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Italy - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Italy is extremely rich in biodiversity; it has the highest number and density of both animal and plant species within the European Union, as well as a high rate of endemism. This rich biodiversity is in large part due to its range of biogeographic regions, which are the Alpine region, the Continental region and the Mediterranean region, providing differences in climate, topography and geology. These three regions cover the mountain systems of the Alps and the Apennines, islands of Sicily and Sardinia, as well as the continental region in the plains of northern Italy, and the major part of the Italian peninsula which has a mediterranean climate, owing to its long coastline of around 7,400 km along the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy is estimated to include over 58,000 faunal species, with 1,265 (2%) species of vertebrates, 1,812 (3%) species of protozoans, and the remaining 95% comprised of invertebrates. There are over 6,700 vascular plant species, 1,130 species of bryophytes recorded, and around 20,000 fungi species known, including 2,323 taxa of lichen. Notably, at least 20 new species are published in Italy every year. The country has a high incidence of indigenous species, with around 30% of all species being indigenous. Sicily and Sardinia are particularly important in this respect, as their indigenous flora accounts for 11% of all Italian flora (of which 15.26% is indigenous). The percentage of endangered indigenous species is the highest among amphibians which exceeds 66%. There are 1,020 species (15%) of endangered vascular flora. Other species at risk include between 47.5-68.4% of vertebrates. In spite of its relatively small surface area, the Mediterranean Sea also hosts extensive biological diversity, with indigenous species estimated at 25% of the entire Mediterranean biota. Threats to the Mediterranean biota have affected species like Posidonia oceanica, an indigenous species of sea grass that creates a habitat of primary ecological importance and which has become increasingly rare over the last few years.

Land transformations are taking place in Italy. For thousands of years, Italian forest systems have been undergoing progressive reduction, especially in areas deemed more productive to humans. However, a trend of forest habitat expansion is occurring at present, which may appear to be a positive sign but is in fact the result of the progressive abandonment of rural areas. Those more underprivileged areas, such as in the mountains, are especially vulnerable. The progressive incursion of shrubs and trees on grasslands and arable lands that are no longer cultivated have caused the landscape in those areas to lose its identity and produced negative ecological effects, as evidenced by the disappearance of important habitats, animals and plant species.

The diffusion of monocultures and structural simplification of farming landscapes, due to mechanization and intensive farming, has led to a drastic decline in plant biodiversity, both in terms of the disappearance of spontaneous species and structural elements typically found on traditional farmlands (hedges, groves, etc.), important to ecological connectivity and the survival of many species, especially avifauna. Additionally, transformations from ‘natural’ uses like forests and wetlands, to ‘semi-natural’ uses such as crops, or even to ‘artificial’ uses such as infrastructure, not only determine the permanent and irreversible loss of fertile soil in most cases, but also have other negative effects (e.g. territorial fragmentation, biodiversity reduction, hydrological cycle alteration, microclimatic changes). The increase and diffusion of urban areas and relative infrastructures have increased the need for transportation and energy consumption, thereby causing an increase in noise pollution and emissions of atmospheric pollutants and greenhouse gases. Land transformations not directly linked to actions taken by humans, such as the reduction of vulnerable coastland areas and river plains due to a rise in sea level, are also noticeable.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The main threats to biodiversity are: soil loss and changes in use; habitat modification and fragmentation; abandonment of traditional agricultural activities in mountain and sub-mountain areas and the simplification of agro-ecosystems in hilly and plain regions; pollution to environmental media (water, air, soil) and acoustic and light pollution; climate change resulting from variations of air pollutant concentrations (e.g. CO2 CO, CH4, O3), especially in mountain environments; spread of invasive alien species; indirect disturbance related to hunting and poaching pressures; construction of infrastructure (MV/HV power lines, wind farms, lighting systems, large-scale photovoltaic plants) in areas of biodiversity.

