According to FAO, the Mediterranean region has more than 25 million hectares of Mediterranean forests and about 50 million hectares of other Mediterranean wooded lands. They have an exceptional variety of forest ecosystems, contain an impressive plant and animal diversity, and generate a large number of environmental services (ES) that make crucial contributions to rural development, poverty alleviation, food security, as well as the agricultural, water, tourism, and energy sectors (Vilà-Cabrera et al 2018). Unfortunately, the Mediterranean region is also one of the most reactive regions to climate change and it has been defined as a major “hotspot” (Giorgi and Lionello, 2008). The primary projected impacts of climate change here are: rapid change in the water cycle due to increased evaporation and lower precipitation (between 15 and 30 percent by 2030); a decrease in soil water storage capacity, and thus an acceleration of desertification already underway (overexploitation and depletion of soils); a northward shift of marine and terrestrial biodiversity (animals and plants); and extinction of the most climate-sensitive or least mobile species and colonization by new species (Bleu, 2019).
Why manage Mediterranean Forests?
Global change impacts have significant ecological consequences that lead to the loss or diminution of ES, and therefore to a wide range of economic, social and environmental problems. Anticipating global change impacts constitutes therefore a key challenge to ensure the maintenance of ES and the preservation of the functional and structural characteristics of Mediterranean forests (Vilà-Cabrera et al 2018).
How can we do it?
To anticipate global change impacts it is necessary to apply adaptive forest management that prepares forests to face these conditions and preserves as much ES provisioning as possible. This process should start from an initial forest characterization followed by an accurate quantification ES provisioning, so the managers know the potential management range they could work with. Then, there should be a stakeholders engagement process to co-designing and applying the best management strategy. Of course, during this process, the existence of trade-offs among ES should be seriously considered, as there could be antagonisms among ES (such as forest productivity and fire risk), and therefore conflict of interests.
At EU level, even if forest management is not always positively conceived by the new EU forest strategy, there is a reinforcement on the way forest resources are used to generate ES, and therefore, on the need to accurately quantify them and consider their trade-offs. At this point, decision support systems, such as that developed by the LIFE project RESILIENT FORESTS, CAFE, capable of quantifying and optimizing several ES at the same time become very useful tools, if not to tackle the problem because of EU constraints, at least to frame it.
Bleu, P. (2019). State of Mediterranean forests 2018. Food & Agriculture Org.
Giorgi, F., & Lionello, P. (2008). Climate change projections for the Mediterranean region. Global and planetary change, 63(2-3), 90-104.
Vilà-Cabrera, A., Coll, L., Martínez-Vilalta, J., & Retana, J. (2018). Forest management for adaptation to climate change in the Mediterranean basin: A synthesis of evidence. Forest Ecology and Management, 407, 16-22.