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Mediterranean Sea: Corsica Island

Located on Corsica, north of Sardina in the Mediterranean Sea, this ecoregion is limited to high altitude forests of the island’s mountain ranges. Floral diversity on the island is high with 2,524 species total, 296 of which are endemic. The island supports a number of endemic fauna including the Corsican nuthatch (Sitta whiteheadi), the rare herbivore, Ovis aries musimon, and Corsican deer (Cervus elaphus corsicanus). A number of endemic amphibians also reside here. A combination of low human population and inaccessibility of the region has kept this habitat relatively intact.

  • Scientific Code
    (PA1204)
  • Ecoregion Category
    Palearctic
  • Size
    1,400 square miles
  • Status
    Critical/Endangered
  • Habitats

Description
Location and General Description
The Corsican mountain conifer and broadleaf mixed forests ecoregion geographically spreads across a very small area, restricted to the high and steep mountain massifs of Corsica Island (8,748 km2), in the Mediterranean Sea. Climatically, the ecoregion is characterized by a sharp altitudinal bioclimate gradient, from the warm and dry lower elevations (average annual temperature of about 14-17º Celsius) to the cold and humid higher elevations (average annual temperature of about 9-13º Celsius). In the summits and north-facing slopes of the highest mountain massifs (i.e. Mt. Cintu, 2,710 m and Mt. Rotondu, 2,625 m) a "Eurosiberian" alpine bioclimate type appears, characterized by rigorous winters, frequent snow and the absence of a summer drought period. The Corsican Mountains belong to the Alpine orogenic system, distinguished by a very complex lithological composition and relief. Crystalline rocks predominate, such as granite, rhyolite, gneiss, quartzite, and schist. Glacial reliefs are numerous in the high summits of the Incudine massif (2,136 m). Mesozoic rocks, mainly limestone, appear rarely in small and scattered areas.

The wide altitudinal range of this ecoregion results in several forest zones. The lowest elevations are characterized by the predominance of sclerophyllous evergreen oak forests (Quercus ilex, Q. suber). In the medium elevations mesophyllous pine forests (Pinus pinaster) spreads widely, and mixed deciduous forests (Quercus pubescens, Q. petraea, Ostrya carpinifolia, Alnus cordata, Castanea sativa) are locally abundant, such as in the North-eastern Castagniccia Mountains. A sharp north-south gradient in terms of plant communities typifies the highest elevations. Pinus laricio dominates on south-facing slopes with a more Mediterranean cold and humid bioclimate type, while silver fir (Abies alba) and beech (Fagus sylvatica) predominate in the "sub-alpine-like" bioclimate of the north-facing slopes. The high summits are characterized by a shrub-like alder (Alnus suaveolens) and juniper (Juniperus communis subsp. alpina), and maple (Acer pseudoplatanus). Significant relict tree species locally appear all along the altitudinal gradient of the ecoregion, for example the deciduous common oak Quercus robur in coastal flood-plains, Juniperus thurifera woodlands in rocky canyons of the continental mountain massifs, and birch (Betula pendula) stands in the highest elevations.

Biodiversity Features
The plant endemism rate of this ecoregion is approximately 12% (296 species of a total 2,524 floral species). The endemic flora is distributed all along the altitudinal gradient (i.e. Ophrys conradiae, Allium parciflorum, Genista corsica, Leucajum roseum in the medium elevations; Alnus cordata, Anarrhinum corsicum, Santolina corsica, Viola corsica, Ruta corsica, Scabiosa corsica in the highest elevations) representing half of the total number of species of the alpine zone (i.e. Acinos corsicus, Myosotis corsicana, Viola argenteria).

This ecoregion has a significant faunal diversity, though there are few endemic species. A rare and endemic herbivore, Ovis aries musimon, is still present in the region’s forests. The only existing population of the endemic deer species, Cervus elaphus corsicanus, which is a very endangered species included in the IUCN Red List of threatened fauna, is the result of a successful reintroduction from Sardinia Island. This is the only area where this species still survives in the wild.

The Corsican Mountains forest ecosystem also hosts a number of notable birds. These include the endemic Corsican nuthatch (Sitta whiteheadi), which is ecologically adapted and restricted to mature pine trees of the Pinus laricio old-growth forests, and also endangered raptors and rare Palearctic birds.

Endemic amphibian species are also distributed in certain mountain areas where conifer and broadleaf forests occur (i.e. Salamandra salamandra corsica, Discoglossus montalentii, and Euproctus montanus). Among the reptiles, the most representative species of this ecoregion are also typical of other similar forest ecosystems such as mountain conifer and broadleaf mixed forests from the Southern European Mediterranean countries. A few of these are Algyroïdes fitzingeri, Podarcis tiliguerta, and Podarcis sicula.