The direct consequences of the current rate of urbanization include reduction, fragmentation and erosion of habitats and impairment of their ecological and functional roles. They have multiple negative effects on the survival of populations and species, soil permeability, increases in temperatures, and hydro-geological features. These processes are also seen as the main causes of biodiversity loss in Europe and generally lead to a loss of ecological resilience. Aside from the main threats to forestry, such as abandonment and forest fires, the extraction of wood and non-wood products are additional factors that place pressures on biodiversity.

The biodiversity of the marine ecosystem is subjected to several direct and indirect threats (e.g. chemical pollution, acoustic pollution, biological pollution, coastline erosion, habitat destruction, temporary habitat change, resource reduction, direct mortality, climate change, eutrophication). These arise from various activities, including industrial and tourist maritime traffic, coastal settlements, drilling for mining purposes, invasive allochthonous species, laying marine cables, waste water, dredging, trawling and fishing.

An assessment of the state of conservation of fauna groups revealed that the most critical situation involved invertebrates and inland water fish, with only 12% in a favorable state of conservation due to the bad state of conservation of freshwater and sand habitats.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Italy’s National Biodiversity Strategy was fully developed in 2010, and is being implemented from 2011 to 2020. The Strategy is structured around 3 key issues (biodiversity and ecosystem services, biodiversity and climate change, biodiversity and economic policies). Three strategic objectives have been developed to complement these 3 key issues; cross-cutting aspects of biodiversity have also been considered as have their integration in sectoral policies. In this light, the achievement of the strategic objectives is addressed in 15 “work areas”: species, habitats, landscape; protected areas; genetic resources; agriculture; forests; inland waters; marine environment; infrastructures and transportation; urban areas; health; energy; tourism; research and innovation; education, information, communication and participation; Italy and global biodiversity. Within each work area, specific objectives have been identified, as have specific measures to be undertaken towards their achievement.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea (of the Directorate-General for Nature and Sea Protection) promotes several initiatives related to the sustainable use of biodiversity resources, especially within the national network of Natural Protected Areas. Projects call for the involvement of local populations, thereby providing a source of sustainable employment. Activities comply with Italian legislation on protected areas, such as the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) scheme which certifies that the quality of agricultural products in protected areas is associated to a specific geographic area and its traditional culture.

The total area of Marine Protected Areas and Land Protected Areas established in Italy exceeds 10% of the entire country. Moreover, if the European Natura 2000 network sites are added to this figure, the total area under protection then doubles to 20.5%. Three parks have joined the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (ECST) in Protected Areas, a voluntary tool to link conservation with sustainable human activity and development, specifically targeting tourism through cooperation with the local tourism industry. An international marine sanctuary called the “Pelagos” was created to protect cetaceans and is a unique example of a protected area institution in the high seas beyond national jurisdiction, as agreed by Italy, France and the Principality of Monaco.

Numerous conservation actions have been carried out, mostly at the local level. At the national level, a number of plans of action and protocols of intent have been implemented for individual species, including the brown bear, otter, Apennine chamois and turtle. Transboundary cooperation initiatives to ensure the conservation and management of species, such as wolves and bears, have been undertaken as well.

Numerous projects have been implemented over the last few years using LIFE funds to restore and protect coastal areas, many involving dune areas and employing natural engineering techniques. Additionally, to safeguard forest genetic and species diversity, 4 national centres for forest biodiversity have been established, focusing on ex situ conservation and integration with in situ conservation. The genetic resources of food and industrial species in Italy are also managed by public institutions primarily, such as the National Council for Research and Experimentation in Farming, universities, and the National Council for Research, which also manages an important seed bank established in Bari in 1970.

