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Vulnerability of Mediterranean Basin ecosystems to climate change and invasion by exotic plant species

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Abstract Aim 

To assess at a broad scale the vulnerability of Mediterranean vegetation to alien plant invasion under different climatic and disturbance scenarios. Location 

We simulated the vegetation biogeography and dynamics on five of the main islands of the Mediterranean Basin: Mallorca, Corsica, Sardinia, Crete and Lesvos. Methods 

We used LPJ-GUESS, a generalized ecosystem model based on dynamic processes describing establishment, competition, mortality and ecosystem biogeochemistry. We simulated the vegetation distribution and dynamics using a set of plant functional types (PFTs) based on bioclimatic and physiological parameters, which included tree and shrub PFTs defined especially for the Mediterranean. Additionally, two invasive PFTs, an invasive tree type and an invasive herb type, were defined and used to estimate the vulnerability to invasion of a range of different ecosystems. The model was used to simulate climate changes and associated changes in atmospheric [CO2] to 2050 according to two Special Report on Emissions Scenarios climate scenarios (A1Fi and B1) combined with mean disturbance intervals of 3 and 40 years. Results 

The simulations and scenarios showed that the effect of climate change alone is likely to be negligible in many of the simulated ecosystems, although not all. The simulated progression of an invasion was highly dependent on the initial ecosystem composition and local environmental conditions, with a particular contrast between drier and wetter parts of the Mediterranean, and between mountain and coastal areas. The rate of ecosystem disturbance was the main factor controlling susceptibility to invasion, strongly influencing vegetation development on the shorter time scale. Main conclusions 

Further invasion into Mediterranean island ecosystems is likely to be an increasing problem: our simulations predict that, in the longer term, almost all the ecosystems will be dominated by exotic plants irrespective of disturbance rates.
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Keywords: Climate change; LPJ-GUESS; Mediterranean; disturbance; ecosystem vulnerability; plant functional types; plant invasion; vegetation modelling

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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