Ecoregions

Ecoregions of Italy

December 22, 2011, 4:09 pm

 

caption WWF Ecoregions of Italy. Source: WWF

The ecoregions of Italy consist of a number of distinct elements:

  1. Tyrrhenian-Adriatic sclerophyllous and mixed forests (PA1222) extend along the coastal lowlands of the southern half of the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, and Corsica. They include Sardinian Island and the Dalmatian Islands. The ecoregion experiences very hot and dry summers and relatively temperate and humid to subhumid winters. Annual average temperatures range from 10-17ºC, and the minimum average temperature of the coldest month ranges from 5-10º C.  The ecoregion supports a high degree of plant diversity. The endemism rate is approximately 10% of the total flora.  This ecoregion has significant fauna diversity, though the number of endemic species is not high.  It also hosts a high diversity of birds, including a number of endemic species.  The ecoregion has lost the majority of its forest cover, mainly as a result of agriculture, grazing, and urban development. Human population is considerable, but mainly concentrated in the coastal areas.  Major threats are related to a number of different human activities. These include coastal tourism development and urbanization; intensive agriculture through irrigation systems, conversion of natural to agricultural land, and overuse and pollution of water bodies.

  2. South Appenine mixed montane forests (PA1218) cover the forested mountaintops of southern Italy and Sicily. The region supports an outstanding diversity of plants. Sicily, in particular, has many endemic species.  Climatically, the ecoregion is characterized by a sharp altitudinal gradient, from the warm and sub-humid lower elevations (average annual temperature of about 14-17º C) to the cold and per-humid higher elevations (over 2200 mm, average annual temperature of about 9-13º C).  Winters are rigorous with abundant snowfall. Frequent dense fogs envelop the mountain summits of southern Calabria and northeastern Sicily.  The high elevations are characterized by an outstanding forest diversity, including a number of endemic and relict species. A sharp north-south gradient of plant communities is found at the highest elevations.  This ecoregion has a significant faunal diversity, while the number of endemic species is reduced.  Though deforestation has not been very intensive through the ecoregion, there is a high potential for human impact.  Forestry management systems are inadequate and usage is overly intense.

  3. Appenine deciduous montane forests (PA0401) are spread geographically among the highest elevations of the Northern and Central Italian Peninsula. Climatically, the ecoregion is characterized by a perhumid sub-alpine bioclimate (over 1,800 millimeters (mm) of annual rainfall; average annual temperature of about 3-5ºC). Winters are harsh and snowfall abundant.  The ecoregion hosts an outstanding plant diversity, including a significant number of Alpine species, and also has a significant faunal diversity as well, though the number of endemic species is reduced. More than 40 mammals are present, including important populations of threatened large carnivores.  Human population is very low, mainly represented by small villages or shepherd settlements, a high percentage of which is currently abandonment. Mountain tourism is contributing to partially recover the mountain settlements.  The ecoregion has a very good network of protected areas (the national parks of Abruzzo, Maiella, Sibillini, Gran Sasso, and Laga Mountains), that spreads all along the Central Apennines. This continuum of nature reserves has allowed the recovery of the populations of a number of very threatened mammal species, such as brown bear and wolf, which are currently increasing. 

  4. Italian sclerophyllous and semi-deciduous forests (PA1211) cover the majority of the Italian Peninsula, excluding the highest elevations of montane forest scattered atop mountain ranges. The natural vegetation is a mixed deciduous and sclerophyllous forest, characteristic of the Mediterranean climate. Many forest species have leathery evergreen leaves adapted to conserve water during the region’s dry summers.  The warm and sub-humid lower elevations (average annual temperature of about 14-17 ºC) differ greatly from the cold and humid higher elevations (over 1,800 millimeters [mm] average annual precipitation, average annual temperature of about 9-13 ºC), which experience rigorous winters and abundant snow.  The ecoregion hosts an outstanding plant diversity.  Orchids are extremely abundant on certain mountain massifs.  This ecoregion also has a significant faunal diversity, though the number of endemic species is not high. More than 40 mammal species are present, including important populations of threatened large carnivores.  Outstanding and extensive old-growth forests have persisted to the present day due to the inaccessibility of these mountain massifs. The Foreste Casentinese National Park is a good example of well-preserved forest in the region. Nonetheless, most of the ecoregion’s forests are mid-quality coppice woodlands that have largely recovered as a result of an intense rural abandonment during the first half of the 20th century. 

  5. Northeastern Spain and Southern France Mediterranean forests (PA1215) are located in a very small portion of Northwestern Italy.  The ecoregion encompasses several centers of plant diversity and has a high floral endemism rate.  Large mammals are not particularly prominent in this ecoregion.  Climatically, the ecoregion experiences very hot and dry summers, and relatively temperate and humid to sub-humid winters. Annual average temperature ranges from 10-17ºC, and the minimum average temperature of the coldest month ranges from 5-10º C. The annual precipitation ranges from 350-800 millimeters (mm) and is typified by torrential rainfalls in autumn.  Most of the ecoregion has been intensively transformed into agricultural land, including mountain crop terraces and pastures, extensive vineyards, almond and olive groves, fruit trees orchards, and other irrigated crops.  Urbanization continues bringing house construction, quarry building, and increased water consumption. Agricultural intensification and large irrigation plans are problematic, with extensive greenhouse crops planted in coastal areas. Forest fires are devastating to the ecoregion; 98% are of human origin due to arson or negligence, sometimes as a response to land use conflicts, otherwise due to unregulated new land uses, such as tourism.

