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Forestry and Peatlands

Forestry in numbers

The area of forests in Italy is about 10 million hectares, equivalent to a third of the National territory and to a 5% of the European forested area. Italy is at sixth position in Europe for forested areas, after Sweden, Finland, Spain, France and Germany (excluding Russia) (1).

The Italian forested area is spreading, at a rate of about 100,000 hectares per year. This is due to the dismiss of agriculture practices, mostly in mountain zones, and to the natural conversion of cultivated lands and grazing in forests. In the period 1990-2005, the area of forests destined to preserve biodiversity has grown and attained about 3 million hectares, which means 30% of National forest surface (1).

Primary forests amount 160,000 ha and consist in parks and environmental protected areas. Natural protected areas are about 700, having been established on various administrative levels: national, regional and local. These areas occupy 8% of the national territory (1). 22.2% of the National forested area is under NATURA2000 (34).

About 6.8 million hectares consist of forest managed for the supply of lumber, coming mostly from coppice forests not subject to legal, economic or environmental restrictions. Concerning fuel-wood use, statistics show an increase of it in the very last years. The surface area annually subjected to use is less than 2% of the total forested area. The wood sector is very important in Italy: Italy is the largest exporter of furniture in the world (1).

Vulnerabilities - Italy

Climate change is likely to affect forests by causing (34):

  • productivity changes with negative impacts in central-southern Italy, where about 1/3 of the woodland is seriously threatened by a reduction of water supply and extension of the drought period (warmer and drier conditions are partly responsible for reduced forest productivity in the area); conversely, positive impacts with an observed increase in forest productivity in the Alps in relation to the expansion of the growing season;
  • northwards and altitudinal range shift of the climatic and environmental conditions typical of the Mediterranean area.

Possible effects of climate change on the distribution of the main (16) tree forest species in central Italy (mostly located in the central Apennines, over 1500 m) in 2080 are (34):

  • a general upward (toward higher altitude) shift of the distributional area;
  • a strong reduction of the distributional area of the most mesophile and microtherm species (beech, oak chestnut, pedunculate oak, sycamore maple), that are already damaged and hence endangered at the local level;
  • a significant expansion of the range of the Mediterranean species into the inner pre-Apennine zones;
  • a slight expansion of the distributional area of Turkey oaks and elms, with an evidently good adaptive capacity;
  • phenological changes (a 3-day mean advance every 10 years) in the timing of growth, with earlier onset of spring events.

However, the actual possibilities for the forest ecosystems to shift are scarce, because climate change rate far exceeds the rate of colonization of new areas, and the potential corridors are often obstructed by human-induced territorial fragmentation. Hence, a progressive disruption of forest ecosystems can be expected. Preliminary results of a recent study on the spreading of the forest species44 show about a 50% reduction of the habitats at the national level, with a progressive decline of mountain habitats for high altitude conifers (red fir, larch, Swiss pine) in favour of beech, oak chestnut and deciduous oaks, which represents a first clear sign of break-up of the Italian forest heritage (34).

Vulnerabilities - Overview

The increased vulnerability of forests (and people) with respect to climate change refers to several impacts (26,32):

  • Forest cover: conversion of forests to non-woody energy plantations; accelerated deforestation and forest degradation; increased use of wood for domestic energy.
  • Biodiversity: alteration of plant and animal distributions; loss of biodiversity; habitat invasions by non-native species; alteration of pollination systems; changes in plant dispersal and regeneration.
  • Productivity: changes in forest growth and ecosystem biomass; changes in species/site relations; changes in ecosystem nitrogen dynamics.
  • Health: increased mortality due to climate stresses; decreased health and vitality of forest ecosystems due to the cumulative impacts of multiple stressors; deteriorating health of forest-dependent peoples.
  • Soils and water: changes in the seasonality and intensity of precipitation, altering the flow regimes of streams; changes in the salinity of coastal forest ecosystems; increased probability of severe droughts; increased terrain instability and soil erosion due to increased precipitation and melting of permafrost; more/earlier snow melt resulting in changes in the timing of peak flow and volume in streams. The capacity of the forest ecosystem to purify water is an important service, obviating the cost of expensive filtration plants.
  • Carbon cycles: alteration of forest sinks and increased CO2 emissions from forested ecosystems due to changes in forest growth and productivity.
  • Tangible benefits of forests for people: changes in tree cover; changes in socio-economic resilience; changes in availability of specific forest products (timber, non-timber wood products and fuel wood, wild foods, medicines, and other non-wood forest products).
  • Intangible services provided by forests: changes in the incidence of conflicts between humans and wildlife; changes in the livelihoods of forest-dependent peoples (also a tangible benefit); changes in socio-economic resilience; changes in the cultural, religious and spiritual values associated with particular forests.


