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Range shifts in forest tree species due to climate change have been observed towards higher altitudes and latitudes. These changes considerably affect the forest structure and the functioning of forest ecosystems and their services.
Future climate change and increasing CO2 concentrations are expected to affect site suitability, productivity, species composition and biodiversity. In general, forest growth is projected to increase in northern Europe and to decrease in southern Europe, but with substantial regional variation. Cold-adapted coniferous tree species are projected to lose large fractions of their ranges to more drought-adapted broadleaf species.
The projected changes will have an impact on the goods and services that forests provide. For example, the value of forest land in Europe is projected to decrease between 14 and 50 % during the 21st century.
Fire risk depends on many factors, including climatic conditions, vegetation, forest management practices and other socio-economic factors.
The burnt area in the Mediterranean region increased from 1980 to 2000; it has decreased thereafter.
In a warmer climate, more severe fire weather and, as a consequence, an expansion of the fire-prone area and longer fire seasons are projected across Europe. The impact of fire events is particularly strong in southern Europe.
The timing of seasonal events has changed across Europe. A general trend towards earlier spring phenological stages (spring advancement) has been shown in many plant and animal species, mainly due to changes in climate conditions.
As a consequence of climate-induced changes in plant phenology, the pollen season starts on average 10 days earlier than it did and is longer than it was in the 1960s.
The life cycles of many animal groups have advanced in recent decades, with events occurring earlier in the year, including frogs spawning, birds nesting and the arrival of migrant birds and butterflies. This advancement is attributed primarily to a warming climate.
The breeding season of many thermophilic insects (such as butterflies, dragonflies and bark beetles) has been lengthening, allowing, in principle, more generations to be produced per year.
The observed trends are expected to continue into the future. However, simple extrapolations of current phenological trends may be misleading because the observed relationship between temperature and phenological events may change in the future.
Observed climate change is having significant impacts on the distribution of European flora and fauna, with distribution changes of several hundred kilometres projected over the 21st century. These impacts include northwards and uphill range shifts, as well as local and regional extinctions of species.
The migration of many species is lagging behind the changes in climate owing to intrinsic limitations, habitat use and fragmentation, and other obstacles, suggesting that they are unable to keep pace with the speed of climate change. Observed and modelled differences between actual and required migration rates may lead to a progressive decline in European biodiversity.
Climate change is likely to exacerbate the problem of invasive species in Europe. As climatic conditions change, some locations may become more favourable to previously harmless alien species, which then become invasive and have negative impacts on their new environments.
Climate change is affecting the interaction of species that depend on each other for food or other reasons. It can disrupt established interactions but also generate novel ones.
Progress towards the 2020 target of improving the conservation status of habitats covered by the EU Habitats Directive has not been substantial since 2010. This indicates that significant conservation efforts need to be implemented to revert current trends.
At the EU level, only 16 % of the assessments of habitats protected under the Habitats Directive have a favourable conservation status.
Bogs, mires and fens have the highest proportion of unfavourable assessments, followed closely by grasslands.
Conservation status trends are quite variable across biogeographic regions, however, more habitats are stable than decreasing in the terrestrial regions. There are still significant gaps in knowledge on marine habitat types.
At the EU Member State level, the majority of assessments indicate a low number of habitats with a favourable conservation status.
The 2020 target of improving the conservation status of species covered by the Habitats Directive seems to have been met. This apparent progress, however, is largely attributable to improved data and changes in methodology.
Similarly, there has been little progress towards the target for bird populations under the Birds Directive. This indicates that significant conservation efforts need to be implemented to revert current trends.
At the EU level, 23 % of the assessments of species protected under the Habitats Directive indicate a favourable conservation status. At the same time, 60 % of species assessments are unfavourable. There are still significant gaps in knowledge, especially for marine species.
Fish, molluscs and amphibians have a particularly high proportion of species that exhibit a deteriorating trend.
The conservation status of species varies considerably from one biogeographic region to another. At Member State level, more unfavourable assessments are showing a decline than those that are improving.
In the EU, over half of the bird species listed in the Birds Directive are considered to be ‘secure’, i.e. they show no foreseeable risk of extinction, decline or depletion. On the other hand, 17 % of the species listed are still threatened and another 15 % are declining or depleted.
The majority of European Union citizens have heard of the term "biodiversity", but less than one third know what it means. Additionally, most do not feel informed about biodiversity loss.
However, at least eight out of ten Europeans consider the various effects of biodiversity loss to be serious.
About a quarter of respondents have heard of Natura 2000 network, including 16 % who say they have heard about it but don't know what it is.
Since 1990, common bird populations have decreased by around 15 % in Europe (27 European countries). The decline of common farmland birds was more pronounced at 34 % in all countries with monitoring schemes - and 31 % in EU Member States - whereas common forest bird populations declined by 12 % over the same period.
Grassland butterflies have shown a significant rate of decline of 30 % between 1990 and 2013 in Europe (21 European countries). In the last 10 years, the rate of loss is slowing down.
By the end of 2012, EU Member States had designated 5.9 %, or a total of 338 000 km 2 , of their seas as part of a complex network of marine protected areas.
As such, the EU had not reached Aichi target 11 of 10 % coverage of its seas. However, the target was reached in certain regional seas (Baltic Sea, the Greater North Sea including the Kattegat and the English Channel, and the Western Mediterranean Sea)
European ‘core natural/semi-natural’ lands became more fragmented in most countries and on average between 2000 and 2006. Their 1 km 2 surroundings developed towards a ‘mixed natural’ and/or ‘some natural’ mosaic pattern with agriculture and/or artificial lands. During this time period, the loss of the core natural landscape pattern, due to the spread of artificial and/or agricultural areas, occurred particularly in parts of southern (southwestern Spain, southern Portugal, Sicily), western (Great Britain), central (western Austria) and eastern (western Romania) Europe.