Current Status
The ecoregion has maintained the majority of its forest cover. Outstanding and extensive old-growth forests remain due to the inaccessibility of these mountain massifs. It is still possible to find very old individuals of Laricio pine, 800-1,000 years old, which should be protected as natural monuments.

Human population is still very low, with only 261,000 inhabitants on the whole island. They are mainly settled along the coasts. Nevertheless, grazing and forestry management has considerably modified the forest structure. Clear cutting has resulted in even-age stands with very few old trees and a poor plant understorey.

Types and Severity of Threats
Though deforestation has not been very intensive throughout the ecoregion, there remains a high potential of future human impact, mainly due to inadequate and overly intense forestry management systems as well as a certain socio-political instability in the island. Forest fires are often set to protest social and political measures, such as the creation of new protected areas. Mismanagement of pastures and livestock grazing, as well as tourism development (mainly urban development in the coastal zone), have also considerably increased the risk of forest fires.

Degree of Protection

  Country Area Name

& Creation Date
 PA size (ha)
 % Ecor.

Prot.
 Designation

& IUCN Cat.
 Major Forest Types
France (Corsica Island) Regional Natural Park of Corsica (1990) 250.000   Regional Natural Park Mountain conifer and deciduous mixed forests,

and sclerophyllous and xeric conifer woodlands.
 

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
This ecoregion is equivalent to the DMEER (2000) unit of the same name. It includes the sub-Mediterranean and meso-supra-Mediterranean downy oak forests, montane to altimontane beech and mixed beech forests, and oroxerophytic vegetation in the mountains of Corsica (Bohn et al. 2000).

References
Alexandrian, D. and F. Esnault. 1998. Public Policies affecting Forest Fires in the Mediterranean Area. FAO

Bacaria, J. et al. 1999. Environmental Atlas of the Mediterranean. Fundaciò Territori i Paisatge Eds.

Bohn, U., G. Gollub, and C. Hettwer. 2000. Reduced general map of the natural vegetation of Europe. 1:10 million. Bonn-Bad Godesberg 2000.

Brigand, L. et al. 1991. Les iles en Mediterranee, enjeux et perspectives. Les Fascicules du Plan Bleu 5. Economica Ed., Paris.

Delanoë, O. et al. 1996. Conservation of Mediterranean Island Plants. IUCN Publication Service, Cambridge.

Delaugerre, M and M. Cheylan 1992. Batraciens et Reptiles de Corse. Parc Naturel Regional de Corse.

Digital Map of European Ecological Regions (DMEER), Version 2000/05 (http://dataservice.eea.eu.int/dataservice/metadetails.asp?table=DMEER&i=1)

Gamisans, J. 1991. La végétation de la Corse. Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques Ville de Genéve.

Gamisans, J and J.F. Marzocchi. 1996. La Flore endémique de la Corse. EDISUD, Aix-en-Provence.

Gamisans, J., D. Jeanmonod and P. Regato. 1994. "Le genévrier thurifère (Juniperus thurifera L.) en Corse". Candollea 49 Gomez Campo, C. 1985. Plant Conservation in the Mediterranean Ecosystems. Junk Ed., Geobotanica 7.

Heath, M.F. and M.I. Evans, Editors. 2000. Important Bird Areas in Europe: Priority sites for conservation. Vol 2: Southern Europe. BirdLife International, BirdLife Conservation Series No: 8.

IUCN. 1996. 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Publication Service Unit, Cambridge.

Mayer, H. 1984. Wälder Europas. Gustav Fisher Verlag, Stuttgart

Medail, F. and P. Quezel. 1997. Hotspots Analysis for Conservation of Plant Biodiversity in the Mediterranean Basin. Ann. Missouri Gard. 84

Sarà, M. 1998. I Mammiferi delle isole del Mediterraneo. EPOS Editor, Palermo.

Shackleton, D.M., Editor. and the IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group. 1997. Wild Sheep and their Relatives. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Caprinae. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Water, K.S., and H.J. Gillett, H.J., Editors. 1998. 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. Compiled by WCMC. IUCN, Publication Service Unit, Cambridge.

WWF and IUCN. 1994. Centres of Plant Diversity. A guide and strategy for their conservation. 3 Volumes. IUCN Publication Service Unit, Cambridge.

WWF. 2001. The Mediterranean forests. A new conservation strategy. WWF, MedPO, Rome.

WWF.

Prepared by: Pedro Regato
Reviewed by: In process

 

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