Increasing CO2 concentration can affect tree growth through increased photosynthetic rates and through improved water-use efficiency. There will be complex interactions, however: forest growth rates may well be increased in some cases by rising levels of atmospheric CO2, but rising temperatures, higher evaporation rates and lower rainfall may lower growth rates in other cases (17).

Non-timber products

Increasingly there are concerns about the productivity of non-timber products such as medicines and foods. Relatively little information is available in the scientific literature about the sustainable management of such products, and even less is known about their vulnerability to climate change (26).


About 30 % of Europe is covered by forests. Under a warmer climate, it is expected that the northern range limits of most native tree species in Europe will expand. The southern boundary of some species will shift to north specifically at the boundary of steppe and forest zones. Limited moisture resulting from increasing temperature and possible reduced summer rainfall may lead to productivity declines in central and southern Europe. Summer temperature rise and reduction of precipitation may further increase fire risk (2). Forest productivity and total biomass is likely to increase in the north and decrease in central Europe, while tree mortality is likely to accelerate in the south (3).

Among all European regions, the Mediterranean appears most vulnerable to global change. Multiple potential impacts are related primarily to increased temperatures and reduced precipitation. The impacts included water shortages, increased risk of forest fires, northward shifts in the distribution of typical tree species, and losses of agricultural potential. Mountain regions also seemed vulnerable because of a rise in the elevation of snow cover and altered river runoff regimes (4).

A major concern is raised by the highly fragmented conditions of forest stands in the Mediterranean zone; the lack of “green” connections and corridors in the Mediterranean landscape may become very harmful in the future environment if the present forest vegetation may be required to migrate towards more suitable areas (5).

Vulnerabilities – Temperate forests in Europe

Present situation

In parts of Europe with temperate forests, annual mean temperatures are below 17°C but above 6°C, and annual precipitation is at least 500 mm and there is a markedly cool winter period (6). Temperate forests are dominated by broad-leaf species with smaller amounts of evergreen broad-leaf and needle-leaf species (7). Common species include the oaks, eucalypts, acacias, beeches, pines, and birches.

Many of the major factors that influence these forests are due to human activities, including land-use and landscape fragmentation, pollution, soil nutrients and chemistry, fire suppression, alteration to herbivore populations, species loss, alien invasive species, and now climate change (8).

Forest productivity has been increasing in western Europe (9). This is thought to be from increasing CO2 in the atmosphere (10), anthropogenic nitrogen deposition (11), warming temperatures (12), and associated longer growing seasons (13).


Most models predict continuing trends of modestly increasing forest productivity in Western Europe over this century (14). Projections for the time near the end of the next century generally suggest decreasing growth and a reduction in primary productivity enhancement as temperatures warm, CO2 saturation is reached for photosynthetic enhancement, and reduced summer precipitation all interact to decrease temperate zone primary productivity (15). The projected increased occurrence of pests, particularly in drought-stressed regions, also contributes to decreased long-term primary productivity in some regions of temperate forests  (16).

Sensitivity to increasing air pollution loads, particularly nitrogen deposition and tropospheric ozone, will impact large areas of the northern temperate forest over the next century. In the temperate domain, air pollution is expected to interact with climate change; while the fertilization effects from nitrogen deposition are still highly uncertain, pollutants such as ozone are known to diminish primary productivity (17).


The ranges of northern temperate forests are predicted to extend into the boreal forest range in the north and upward on mountains (18). The distribution of temperate broadleaved tree species is typically limited by low winter temperatures (19). Since the latter are projected to rise more rapidly than summer temperatures in Europe and North America, temperate broad-leaved tree species may profit and invade currently boreal areas more rapidly than other temperate species.

Carbon sinks/sources

Temperate forest regions in the highly productive forests of western Europe (20) are known to be robust carbon sinks, although increased temperature may reduce this effect through loss of carbon from soils (21). Weaker carbon sinks or even carbon losses are seen for temperate forests in areas prone to periodic drought, such as southern Europe (22).

Models suggest that the greatest climate change threat to temperate forest ecosystems is reduced summer precipitation, leading to increased frequency and severity of drought (23). This will probably be most prominent in temperate forest regions that have already been characterized as prone to drought stress, such as southern Europe. Drought-stricken forests are also more susceptible to opportunistic pests and fire (24). Together, these related effects can potentially change large areas of temperate forest ecosystems from carbon sinks to sources.

Vulnerabilities – Subtropical dry forests in Europe

Subtropical dry forests occur in parts of Europe with at least eight months of over 10°C: parts of Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. These regions have hot dry summers and humid mild winters, with annual rainfall in the 400–900 mm range (17).