  6. Po Basin mixed forests (PA0432) are located in northern Italy, where they form a rift between the Italian peninsula and the mainland. Once covered in mixed deciduous oak forest and riparian forest, this periodically flooded basin now retains little of its original vegetation. The most significant biodiversity of the ecoregion is related to lesser-disturbed wetlands.  The Po Basin experiences a Mediterranean climate in the south, and a continental climate in the north (Alpine climate). This region is cooler than the Italian Peninsula lowlands in winter, and it can be quite warm during summer, with extremely high air humidity and persistent dense fog. Total annual rainfall ranges from 500 to 1,000 millimeters (mm).  The greatest biodiversity value of the Po Basin lies in and around its freshwater ecosystems.  The ecoregion’s wetlands are very important breeding, resting, and feeding areas for many bird species.  One of the most industrialized regions of Europe, the Po Basin has a long history of human pressure. Recent degradation of the ecoregion’s remaining flora and fauna is a result of pollution, shrinkage of wetlands, invasive species, and unsustainable hunting of waterfowl.

  7. Alps conifer and mixed forests (PA0501) are located in the northern regions of Italy in the Alps mountain range.  The climate is primarily cold and temperate, with slight local variations, for example in border "Mediterranean character" areas.  As with nearby mountain chains, the Alps are very important as they contribute much of what is left of the original forest cover of central and southern Europe. Some of the last forests in Europe of an almost natural state are found in this ecoregion.  The Alps are representative of the high habitat diversity that can be found in mountain systems, as 200 habitat types can be classified throughout the mountain range.  About 200 breeding bird species can be identified, as well as an equal number of migratory species.  Diversity of invertebrates overcomes that of the vertebrate species by a factor of almost twenty; about one third of invertebrate species are considered threatened.  The foremost conservation concern in the Alps is the excessive fragmentation and loss of habitats and populations. This mainly threatens the permanence of large carnivores (who are naturally returning or are being reintroduced in the Alps). Moreover, Alpine conservation has to do not only with difficulties in protecting a rather large area, but also with the necessity of dealing with an area that is inhabited and exploited by man (through tourism, agriculture, and power plants/industry), as well as where the air and water pollution factor becomes more and more dangerous.

  8. Illyrian deciduous forests (PA1210) are located in small quantity in the northeastern corner of Italy, bordering Slovenia, and are part of a forest ecosystem that encompass coastal areas on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea.  The ecoregion is characterized by an average annual rainfall of 1,500-2,000 millimeters (mm), which can locally exceed 3,000 mm.  Snow falls frequently during winter and January average temperatures are below freezing (from -10 º C to 0 º C). Average temperatures in July are between 15 to 20 º C.  The wide altitudinal range of this ecoregion results in two major forest zones: a conifer zone, occurring at the highest elevations (average altitudinal range of 1,200-2,500 meters (m)), and a mixed broadleaf zone, covering medium elevations and lowlands.  The region has a relatively high floral endemism rate with many relict and narrow range species.  The ecoregion also supports a very high faunal diversity, mainly with regard to its birds, and has an outstanding underground fauna associated with aquatic habitats of the karst systems.

  9. Dinaric Mountains mixed forests (PA0418) are located in small quantity in the northeast corner of Italy, bordering Slovenia, and are covered by mixed forest with an outstanding variety of deciduous oak trees.  These forests are among the largest and most continuous tracts of forested habitat remaining for large carnivores in Europe. The flora has a relatively high endemism rate with many relict and restricted range species. Faunal diversity is high, and a number of IBAs (Important Bird Areas) and threatened SPECs (Species of European Concern) are encompassed within the region.  Climatically, the ecoregion is characterized by an average annual rainfall of 1,500-2,000 millimeters (mm).  Snow frequently falls during winter and average temperatures in January are below zero (from -10ºC to 0ºC). July average temperatures range between 15 to 20ºC.  A significant number of pristine large forest stands remained quite untouched until very recently.

Structural definition of ecoregions

Ecoregions are areas that: [1] share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics; [2] share similar environmental conditions; and, [3] interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence. Scientists at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), have established a classification system that divides the world in 867 terrestrial ecoregions, 426 freshwater ecoregions and 229 marine ecoregions that reflect the distribution of a broad range of fauna and flora across the entire planet.

See also

Further Reading

  1. Bailey, Robert G. 2002. Ecoregion-Based Design for Sustainability. Springer-Verlag. New York, New York. 240pp., 100 illus. ISBN 0-387-95430-9
  2. Bailey, Robert G. 1998. Ecoregions: The Ecosystem Geography of the Oceans and the Continents. Springer-Verlag. New York, New York. 192pp., 107 illus., 10 tables. ISBN 0-387-98305-8
  3. Bailey, Robert G. 1996. Ecosystem Geography. Springer-Verlag. New York, New York. 216pp., 122 illus., 14 tables. ISBN 0-387-94586-5
  4. Omernik, James M., 1995. Ecoregions: A spatial framework for environmental management. In: Biological Assessment and Criteria: Tools for Water Resource Planning and Decision Making. Davis, W.S. and T.P. Simon (eds.) Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. Pp. 49-62. ISBN: 0873718941.
  5. World Wildlife Fund, Ecoregions homepage, Accessed 1 May 2009.

 

Glossary

Citation

Bransford, T. (2011). Ecoregions of Italy. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/152077

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