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WP 1.7 Mountain ecosystems and biodiversity

Mountain ecosystems are characterized by specific adaptations to harsh conditions and are particularly rich in biodiversity (taxonomic and functional). They provide fundamental ecosystem services both for mountain areas and also for the surrounding valleys and plains (clean air and water, primary goods, slope stability, regulation of the hydrological cycle, tourism, cultural services). However, mountain ecosystems are particularly sensitive to climate and global changes (alien species, land-use changes, local and regional pollutiom migration of ecosystems, warming). This WP deals with quantitative monitoring of some of the main features of mountain ecosystems and biodiversity, exchanging data and information with two relevant initiatives: the Italian Network of Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER-Italia), which is part of the European network (LTER-Europe) and the European H2020 project ECOPOTENTIAL, one of the larger projects on terrestrial ecosystems, coordinated by CNR. Particular emphasis will be given to the potential use of the Essential Biodiversity/Climate Variables to characterise the status and changes of the Italian mountain environment.

In particular, the activities of WP1.7 will include the following topics:

Task 1. Data from Italian LTER sites in mountains. Collection, validation, quality control and harmonisation of data and metadata of LTER (Long-Term Ecological Research) sites in Italian mountains. Connections and compliance with data and metadata standards of the Drupal Ecological Information Management System (DEIMS) and of LTER-Europe (and the eLTER H2020 project) will be duly considered. The selected sites are: "North-Western Alps (IT19-000-T)"; "Mosso Institute (IT19-001-T)"; "Torgnon (IT19-005-T)"; "Mountain lakes (IT09-000-A)"; "High elevation ecoystems in the Apennines (IT01)", including the stations of Majella-Matese, Velino-Duchessa and Gran Sasso; "Collelongo-Selva Piana (IT03-001-T)"; "Gran Paradiso National Park (IT23)". Data will be interpreted and analysed to develop descriptive models of mountain ecosystems, to be used for future projections in connection with WP2.6.

Task 2. Monitoring of animal biodiversity in mountain areas. Attention will be focused on monitoring different taxa of invertebrates (spiders, butterflies, rove beetles, ground beetles, ants) and birds. Such monitoring will be complemented by measurements of temperature and vegetation / habitat structure obtained both from in situ data and remote sensing observations, in several mountain protected areas (Gran Paradiso National Park, parks Orsiera-Rocciavré and Veglia-Devero, extended recently to a number of other Italian Alpine and Apennine national parks).

The biodiversity analysis will be complemented by the monitoring and analysis of the population dynamics of species of particular importance used as indicators for the mountain environment (ungulates such as ibex and chamois, alpine grouse), monitoring and analysis of specific resource-consumer interactions (seeds of conifers-squirrels), predator-prey interactions (mammals-reptiles), distribution of mountain butterflies (considered good indicators of animal biodiversity), mountain mammals species (owl pellets database, distributions of mountain mammals by biogeographical region defined by the European Union, data extracted from Ckmap database).

Task 3. Alpine grassland dynamics at high altitudes. Alpine grasslands are the vital support systems for many target species like the Alpine ibex and others. They represent also a crucial environment for cattle grazing. Alpine grasslands are the products of the thousands of years of interaction between the mountain environment and the human activities. This fragile environment exhibit currently substantial changes caused by a combination of climate change with abandonment of the traditional pastoral activities. The main aim of WP 1.7 is to quantify and analyze ongoing changes in the alpine grasslands, in synergy with the project H2020 ECOPOTENTIAL,  through the evaluation of changes in flora and fauna species composition in areas with and without grazing pressure, to account for  differences in chemico-physical properties of soil and alterations in water and carbon fluxes between soil, vegetation and atmosphere, considering also inter-annual variability of climate.  For these purposes there will be utilized data gathered in situ (eddy covariance towers of Brocon and Torgnon, gas exchange measurements at soil level and phenological surveys), satellite observations, alongside models which will be generated to characterize ongoing processes in alpine grasslands. Such efforts will represent a first step for the establishment of a system of Earth Critical Zone Observatories in Italy.