Using vegetation dynamics to face the challenge of the conservation status assessment in semi-natural habitats

  • Emanuela CarliEmail author
  • Eleonora Giarrizzo
  • Sabina Burrascano
  • Marta Alós
  • Eva Del Vico
  • Piera Di Marzio
  • Laura Facioni
  • Carmen Giancola
  • Barbara Mollo
  • Bruno Paura
  • Giovanni Salerno
  • Laura Zavattero
  • Carlo Blasi
Vegetation Science and Habitats Directive


The conservation of semi-natural habitats represents a primary challenge for European nature conservation due to their great species diversity and their vulnerability to ongoing massive land-use changes. As these changes rapidly transform and phase out semi-natural habitats, conservation measures should be prompt and specifically focused on a sound assessment of the degree of conservation. Here we develop a methodological strategy for the assessment of the degree of conservation of semi-natural grasslands based on well-defined criteria rather than on expert opinion. Through mixed effect models, we tested ten potential indicators, encompassing proxies of species composition, habitat structure, and landscape patterns, against a measure of compositional change from habitat favourable condition, i.e., an inverse proxy of conservation status. This measure derives from the re-visitation of 132 sampling units historically sampled between 1966 and 1992 along the Apennines. The compositional change was quantified as the dissimilarity between historical habitat species pools and the composition of current communities. The compositional change was significantly related to the number of habitat diagnostic species and the relative cover of woody species with opposite sign (positive and negative, respectively). We classified and combined the classes of these two indicators in each sampling unit to assess the habitat degree of conservation at the plot and at the Natura 2000 site level. At the plot level, our assessment was in good agreement with the occurrence of species of conservation concern. On the other hand, at the site level, our assessment was not always harmonic with the habitat conservation assessment officially reported for the site investigated.


Calcareous grasslands Habitat 6210 Habitats Directive Condition indicators Re-survey Habitat monitoring 

Supplementary material

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© Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental BiologySapienza University of RomeRomeItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Estonian University of Life SciencesTartuEstonia
  3. 3.Department of Bioscience and TerritoryUniversity of MolisePescheItaly
  4. 4.Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Food SciencesUniversity of MoliseCampobassoItaly
  5. 5.TivoliItaly

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