As an EU member, Italy participated in the European Commission’s Coordination of Information on the Environment (CORINE) Programme, established to gather information on the status of the environment in relation to a number of specific topics, such as land use, coastline erosion and biotopes. Italy implemented the CORINE Land Cover Project through interpretation of satellite photos that provide information regarding land cover and changes over time, as well as the CORINE Biotopes Project, adopted in Italy as part of the Nature Map Project. Italy also follows the European Community’s provisions on environmental risk assessment, which now include chemical substances, pesticides or agricultural insecticides, biocides, additives for animal food, pharmaceuticals for human and veterinary use and genetically modified organisms. Another regulation approved by the European Parliament and Council in 2006 is the ‘REACH’ (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemicals) Regulation, establishing that all substances produced or imported in an amount exceeding one ton per year must be registered, thus covering around 30,000 marketed chemical substances. The European Union also helps implement and develop community environmental policies and legislation through LIFE, a financial fund that funded 155 projects between 1992 and 2006 for nature conservation, as well as provided over 12 million Euros for the Italian Natura and biodiversity projects.

In collaboration with other countries, Italy is also involved with various projects on climate change. It is part of a European network monitoring climate change, based on phenology, as well as a part of the GLORIA (Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments) Project which aims to develop a worldwide research network for the assessment of the potential threats from climate change to high mountain biodiversity. Together with the French Office National des Forêts, the Italian State Forestry Department is promoting the CLIMECO Programme (an international programme to study the effects of climatic change on mountain ecosystems) with a view towards the establishment of a Franco-Italian network of permanent long-term monitoring of climatic changes on alpine, sub-alpine and central Apennine alpine plant communities. Furthermore, Italy is part of Project BIOREFUGE which analyzes potential climate change effects on the distribution and fecundity of tree-related species and defines possible future scenarios in order to develop strategies for the conservation of ecosystems, networks and ecological corridors.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

In Italy, legislation is the basis for many projects and actions for biodiversity conservation. The Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea (MATTM) was established in 1986 (Law 349). A Framework Law on Protected Areas (Law 394/91) and the Law for Sea Protection (Law 979/82), and respective subsequent amendments and integrations, comprise the main regulatory principles for terrestrial and marine protected areas in Italy. The establishment of Areas of Ecological Protection (AEP), commencing from the outer limit of Italian territorial waters and up to the limits established according to agreements signed with States whose territory is adjacent to or opposite to Italian territory is also enshrined in legislation (Law 61/2006).

The adoption of laws necessitates a “hierarchical” development of plans (e.g. Leg./Decree 152/2006, implementing the Water Framework Directive, leads to drainage basin planning which supersedes the development of other types of plans, such as plans for safeguarding waters, under Leg. 152/1999). Planning for the prevention of forest fires falls under the Framework Law on Forest Fires (within Law 353). Other areas facilitated by legislation include strategies addressing alien invasive species and their prohibited introduction under Article 12 of DPR 120/03, the control over fertilizers and pesticides under European regulations, the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Protocol as the legal tool for the Mediterranean Action Plan, and the establishment of both the Regional Observatory of the Lazio Coastline and the Conservatory for the Sardinian Coast through Regional Laws 53/1998 and 2/2007, respectively.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The State-Region Conference was identified as the forum for political discussion and decision-making on Italy’s National Biodiversity Strategy. Within the MATTM, a special Joint Committee was created; in addition, a select Committee within the Joint Committee will ensure maximum operational effectiveness in the implementation and review of the Strategy. Necessary multidisciplinary scientific contributions will be provided through the National Observatory for Biodiversity and full stakeholder involvement will be ensured in a consultation process. A report on the implementation of the Strategy will be issued every two years and deal with the progress made towards the strategic objectives and specific goals in the Strategy’s individual work areas. Additionally, in 2015, an in-depth assessment will be undertaken on the possible need to adjust the Strategy’s approach.

Monitoring programmes within Italy include a wide-scale programme managed by the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies (MIPAAF) called ‘Apenet’, which monitors agricultural areas throughout the national territory. Another programme is the National Monitoring Programme for marine and coastal waters which consists of a network organized by the Italian Government which observes marine environmental quality, conducting periodic checks on the sea to obtain oceanographic, chemical, biological and microbiological information. Information-sharing with various audiences is enabled by the Italian Clearing-House Mechanism, created in 2005.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme