Biodiversity in numbers
The mountainous relief, the different geological straits and tips of soil, and the overlapping of Central Europe with Mediterranean climate are the main factors for having such an ecosystem diversity and biodiversity (around 3,250 plant species live in Albania). Some of the 30% of the European plant species, and 42% of the European mammals can be found in the country. Albania's variety of wetlands, lagoons and large lakes also provide critical winter habitat for migratory birds (1).
The Drini and Mati River Deltas (DMRD) are two of the three deltas on the northern Adriatic coast of Albania, covering a coastal area of 140 km². River deltas are a distinct feature of the northern coastal region. The DMRD harbours significant biodiversity and provide wintering grounds for the endangered pygmy cormorant and over 70 other species of waterfowl and waterbirds. The Drini Delta is an internationally recognized Important Bird Area. The Patok lagoon, within the Mati Delta, serves as an important feeding area for globally endangered loggerhead turtles (2).
DRMD represents a complex and compound system of sandy belts, capes, bays, lagoons and island areas. They also harbour significant biodiversity values in the three types of habitats: marine, wetlands and non-wetland habitats, including forests, shrubs, and open fields where traditional agriculture is practiced. Biodiversity is one of the most important assets of Lezha region, in which DMRD lies (2).
The Paris Agreement of December 2015 aims to maintain the global average warming well below 2°C above the preindustrial level. Ecosystem variability during the past 10,000 years was reconstructed from pollen analysis. Only a 1.5°C warming scenario permits Mediterranean land ecosystems to remain within this Holocene variability. At or above 2°C of warming, climatic change will generate land ecosystem changes that are unmatched in the Holocene (5).
In fact, regional temperatures in the Mediterranean basin are now ~1.3°C higher than during 1880-1920, compared with an increase of ~0.85°C worldwide. Climate model projections indicate that the projected warming in the Mediterranean basin this century continues to exceed the global trend. Without ambitious mitigation policies anthropogenic climate change will likely alter ecosystems in the Mediterranean this century in a way that is without precedent during the past 10,000 years. The highly ambitious low-end scenario of climate change (the so-called RCP2.6 scenario) seems to be the only possible pathway toward more limited impacts. Under a high-end scenario of climate change (the RCP8.5 scenario), all of southern Spain turns into desert, deciduous forests invade most of the mountains, and Mediterranean vegetation replaces most of the deciduous forests in a large part of the Mediterranean basin (5).
In addition to climate change, other human impacts affect ecosystems, such as land-use change, urbanization, and soil degradation. Many of these effects are likely to become even stronger in the future because of the expanding human population and economic activity. Without ambitious climate targets, the potential for future managed or unmanaged ecosystems to host biodiversity or deliver services to society is likely to be greatly reduced by climate change and direct local effects (5).
Today Albania has one of the highest rates of biodiversity loss in Europe. Deforestation, soil erosion, uncontrolled land use, and pollution are rapidly destroying precious resources. Unsustainable levels of hunting, fishing and grazing are also threatening diversity (1).
During the last 25 years, approximately 122 species of vertebrates (27 mammals, 89 birds, and 6 fish) and four species of plants have lost more than 50% of their population. The number of rare and threatened species of plants and animals is high and expected to increase (3). 36% of the country's vertebrate species are endangered or threatened. Efforts are made to establish protected areas. 6% of the country is set aside for this purpose. Unfortunately, even the biological integrity of these areas is compromised several times by illegal activities. Also, monitoring of these zones is inadequate and management plans do not yet exist. In 1999, a National Strategy on Biodiversity and a respective Action Plan was developed and adopted by the government (1).
The main endangered types of ecosystems and habitats in Albania are littoral and coastal ecosystems, such as sand dunes, river deltas, alluvial forests, lagoons and coastal lakes (3).
Marine littoral and estuarine systems
It is possible that plankton productivity could become significantly more variable in marine, littoral and estuarine systems, and this change could have knock-on effects on system ecology and productivity (3).
There is likely to be an increase in coastal erosion, particularly along the sandy coast of the Adriatic Sea, leading to further degradation of sand dunes and coastal wetlands, increased salinity, and reduction of fresh and brackish water habitats and species, including alluvial forests (3).
In the coastal zone, an increase in sea surface temperature as well as sea level rise (SLR) of up to 61 cm is expected to place additional stress on marine and littoral biodiversity as well as livelihoods of local communities. SLR, more frequent and intense floods, frequent inundation, and submersion of low lying coastal areas could affect life cycles of species and pose risks of habitat loss and fragmentation. Rising temperatures will also affect the composition and distribution of DRMD’s marine and terrestrial species (2).
Climate change, including variability, could undermine biodiversity conservation efforts in the DRMD’s protected areas, unless the system can fully accommodate mid to long term alterations and management strategies are put in place to respond to climate-related stress. Currently, there are no efforts underway to address climate change impacts on the DMRD ecosystem (2).
