What species are most threatened in Italy?

The Italian Committee of IUCN has released a new assessment of Italy’s animal and plant species. On International Biodiversity Day, 22 May, the Committee has organized an event to launch the results of the two national Red List produced.  

Gyps fulvus, Critically Endangered

Italian Red List of Terrestrial vertebrates (including sharks, rays and marine mammals)

All freshwater fish, amphibians, reptiles, breeding birds, mammals and cartilaginous fish native or possibly native to Italy and those possibly introduced to Italy in prehistoric times have been included in the evaluation.

Of the 672 vertebrates assessed (576 terrestrial and 96 marine), 6 have become Regionally Extinct in recent times. Threatened species total 161 (138 terrestrial and 23 marine), corresponding to 28% of the species assessed. Ca. 50% of the Italian vertebrates are not currently at imminent risk of extinction.

Overall the populations of Italian vertebrates are declining, more in the marine than in the terrestrial environment. Knowledge on the extinction risk and population trends is poorer in the marine environment.

The main threats in the terrestrial environment are habitat loss and pollution. The number of species threatened by hunting and direct persecution is relatively small. The main threat in the marine environment is accidental mortality, but this depends on the species evaluated here (cartilaginous fish) having little commercial interest.

The assessments of extinction risk were based on the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria and the most updated guidelines. The assessments have been carried out in workshops with taxonomic focus and involving experts covering different regions of Italy, and have been evaluated according to the IUCN standards.

Italian Red List of Plants

As part of the Mediterranean global biodiversity hotspot, the Italian flora is particularly rich in species, many of which endemic to restricted territories. In some areas of Italy endemic plant species reach very high percentages, between 13% and 20% of the local flora. However, plant diversity in the Mediterranean Basin is facing several threats due to changes of the current socio-economic dynamics. Italy is not an exception and urgent conservation measures are needed to halt the loss of biodiversity and preserve the numerous threatened species.

Despite the policy species and most of the other assessed taxa are protected at the national or international level, the data analysis revealed a critic conservation status of a great number of taxa (45% of the policy species), some already extinct in Italy or near extinction. Two endemic species are completely extinct and others still survive ex situ in botanical gardens. The main threats to plant diversity in Italy are represented by uncontrolled urbanization and infrastructure development, followed by the impact of intensive farming and recreational activities. Regarding the latter threat, criticisms can occur even inside protected areas, due to touristic infrastructure development and when sensitive areas are not properly patrolled.

This research is the output of a project started in 2012, funded by the Italian Ministry of Environment for the Protection of Land and Sea and carried out by the Italian Botanical Society, which has brought together the expertise of more than 200 Italian botanists.

The result is a partial Red List of the Italian flora, but including all the 197 Italian policy species, namely the species listed in the annexes of the Directive 92/43/EEC “Habitat” and in the annexes of the Berne Convention. A further group of species (including vascular species, lichens, briophytes and fungi), among the most threatened or endemic has also been assessed against the IUCN Criteria and Categories.

In the light of the present study, in situ and ex situ conservation practices (e.g. seed banking, translocation, etc.) are urgently needed, as well as a continuous monitoring of the conservation status of species and populations and a more appropriate management of the species-rich areas (i.e. protected area management, establishment of protected areas like IPAs, Site of Community Importance, etc.). Finally, a further effort for a higher number of assessments is highly recommended in the next future.

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