In 2006, 35% of European forest lands were fragmented i.e. distributed as a mixed landscape mosaic pattern where forest is intermingled with natural/semi-natural non forested lands, agriculture and artificial lands in their 1 km 2 surroundings. On average in Europe, between the years 2000 and 2006, forests in a ‘core natural’ landscape pattern became more fragmented towards a mixed landscape mosaic pattern, even if this trend was not observed for more than one third of European countries.
Although more than 40% of European landscape units reported a net forest area increase during between 2000 and 2006, only in one third of the units did this gain result in a significant increase in forest connectivity. In most countries, the trend of the units in a high connectivity range was either stable or showed a decrease during this period. Landscapes with poorly connected woodlands represented more than 60% of the EU in 2006.
Since 2002, there has been a steady increase in the cumulative area of the Natura 2000 network. Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) increased in coverage from 450 000 to 810 000 square kilometres and Special Protected Areas (SPAs) increased from approximately 180 000 to 670 000 square kilometres. Ten countries have designated more than 20% of their territory.
The total ecological footprint for the EU-28 countries increased rapidly during the 1960s and 70s, and has remained relatively constant since the 1980s. The region’s total biocapacity, however, has changed very little since 1961. The picture is similar for the EEA-33 countries.
The pan-European ecological footprint has been increasing almost constantly since 1961, while biocapacity (1) has decreased. This results in an ever larger deficit, with negative consequences for the environment within and outside Europe. (1) The capacity of ecosystems to produce useful biological materials and to absorb waste materials generated by humans, using current management schemes and extraction technologies.
The main pathways for marine non-indigenous species (NIS) introduction in Europe´s seas are shipping (51%) and the Suez Canal (37%). These are followed by aquaculture related activities (17%) and, to a much lesser extent, aquarium trade (3%) and inland canals (2%). This is a pattern observed in all regional seas, except for the Eastern Mediterranean where introductions via the Suez Canal exceed those by shipping.
Trends in pathways show an increasing rate of introductions by shipping and corridors (in particular the Suez canal) since the 1990s, while aquaculture mediated introductions have been decreasing since the 2000s. This can be attributed to the adoption of effective EU regulation. Aquarium trade emerges as a lower but increasing pathway since the 2000s.
Available data shows that the seas around Europe currently harbor 1 416 non-indigenous species (NIS), almost 81% (1 143) of which have been introduced after 1950. These consist mostly of invertebrates (approx. 63%).
The rate of new introductions of NIS is continually increasing with 323 new species recorded since 2000 at pan-European level.
An increase in NIS introductions is observed for all regional seas. The most affected seas are in the Mediterranean, in particular in the Aegean-Levantine Sea. In this region over 160 new species have been recorded from 2000 to 2010.
Concentrations of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and ammonium have markedly decreased in European rivers in the period 1992 to 2012, mainly due to a general improvement in waste water treatment.
Similarly, concentrations of phosphate in European rivers more than halved over the period 1992 to 2012. The decrease in river orthophosphate is due to the measures introduced by national and European legislation, in particular the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, which involves the removal of nutrients. Also the change to the use of phosphate-free detergents has contributed to lower phosphorus concentrations.
River nitrate concentrations have declined steadily from 2.7 to 2.1 mg N/l over the period 1992 to 2012. Agriculture is the largest contributor of nitrogen pollution, and due to the EU Nitrate Directive and national measures, the nitrogen pollution from agriculture has been reduced and this is reflected in lower river nitrate concentrations.
More than half of the river and lake water bodies in Europe are reported to be in less than good ecological status or potential, and will need mitigation and/or restoration measures to meet the Water Framework Directive objective of all water bodies having good status by 2015.
Since 2000, an overall increase of deadwood has been observed in several countries, a sign of more biodiversity-friendly management practices, but also of large disturbances such as storms.
The ratio of felling to increment is relatively stable and remains under 80% for most of the countries across Europe. This utilisation rate has allowed the forest stock to increase.
The total area of nationally-designated protected areas in Europe  has increased over time and amounted to over 1,1 million square kilometres in 39 European countries in 2014. With more than 95 000 sites, Europe still has more protected areas than any other region in the world.
The total area of nationally designated protected areas currently covers about 21% of terrestrial territory and inland waters, although further expansion of the marine network is required to meet targets.
 A “Nationally designated area” is an area designated by a national designation instrument based on national legislation. If a country has included the sites designated under the EU Birds and Habitats directive in its legislation, the Natura 2000 sites of this country are included in the figure.
Between 2000 and 2006 the highest absolute increase in ecosystem coverage occurred in transitional woodland, mostly at the expense of woodland and forest. A decrease was observed in vulnerable ecosystems such as wetlands, heathland and sparsely vegetated land. Agricultural land coverage also decreased, with the majority of changes caused by urbanisation and intensification of agriculture, affecting, particularly, grassland and agricultural mosaics. Urban areas continued to increase dramatically. Rivers, lakes and coastal areas increased to a minor extent.
Europe has considerable areas of High Nature Value (HNV) farmland, which provide habitats for a wide range of species. Such areas are under threat, however, from both the intensification of farming and land abandonment. The mere presence of HNV farmland is not proof of sustainable management but promoting conservation and sustainable farming practices in these areas is crucial for biodiversity.
Organic farming has developed rapidly since the beginning of the 1990s and continues to do so. Between 2002 and 2011, the total area under organic agriculture in the EU-27 increased by 6% per year and in 2011 amounted to an estimated 5.4% of the utilised agricultural area (UAA) (EC, 2013).
For references, please go to http://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/biodiversity/indicators or scan the QR code.
PDF generated on 16 Jan 2017, 12:11 PM
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