Southern Europe: Portions of the southern Italian mainland and parts of the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily

The forest, woodland, and scrub of Italy’s southern coast and the surrounding islands supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna. The floral endemism rate is high, and numerous relict and threatened plant species are found here. Two rare and endemic herbivore subspecies, mouflon (Ovis aries musimon) and Corsican red deer (Cervus elaphus corsicanus), persist on islands. A wide range of birds can be found here, including a number of endemic species, such as Marmora's warbler (Silvia sarda), and threatened raptors including Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae), lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus), levant sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes), and Bonelli’s eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus). Endemic amphibia and reptile species and a large number of threatened butterfly species are also associated with certain parts of the ecoregion. In addition to coastal tourism development and urbanization, the ecoregion is threatened by water shortage and pollution problems, forest fires, and unsustainable collection of rare plants.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    32,800 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
The Thyrrenian-Adriatic Sclerophyllous and Mixed Forests extend along the coastal lowlands of the southern half of the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, and Corsica. They include Sardinian Island and the Dalmatian Islands. The ecoregion experiences very hot and dry summers and relatively temperate and humid to subhumid winters. Annual average temperatures range from 10-17º C, and the minimum average temperature of the coldest month ranges from 5-10º C. The annual rainfall ranges from 400-1,200 mm. From a geological point of view, three major systems can be distinguished. Paleozoic substrates such as granite, schist, micaschist, diorite, and gneiss are found on Corsica and Sardinia. Volcanic rock forms the surrounds of the active Vesubio Volcano in Campania and the foothills of the Etna volcano in Sicily. Mesozoic substrates, specifically limestone, marl, and sandstone, form the southern Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Malta, and the Dalmatian islands.

The ecoregion has four major forest zones. The Thyrrenian mixed oak forests are characterized by the predominance of mixed sclerophyllous evergreen oak (Quercus ilex, Q. suber) and deciduous (Quercus pubescens, Fraxinus ornus, Ostrya carpinifolia) species. Stone pine (Pinus pinea) constitutes important forests of certain coastal sand dunes, for example at Maremma Natural Park. Relict hygrophilous temperate deciduous oak forests (Quercus robur) appear locally in certain coastal wetlands of the Italian Peninsula (i.e. Circeo National Park) and on Corsica.

The southeastern Italian woodlands, in the Puglia region, are distinguished by the appearance of a number of Eastern Mediterranean endemic oak species (Quercus trojana, Q. macrolepis), together with the more frequent sclerophyllous holm oak (Quercus ilex) and deciduous oak (Quercus pubescens) species. Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) locally constitutes significant forest stands.

The Dalmatian Island forests show a predominance of Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) and holm oak (Quercus ilex). The Dalmatian Islands host a very interesting relict and endemic pine, Pinus nigra dalmatica.

The Malta islands host one of two European relict populations of the North African endemic conifer Tetraclinis articulata.

Biodiversity Features
The ecoregion supports a high degree of plant diversity. The endemism rate is approximately 10% of the total flora. For example, Sardinia hosts 2,054 plant species, of which 206 are endemic; the Dalmatian islands host 2,700 species, of which 179 are endemic. The ecoregion includes an important number of relict species including Quercus macrolepis, Pinus dalmatica, Platanus orientalis, Alnus cordata, Tetraclinis articulata, Thymus capitatus, and Styrax officinalis. Also present are a number of threatened plant species included in the IUCN and national Red List of vascular plants, Salvia fruticosa, S. brachypodon, Portenschlagiella ramosissima, Phyllitis sagitata, Ornithogalum visianicum, Orchis quadripunctata, Iris adriatica, Geranium dalmaticum, Euphorbia rigida, and Dianthus multinervis.

This ecoregion has significant faunal diversity, though the number of endemic species is not high. Two rare and endemic herbivores, mouflon (Ovis aries musimon) and Corsican red deer (Cervus elaphus corsicanus), still persist in the Sardinian forests. The ecoregion also hosts a high diversity of birds, including a number of endemic species, such as Silvia sarda, as well as threatened raptors including griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae), lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus), levant sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes), and Bonelli’s eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus).

Endemic amphibian and reptile species are also well represented in Sardinia and certain other parts of the ecoregion. Thirteen endemic forms of Dalmatian wall lizard (Podarcis melisellensis), each living on only one small island, have been described in Dalmatia. A large number of threatened butterfly species are also related to this ecoregion, specifically, the Dalmatian islands threatened species, Leptidea duponcheli, Papilio alexanor, Parnassius apollo, Maculinea nausithous, Coenonympha oedippus, Zerinthia cerisyi dalmacijae, and Protoerebia phegea dalmata.

Current Status
The ecoregion has lost the majority of its forest cover, mainly as a result of agriculture, grazing, and urban development. Human population is considerable, but mainly concentrated in the coastal areas. Outstanding and extensive Aleppo pine and holm oak forests still cover huge areas of the Dalmatian Islands. The ecoregion is also distinguished by a manmade semi-natural sylvopastoral landscape, typical of Sardinian Island, and formed by extensive semi-natural cork/oak woodlands. These have historically represented very efficient and rational multipurpose management systems, adapted to the adverse environmental conditions imposed by low quality soils and a harsh climate.

Types and Severity of Threats
Major threats are related to a number of different human activities. These include coastal tourism development and urbanization; intensive agriculture through irrigation systems, conversion of natural to agricultural land, overuse and pollution of water bodies; forest fires, mainly due to human negligence and arson; unsustainable collection of rare, wild plant species; hunting; and the spread of invasive species, promoted by human induced changes to the coastal zone (i.e. exotic species introduced for gardening, such as Carpobrotus edulis and Agave americana).

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
This ecoregion is equivalent to the DMEER unit of the same name. The boundaries of this unit are primarily a product of the DMEER delineation process. The ecoregion generally includes the meso-Mediterranean Holm oak forests, wild olive-locust tree formations in extreme southern Italy and Sicily as well as small areas of sub-Mediterranean and meso-supra-Mediterranean downy oak forests (Bohn et al. 2000).

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Prepared by: Pedro Regato
Reviewed by: Leann Trowbridge