Status and Trends of Biodiversity
The Italian Ministry of Environment, Directorate for Nature Protection, published in 2005 a report written by more than 100 researchers and experts (botanist, zoologist, forestry, etc.) concerning the status and trends of Biodiversity in Italy, which presents an up-to-date scenario of national knowledge on biodiversity. The report shows the contribution and value of Italian biodiversity (genetic, species and ecosystem) in Europe and the world, and describes national scenarios based on the ecosystem approach of CBD. In the same year was also produced a CD called “GIS Natura” containing a national map and thematic databases. Both these instruments are, at the moment, the most exhaustive synthesis on biodiversity at national level and represent an important baseline for action (local or national) in relation to the 2010 target aiming to halt the biodiversity loss.
Italy is one of the richest countries in Europe and in the Mediterranean basin in terms of species biodiversity, including over 57,000 species in its fauna and over 6700 species in its higher plant flora (196 familiae and 1267 genera). Within European countries, it has the highest number of plants, as well as terrestrial and freshwater animals (46,200 species). As a whole, Italian terrestrial and inland water animals represent more than one third of the European fauna (35%). Presently, 1,130 species are known, which represent two thirds of all European bryophytes: - Liverworts: 279 species (divided in 81 genera e 40 familiae) - Mosses: 851 species (ripartite in 210 genera e 55 familiae) Italy has one of the highest lichen diversities in Europe. The total number of species known in Italy reached 2,300 (14,4% of world lichen flora). The checklist of Basidiomycetes, the first and only work of this kind completed up to now in Italy, reports 4,296 entities in this country (20% of the world’s species). This is an high percentage which is expected to increase, considering the large surface of territory still unexplored. Italy has a very high rate of endemism; approximately 10% of animal species have a distribution restricted within Italian borders (sub endemics). Regarding higher plant flora, the value is approximately 13, 5 %. Considering terrestrial and inland waters invertebrates, 35% of them should be considered endemics. The non-endemic species can be classified as exclusively distributed in the Mediterranean region (13%) or in Europe (22%); the other species have a wide distribution in the Palearctic region (30%). Italy, with over 10,000 km of coastlines, is very rich in marine fauna and flora as well. 8,785 species are listed in the checklist, 10% of them exclusively known in Italian seas. Unfortunately, alien species account for 1.5% of the whole Italian fauna; this percentage is surely underestimated, and this number has rapidly increased in recent years. Regarding vascular plant flora, according to recent estimates about alien species, they accounts for 13, 3%.
Although there are not yet national official red lists, within a selection of 10,000 species of terrestrial and inland water fauna, 4.4% was estimated to be endangered, 8.5% vulnerable, and approximately 20% very rare and considered nearly threatened. Finally, 46 species within this small selection are to be considered regionally extinct. Regarding plant flora, different studies have been undertaken to prepare national lists of endangered species of vascular plant, lichens, bryophytes, fungi and freshwater algae.
Number and Extent of Protected Areas
In Italy, there are 774 protected areas: 23 national parks, 22 marine natural reserves, 146 state natural reserves, 2 archaeological submerged museums, 1 international marine sanctuary for cetaceans protection, 105 regional parks, 335 regional natural reserves, 141 other protected areas.
The total land surface of protected areas amounts to 2.979.885 hectares or 9.7 per cent of the total national land surface. The total sea surface of marine protected areas amounts to 2.823.102 hectares. The international marine sanctuary “Pelagos” for the protection of cetaceans is a unique example of a protected area institution in the high seas beyond the national jurisdiction, as agreed by Italy, France and the Principality of Monaco.
Moreover, there are 2280 SCIs (Sites of Community Importance) designated by Italy under the Directive 92/43/EEC and 590 SPAs (Special Protection Areas) classified by Italy pursuant to the Directive 79/409/EEC. The total surface of the SCIs amounts to 4.500.000 hectares; the total surface of the SPZs amounts to 3.700.000 hectares.
In total, the Italian territory protected by different types of protected areas covers around 20% of the country.
Percentage of Forest Cover
The surface cover of forests in Italy is estimated at 10.673.589 ha and results as being on the increase. Thirty-five percent of the Italian territory is currently covered by forests. The rate of increase was 0.3% per year in the decade 1990-2000, compared to European average of 0.1%. Thirty-two percent of Italian forest formations come within the Alpine biogeographical region, 16% in the continent biogeographical region and 52% in the Mediterranean region. In relation to this biogeographical variability, Italian forest systems are characterised by an elevated physiognomic diversity. According to data provided by the FAO at a world-wide level, 86 arboreal forest species are present in Italy, a fair amount of which are endemic. The genetic biodiversity of forest trees in Italy, as in the Mediterranean region, is generally higher than other European regions. Italian forests are abundant and diverse both in terms of flora as well as physiognomy and composition. In any case, there is a lack of old growth forests.