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Mediterranean habitat loss under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 climate change projections - Assessing impacts on the Natura 2000 protected area network

José I. Barredo, Giovanni Caudullo, Achille Mauri

Executive summary. This report describes the main findings of Task 10, Mediterranean habitat loss, of the Peseta III project (Climate Impacts and Adaptation in Europe, focusing on Extremes, Adaptation and the 2030s). Using an approach that integrates results from 11 sectors, the main objective of the Peseta III project is to make a consistent multi-sectorial assessment of the projected impacts of climate change in Europe.
The Mediterranean region is one of the 36 global hotspots of biological diversity [1] and the most rich biodiversity region in Europe. Almost half of the plants and animals and more than half of the habitats listed in the EU Habitats Directive [2] occur in the Mediterranean region. However, this reservoir of biodiversity is threatened by climate-driven habitat loss, which is one of the most serious concerns for this region [3].
The aim of this study is first to assess projected changes in the spatial range of the Mediterranean climate domain (MCD) in Europe and its conversion into arid climate domain (ACD) under scenarios of climate change, and second to assess Natura 2000 sites that will be affected by these changes. We used 11 bias-adjusted Regional Climate Model (RCM) simulations for two representative concentration pathways’ scenarios at +4.5 W/m2 (RCP4.5) and +8.5 W/m2 (RCP8.5) for three periods: 2030s, 2 °C warming and 2080s. Furthermore, we analysed adaptation options and its estimated economic cost in Mediterranean Natura 2000 protected areas.
Main findings of this study indicate a projected contraction of the current extent of the MCD of 3% and 16% (an area close to half the size of Italy) under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, respectively, by the end of the century (Figure I). The contraction is already evident in the 2030s and in the 2 °C warming period in both scenarios. Our results indicate that by the end of the century stable areas of the MCD are projected to only 89% and 71% of its current extent under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, respectively.
Despite projected contractions of the current MCD, expansion areas of the MCD are projected in regions that are currently under different climatic types. The expansion is projected at 24% and 50% of its current extent under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, respectively, by the end of the century. By the 2030s and under the 2 °C warming period the projected expansion process is also evident in both scenarios.
Regarding Natura 2000 areas within the MCD, by the end of the century MCD contraction (confident + likely) is projected to affect 3% and 20% of the area of the sites in RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, respectively. Earlier, in the 2030s and in the 2 °C warming period, projected contraction is already evident in both scenarios. The MCD contraction is projected to affect one in four sites under RCP8.5, and one in 18 sites under RCP4.5, for a total of 2 599 sites within the current MCD. Similarly, expansion of the MCD within Natura 2000 sites is projected to affect an area equivalent to 12% and 23% of area of the sites in RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, respectively, by the end of the century.
The ACD is instead projected to expand in both scenarios and across all periods. Moreover, the expansion of the ACD is projected to occur at the expenses of the MCD, for instance, under RCP8.5 in the 2080s, 99% of the MCD contraction is explained by the ACD expansion. The conversion of MCD into ACD suggests a decrease of biodiversity due to migration or local extinction of Mediterranean species unable to cope with the magnitude of habitat change, although the extent of the impact remains uncertain.
Adaptation of Natura 2000 sites in the Mediterranean region encompasses an array of nature-based measures oriented to reduce non-climate stressors and to restore degraded habitats (e.g. using Green Infrastructure), protective actions (within protected and non-protected areas projected to remain stable), additions/reconfiguration of the protected area network, and integration of protected areas with biodiversity-hospitable landscape outside the protected network (corridors and stepping stones). We present a series of adaptation measures oriented to the Natura 2000 network according to changes of the MCD and an estimation of the cost of management and adaptation options. Nevertheless, there are a large number of local adaptation measures that can be implemented in Natura 2000 sites that depend on local features. Therefore, a closer look at the specific local characteristics of the sites and the surrounding habitats is required for proper design and implementation.
Projected climatic changes in the Mediterranean represent a threat to species composition and interactions and may drive transient and new assemblages of plants and animal species [4]. In addition, a transition towards hotter and drier conditions in the Mediterranean supports the hypothesis of an increase of other concomitant effects of climate change such as forest fires, drought, invasive alien species, and forest pests and diseases [5]. These changes suggest decreasing levels of biodiversity in the Mediterranean region.

Vol. 28547 EN (2017), 
Key: INRMM:14518186



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