Land use change and biodiversity conservation in the Alps

C. Chemini, A. Rizzoli


Human activities are changing the Planet, inducing high rates of extinction and a worldwide depletion of biological diversity at genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Biodiversity not only has an ethical and cultural value, but also plays a role in ecosystem function and, thus, ecosystem services, which are essential to civilization, economic production, and human wellbeing. The functional role of biodiversity is still poorly known; a minimum level of biodiversity is required for sustainable preservation of ecosystem functions, and as an insurance for future environmental changes. A large part of the biodiversity of the Alps is linked to an interaction between the natural environment and traditional human practices. At present, the change in land-use, with both intensification and abandonment, and other environmental and socioeconomic processes at different scales (urbanization, tourism, pollution, global change, etc.) are important forces of environmental change. Mowing and livestock grazing are primary factors inhibiting woody plant succession in many areas of the Alps. Abandonment and fragmentation has resulted in an expansion of ecotones and edge, with increase in tick-hosts and possibly changes in host-parasite interactions resulting from species concentration. The abandonment of mountain fields and meadows with a consequent expansion of shrubs and forests has caused a decrease of several grassland species, such as rock partridge Alectoris graeca; some arthropod communities of grassland have also been affected. Many forest species should find new opportunities, but in several cases the forests have become too dense for some species, such as for capercaille Tetrao urogallus. In the low altitude belts, a high species diversity co-occurs with human disturbance. Biodiversity studies require an interdisciplinary approach by the life sciences, and an interface to socioeconomic sciences. Preservation of species and landscape diversity cannot prescind from a dialogue between different actors and interests.

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Journal of Mountain Ecology
The Journal of Mountain Ecology is an OPEN ACCESS peer reviewed journal published by the Gran Paradiso National Park.