There is likely to be a decrease in rangeland productivity, an increasing risk of degradation, soil erosion, and desertification, an increasing sensitivity to disturbance, a change in ecosystem function, and alteration to plant and animal community composition (3).
Coverage of broadleaf and conifer forests, particularly Beech and Fir forests will be reduced, being replaced by Mediterranean evergreen shrubs and Oak woodlands. Tree species that produce many small seeds and have a high distribution potential would be able to survive and even to spread further. Changes in vegetation composition in forests, changes in structure, productivity and foliage quality will have knock-on effects to other components of biodiversity. Additionally, probable increases in the frequency and intensity of fires will also have impacts (3).
Subalpine/alpine meadows and pastures
Large reductions in snow cover are likely to lead to declines in alpine flora and fauna as a result of changes to habitats, alterations to fire regimes and incursion of feral animals and weeds. ... The mountain regions of Albania are already under stress from various human activities, such as illegal and uncontrolled wood cutting, overgrazing, abandonment and/or inappropriate land management, resulting in reduced natural resilience to climate change (3).
Fresh water biodiversity
The Mediterranean ecohydrology is vulnerable to climate change, and can affect flora and fauna of the region. In arid and semi-arid parts of the region, the biggest danger facing the lakes is the expected decrease in water input resulting from increasing evapotranspiration with increasing temperature and decreasing precipitation. This process can lead to conversion of existing freshwater to saltwater (4).
Absence of institutional and individual capacities
The main barrier to the integration of adaptation in regional conservation and sustainable development programming is the to undertake a rigorous assessment of climate change’s potential impact on biodiversity, and then use this information to raise awareness and mobilize programmatic choices (2).
Gaps in information
Albania faces significant gaps in information and uncertainties related to climate changes and their potential implication for biodiversity and ecosystem services. There is a lack of (3):
- documentation of impacts that are already occurring in response to existing climate trends;
- understanding of the factors determining the resilience and adaptive capacity of ecosystems, including the roles of habitat extent, connectivity and quality, flow regimes and disturbances;
- understanding of the factors affecting the distribution and abundance of species, particularly those affecting the establishment and death phases of life cycles, and the identification of migration barriers and refugia;
- analyses of the species, habitats and ecosystems most vulnerable to climate changes, including those likely to be negatively affected by species favoured by the changes (such as weeds, feral animals and alien species);
- comprehensive assessment of adaptation options available, including the modifications needed to existing conservation planning and practice (in-situ and ex-situ conservation);
- analyses of present and future social and economic costs of climate change impacts on biodiversity.
Options for the adaptation of natural ecosystems to the changing climatic conditions are (1):
- The establishment and maintenance of protected areas (in-situ conservation). It is important that the required steps are taken to enlarge the system of protected areas in Albania, as proposed by the Albanian Biodiversity Strategy.
- The active management of wild populations outside of protected areas (inter-situ management).
- The maintenance of captive populations (ex-situ methods). For a number of animals and plant species neither in-situ nor inter-situ conservation measures might be applicable or viable and their survival in the wild is no longer ensured. Their extinction in the wild is not reverse. The only measures to be taken are those of ex- situ conservation. Hence, the support of the Botanical Garden in Tirana to realize ex-situ preservation of endemic and endangered species is an important action, which should be complemented with the future development of such practices for animal species in the long-term. At the same time, the strengthening of the genetic banks within the National Seed Institute, and a laboratory of deep freezing should include preservation of the genetic material of wildlife species.
- Monitoring. This is an important research priority, both for biodiversity conservation and because plant and animal populations serve as barometres of ecosystem integrity.
Adaptive capacity in the Drini and Mati River Deltas (DMRD) is being built to ensure resilience of key ecosystems and local livelihoods to climate change. Climate change response measures are identified and then integrated into conservation and development programming in the DMRD. Already the government started to increase the area under protection by expanding the geographic extent of the current protected area network. Coastal dune habitat restoration measures will be / are being implemented and the landscape connectivity and ecosystem resilience will be increased. … By including climate threats, the scope and depth of the targeted conservation and sustainable development programmes will be modified to enhance the adaptive capacity of the ecosystem (2).
In terms of mainstreaming adaptation in the DMRD, both the central government and the regional administration will be critical partners. Key activities: community development projects (e.g., tourism activities); sewage and waste water treatment plans; agriculture sector development plans (including fisheries); sustainable livelihoods of communities (2).
For watershed systems adaptation strategies should focus on increasing their resilience to climatic change. Given the heterogeniety in watershed types, strategies need to incorporate local needs and issues with active participation of all stakeholders. The conservation and sustainability of watersheds in the Mediterranean region is an important issue to sustain local and regional economies and ecosystems. A localized strategy that incorporates watershed characteristics and information is vital to sustain the region. A long-term strategy is needed to involve resilience enhancing measures that will enable watersheds to withstand and transform to climatic change (4).
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Albania.
- Republic of Albania, Ministry of Environment (2002)
- Laušević et al. (2008)
- Erol and Randhir (2012)
- Guiot and Cramer (2016)