The specific vulnerability of plant biodiversity and vegetation on Mediterranean islands in the face of global change


The numerous Mediterranean islands (>10,000) are very important from a biodiversity point of view, both in term of plant species (numerous endemics, presence of ‘climate relicts’) and of ecosystems’ assemblage. These patterns can be explained by complex interactions between a highly heterogeneous historical biogeography and ecological processes related to diverse island conditions. Furthermore, most of the ups and downs of this biodiversity were closely linked with human pressures which have changed many times through the long socio-ecological history of these island landscapes since the Neolithic period. At present, insular plant biodiversity and rural landscapes are threatened by diverse global environmental changes related to urbanization, habitat fragmentation, unsustainable tourism and other practices (e.g. overgrazing, forest fires), and by other more recent drivers such as climate warming and aridification, sea-level rise and biological invasions. Some of these impacts will be exacerbated on islands because of no (or highly limited) adjacent areas of expansion, notably on the smallest ones (i.e. size < ca. 1000 ha). With regards to the biome crisis facing the Mediterranean basin and induced by human activities, islands constitute key ecological systems and ‘current refugia’ to ensure the long-term preservation of coastal plant biodiversity. They also represent fascinating ecological systems to disentangle the role of environmental versus human pressures on spatially simplified communities of the Mediterranean coastal areas. Future detailed studies of these ‘natural island microcosms’ could greatly improve our knowledge of the functional and evolutionary processes induced by rapid environmental changes in this region.

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Some data concerning the small islands of eastern Tunisia and Corsica were obtained during several field missions funded by the PIM Initiative (Small Mediterranean Islands Initiative, of the French Conservatoire du Littoral and by the Tunisian agency APAL (Agence de protection et d’aménagement du littoral) in 2014–2015. The French government (projet Investissements d’Avenir) within the Initiative d’excellence A*MIDEX/MEDNET (ANR-11-IDEX-0001-02) of Aix Marseille University also participated in the funding of some of these field trips (2013–2015). I thank my colleague Pr. Wolfgang Cramer (IMBE) for his invitation to write this review and for his useful comments on the manuscript, and to Dr. Salvatore Pasta (University of Fribourg) for his relevant comments and the fruitful discussions we had concerning the challenge of Mediterranean nissology. I thank Dr. Katia Diadema (Conservatoire botanique national méditerranéen) for her kind help concerning the realisation of the maps. Thanks also to an anonymous reviewer and to the editor of this paper, Dr. Erica Smithwick, for their recommendations which have improved a previous version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Frédéric Médail.

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Editor: Erica Smithwick.

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Médail, F. The specific vulnerability of plant biodiversity and vegetation on Mediterranean islands in the face of global change. Reg Environ Change 17, 1775–1790 (2017) doi:10.1007/s10113-017-1123-7

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  • Coastal ecosystems
  • Human impacts
  • Insular biogeography
  • Land use changes
  • Mediterranean region
  • Sea-level rise