Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services
Despite the relatively small size of Albania, the country is well known for its high diversity of ecosystems and habitats. Its territory is comprised of maritime ecosystems, coastal zones, lakes, rivers, evergreen and broadleaf bushes, broadleaf forests, pine forests, alpine and sub-alpine pastures and meadows, and high mountain ecosystems. Forests cover 36% of the country’s territory, and pastures about 15%. The mountain alpine forest ecosystems are also rich in biodiversity. The higher areas are dominated by beech and pine forests and preserve a large number of endemic and sub-endemic plant species. In general, timber practices have created forests that are younger, more even in age structure, biologically less diverse, and economically less productive. In some instances, forests are now more susceptible to damage from insects, disease and fire. To compensate for deforestation activities that are a consequence of the developing economy, efforts to reforest large areas are being carried out. Figures related to illegal logging are encouraging and illustrative of a recovery of forest coverage and state.
Albania is also well known for its rich and complex hydrographic network of rivers, lakes, wetlands, groundwater and seas. Wetland ecosystems are important migration routes for migratory species of wild fauna (3 Ramsar sites of international importance have been designated, namely, Karavasta Lagoon, Butrinti Lake and Shkodra Lake). Albanian lakes and rivers are also important in terms of their contribution to the biological and landscape diversity of the country. About 247 natural lakes of different types and dimensions, and a considerable number of artificial lakes, are located inside the country. The alteration to the natural flow regimes of rivers and streams and their floodplains and wetlands is recognized as a major factor contributing to the loss of biological diversity and ecological function in aquatic ecosystems, including floodplains.
Two biogeographical regions are present in Albania (Mediterranean and Alpine). The major part of the country belongs to the Mediterranean biogeographical region which is a biodiversity hotspot. In Albania, 3,200 taxa of higher plants, 800 fungi, 1,200 diatoms, as well as 313 taxa of fish, 323 birds, 36 reptiles, 70 mammals and 520 molluscs have been identified so far. A total of 27 plant species, with 150 sub-species, are endemic to the country. There are a number of threatened species in Albania (73 vertebrate and 18 invertebrate). For some of them (e.g. Pelecanuscrispus, Phalacrocoraxpygmeus, Salmoletnica and Acipensersturio), Albania is a country of critical importance. During a decade of transition to a market economy, Albania has gone through major political, social and economic changes and developments. Despite many positive results, the country has also suffered from poor natural resource management which has led to environmental degradation. According to different IUCN categories, the scale of threat for the bird species listed in the Red Book of Albanian fauna has been estimated as follows: 26% are critically endangered and 25% are endangered.
The issue of protection of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices has not been resolved in the whole and systematically. However, in the last few years, efforts have been made to reduce pressure on the natural populations of medicinal and aromatic herbs by specifying limits for their picking in the landscape. Efforts have also been made to reduce pressure on wild fauna.
Hunting and fishing are economic activities generated by the surrounding biodiversity. There are around 400 hunting grounds in Albania. The list of huntable species includes 17 species (2 mammals and 15 bird species), the majority of which are migratory. Fishing activity takes place along the entire coastline. Also, during recent years, aquaculture has been increasingly promoted with particular focus on carp fingerlings and fish for general consumption (including sea farms). Currently, there are 58 fish farms in the country (9 fish farms, 3 carp fingerling hatcheries and 46 for trout culture).
Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)
Current pressures on biodiversity are varied. Climate change impacts on biodiversity have been identified, especially in the country’s coastal area. Major climatic events have led to excessive flooding of large areas and erosion along the coastline. Other main threats are infrastructure development, uncontrolled land use, urbanization, tourism, deforestation, hunting, fishing, soil erosion, petroleum and mining exploitation, invasive alien species, and water pollution resulting from excessive nutrient load and a lack of sewage treatment and coastal and surface water management. Land conversion resulting in habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation is arguably the most significant factor responsible for endangering species in Albania. Land has been, and continues to be, converted for commercial, tourism, recreational (e.g. ski resorts) and residential purposes. Wetlands have been drained and residential or commercial areas are encroaching upon native habitats. Further, the conversion of native habitats to human-dominated environments has reduced the area of habitat available to biodiversity, while also fragmenting and degrading remaining areas.