the key forest ecosystem services analyzed and also exploiting, during the design, the information collected for some potential test areas in Italy with climatic and territorial conditions typical of the Northern Mediterranean region.

Read and download the full report.

MADAMES is a project funded by the EIT – European Institute of Innovation and Technologies, in the framework of the innovation community called CLIMATE-KIC.

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