Biodiversity in Italy

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22 may 2015: International Day for Biological Diversity

Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning provide goods and services essential for human health – including food, wood and fibres, clean air and water and regulation of pests and vector-based diseases. Biodiversity is a imperative asset in global and local economies. Biodiversity is the direct foundation of major economic activities and jobs in such diverse sectors as agriculture and forestry, fisheries, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, cosmetics, horticulture, construction and biotechnology, tourism.  Biodiversity plays a major role in mitigating climate change by contributing to long-term sequestration of carbon in a number of biomes. Biodiversity also underpins ecosystem resilience and plays a critical role as part of disaster risk reduction and peace-building strategies.
Even the built environments of our cities are linked to and affected by biodiversity. Ecosystem-based solutions to water provisioning and to urban water run-off, climate control and other challenges can both protect biodiversity and be cost-effective. Green areas in cities reduce the incidence of violence, enhance human health and well-being, and strengthen communities.
Against this baskdrop, biodiversity is being lost at a unprecentedrate, largely due to anthropogenic causes. The good news is that governments have already made a number of commitments to protect biodiversity. A key achievement was the adoption, in occasion of a UN conference on biological diversity, in 2010, of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the so-called Aichi Biodiversity Targets. But to ensure that the Strategic Plan and Aichi Targets are achieved, biodiversity must be effectively addressed in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.
The need to address biodiversity as a key element of sustainable development (and poverty eradication) in the post-2015 period has been widely recognised in a variety of ways.  Among others, the UN General Assembly encouraged Parties to consider it in the elaboration of the post-2015 UN development agenda; the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda proposed a post-2015 goal on managing natural resource assets sustainably; the Sustainable Development Solutions Network proposed a goal on securing ecosystem services and biodiversity, and ensuring good management of water and other natural resources.
Consistently with this background,  the United Nations has dedicated this year’s theme of The International Day for Biological Diversity to the relationships between biodiversity and sustainable development in order to reflect the importance of efforts made at all levels to establish a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the relevance of biodiversity for the achievement of sustainable development.  The selection of the theme also underlines the adoption of the Gangwon Declaration, by ministers and participants to the High-level Segment of the twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Gangwon Declaration welcomed the importance given to biodiversity in the outcome document of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and called for the further integration and mainstreaming of biodiversity in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Italy is among the European countries richest in biodiversity, due mainly to a favourable geographical position and a wide variety of geological, climatic and vegetation conditions. Data and indicators announced in the ISPRA's yearbook of environmental data allow to outline the main features of biodiversity in Italy.
The Italian fauna is estimated at more than 58,000 species, of which about 55,000 species of invertebrates, mostly belonging to the class of insects, and 1,258 vertebrates. More detailed information regarding the latter also show significant rates of endemisms (encompassing species found only in limited territories), particularly amphibians (31.8%) and bony freshwater fishes (18.3%).
Even the Italian flora has a great richness: the groups of mosses and lichens are among the richest in Europe, while higher plants include 6,711 species, or 144 Pteridophytes, 39 Gymnosperms and 6528 Angiosperms.  The contingent of endemic species is quite significant and amounts to more than 15%.
Italy is also particularly rich in forest land, in gradual and continuous expansion: in the last three decades forestland increased of 26.7%, from 8,675,100 hectares in 1985 to 10,987,805 hectares in 2013.
Yet, this rich biodiversity is under serious threat, and is likely to be irretrievably lost, mainly due to the destruction, degradation and fragmentation of habitats, introduction of invasive alien species and the overexploitation of the natural capital.
Specifically, 672 (576 terrestrial and 96 marine) vertebrate species are considered under threat by the recent "IUCN Red List of Italian Vertebrates"; in recent times, 6 of these threatened species have become extinct in the region. The endangered species are 161 (of which 138 are terrestrial and 23 are marine), equal to 28% of the species assessed.
Regarding invertebrates, in 2014 the National Red Lists for coral, dragon-flies and "saproxylic" beetles (associated more or less closely, at least in one phase of their life cycle, to the wood of dead or decaying plants) were edited.  As for the corals, of the 112 species assessed, the rate of the species of which no data and information is available is very high (60%); while 10 species are threatened of extinction and only 32 species, or 29%, are not threatened of extinction.
Much better is the situation for Dragonflies, even if one species has extinct in recent times: of the 93 dragonfly species assessed, 10 species are endangered, but 66 species (74%) are not at risk of imminent extinction. Finally, as it regards the saproxylic beetles, 418 species are threatened with extinction, or 21% of the species assessed.
For the plant species, the consistency of the Italian flora at risk includes 772 species of mosses and lichens on a total of 3,484 (22%) and 1,020 species of higher plants over a total of 6,711 (15%).
The main policy instrument for the conservation and the improvement of the status of species and habitats in Italy is the National System of Protected Areas. The Natura 2000 network—which consists of Special Protected Areas (SPA), Sites of Community Importance (SIC) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), as developed under EU Directives "Birds" and "Habitats", is one of the major conservation policy mechanism. Currently, in Italy the Natura 2000 network, net of overlaps, is represented by 2,589 sites, for a total net area of 6,391,381 hectares, of which 5,817,599 hectares are terrestrial, accounting for 19.3% of the national territory.
Another reference base for the conservation of biodiversity in Italy is Framework Law on Protected Areas, n. 394/1991, by virtue of which there are 871 protected areas in Italy, occupying a terrestrial area of 3,163,591 hectares (10.5% of the country).
Among these Protected Areas also Marine Protected Areas (MPA) are included. To date, 27 MPA and 2 Submerged Parks have been established. In this regard, particularly important is the Ligurian Sea Cetacean Sanctuary "Pelagos", aimed at protecting these large, particularly threatened, animals.
To complete the picture of the natural areas that are subject to various degree of protection, it must be remembered that—after the adoption in 1971 by Italy of the Ramsar Convention—64 wetland sites of great ecological importance are protected and they extend over 77,210 hectares.