Subtropical species are partly already well adapted to warm and dry climates. However, many subtropical species now exist in highly fragmented environments as islands of natural forest amongst oceans of agricultural land. Species at a particular location may not have access to new sites where they would be better adapted to the new climatic conditions. Less tolerant species may then decrease in abundance and hereby create for other, more tolerant resident species opportunities to become more abundant because of reduced competition (17).


Globally, based on both satellite and ground-based data, climatic changes seemed to have a generally positive impact on forest productivity since the middle of the 20th century, when water was not limiting (33).

Timber production in Europe

Climate change will probably increase timber production and reduce prices for wood products in Europe. For 2000–2050 a change of timber production in Europe is expected of -4 to +5%. For 2050–2100 an increase is expected of +2 to +13% (25).

Adaptation strategies - Forest management measures in general

Near-nature forest management and a move away from monocultures toward mixed forest types, in terms of both species and age classes, are advocated. In addition, natural or imitated natural regeneration is indicated as a method of maintaining genetic diversity, and subsequently reducing vulnerability. For management against extreme disturbances, improvements in fire detection and suppression techniques are recommended, as well as methods for combating pests and diseases. It is reported that through stricter quarantine and sanitary management, the impact of insects and diseases can be minimized. The establishment of migration corridors between forest reserves may aid in the autonomous colonization and migration of species in response to climate change (30).

Adaptive management

The terms adaptation and adaptive management are often incorrectly used interchangeably. The former involves making adjustments in response to or in anticipation of climate change whereas the latter describes a management system that may be considered, in itself, to be an adaptation tactic (27). Adaptive management is a systematic process for continually improving management policies and practices by learning from the outcomes of operational programmes (28). It involves recognizing uncertainty and establishing methodologies to test hypotheses concerning those uncertainties; it uses management as a tool not only to change the system but to learn about the system (29).

Both the climate and forest ecosystems are constantly changing, and managers will need to adapt their strategies as the climate evolves over the long term. An option that might be appropriate today given expected changes over the next 20 years may no longer be appropriate in 20 years’ time. This will require a continuous programme of actions, monitoring and evaluation – the adaptive management approach described above (26).

There is a widespread assumption that the forest currently at a site is adapted to the current conditions, but this ignores the extent to which the climate has changed over the past 200–300 years, and the lag effects that occur in forests. As a result, replacement of a forest by one of the same composition may no longer be a suitable strategy (26).

Adaptation to climate change has started to be incorporated into all levels of governance, from forest management to international forest policy. Often these policies are not adopted solely in response to climate, and may occur in the absence of knowledge about longer-term climate change. They often serve more than one purpose, including food and fuel provision, shelter and minimizing erosion, as well as adapting to changing climatic conditions (30).

Socio-economic and political conditions have significant influences on vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Climate change projections are perceived by many forest managers as too uncertain to support long-term and potentially costly decisions that may be difficult to reverse. Similarly, uncertainty over future policy developments may also constrain action. Finance is a further barrier to implementing adaptation actions in the forest sector (31).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Italy.

  1. Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy (2007)
  2. Lasch et al., 2002, in: European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  3. Alcamo et al. (2007)
  4. Schröter et al. (2005)
  5. Kellomäki et al. (2000)
  6. Walter (1979), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  7. Melillo et al. (1993), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  8. Reich and Frelich (2002), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  9. Carrer and Urbinati (2006), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  10. Field et al. (2007b), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  11. Hyvönen et al. (2007); Magnani et al. (2007), both in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  12. Marshall et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  13. Chmielewski and Rötzer (2001); Parmesan (2006), both in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  14. Alcamo et al. (2007); Field et al. (2007b); Alo and Wang (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  15. Lucht et al. (2006); Scholze et al. (2006); Alo and Wang (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  16. Williams et al. (2000); Williams and Liebhold (2002); Logan and Powell (2001); Tran et al. (2007); Friedenberg et al. (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  17. Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  18. Iverson and Prasad (2001); Ohlemüller et al. (2006); Fischlin et al. (2007); Golubyatnikov and Denisenko (2007), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  19. Perry et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  20. Liski et al. (2002), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  21. Piao et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  22. Morales et al. (2007), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  23. Christensen et al. (2007); Fischlin et al. (2007); Meehl et al. (2007); Schneider et al. (2007), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  24. Hanson and Weltzin (2000), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  25. Karjalainen et al. (2003); Nabuurs et al. (2002); Perez-Garcia et al. (2002); Sohngen et al. (2001), in: Osman-Elasha and Parrotta (2009)
  26. Innes (ed.) (2009)
  27. Ogden and Innes (2007), in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  28. BCMOF (2006a), in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  29. Holling (1978); Lee (1993, 2001), all in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  30. Roberts (ed.) (2009)
  31. Keskitalo (2008), in: Roberts (ed.) (2009)
  32. Kirilenko and Sedjo (2007)
  33. Boisvenue et al. (2006)
  34. Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy (2009)

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