Nature protection and biodiversity - State and impacts (Portugal)
- Nature and biodiversity
In continental Portugal, there are over 3 000 species of vascular plants, around 400 species of vertebrate and an unknown number of invertebrates. In Madeira and the Azores, there are more than 1 700 endemic species which do not exist anywhere else (MEA; 2004).
In 2005, the revision of the Red List of vertebrates was concluded for Portugal, in accordance with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) system for evaluation and classification of species. Of the evaluations conducted for the whole territory, 47 % were considered to be “of least concern”, 12 % were data deficient and 41 % were included in the remaining categories of threatened species. In Portugal, there are 19 vertebrate species considered regionally extinct: the sturgeon, the grizzly bear and 17 rare species of bird (APA, 2008).
Figure 1 Vertebrates Red List evaluations
In general, the main threats are human-induced habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation and the introduction of exotic species. Between 2002 and 2006, the Institute for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity (ICNB) developed a LIFE nature project dedicated to the conservation of eight of the most endangered species of Portuguese flora. All the actions necessary to ensure the conservation of these species have also been incorporated into the Natura 2000 Sector Plan.
With regard to forests, “Mediterranean” Portugal, south of the Mondego river, is dominated by broad-leaved forest, namely cork oak, Holm oak, stone pine and laurel, together with olive, fig and almond trees. “Atlantic” Portugal, which is more similar to central Europe, is dominated by deciduous trees like the chestnut, the Portuguese oak, elm and ash (ICNB, 2010).
The eucalyptus, an exotic species which was introduced in the 1950s, is widespread all over the country. Due to its rapid growth, it is much in demand for the paper pulp industry, which is one of the main reasons for its rapid expansion (MEA, 2004).
Portugal has an important genetic pool of livestock diversity. There are a total of 45 native breeds officially registered: 15 cattle breeds, 15 sheep breeds, 15 caprine breeds, three swine breeds, four horse breeds and three poultry breeds (INE, 2009). Most of the Portuguese native breeds of cattle and sheep are at risk of extinction. For this reason a national strategy for the protection of native breeds has been introduced to preserve the genetic heritage and prevent native breeds from becoming extinct.
Bird populations can act as sensors, giving fairly good indications of trends in biodiversity. The Common Bird Index is an important tool for measuring the sustainability of policies and human activities that are reflected in the relative abundance of selected species (SEBI01). The Portuguese Common Birds Index provides information on variations in the population of common nesting birds. The base year for the Index was 2004 so it is still too early to make conclusive statements regarding population trends, nevertheless, it does seems that the situation is stable.
Figure 2 Common Bird Index
With regard to exotic plants, over 550 species have been introduced into Portugal’s continental territory and these have now been classified as casual, sub spontaneous or invasive (Marchante et al 2005, Almeida & Freitas 2006). Portuguese legislation, which is currently being revised, lists around 400 exotic plant species as having been introduced into Portugal and 30 of these are classified as invasive species. A national list of invasive plant species is continuously being updated, together with a list of other species which have a high ecological risk associated with their invasive potential.
With regard to the Natura2000 network, by December 2009 a total of 96 Sites of Community Importance and 59 Special Protection Areas had been classified for Portugal (EC, 2010), comprising around 22 % of the territory.
Among the most important conclusions from an evaluation of the conservation status of species and habitats (under the aegis of Article 17 of the Habitats Directive) are that:
· Most habitats have an unfavourable/inadequate conservation status,
· A considerable percentage of Macaronesian habitats received a favourable evaluation,
· Most species received an unfavourable/inadequate global evaluation,
· More than 40 % of species from Macaronesia have a favourable global evaluation,
· Amphibian and reptiles are the groups with the most favourable evaluations,
· Fish are the group containing the highest number of unfavourable/bad evaluations, particularly in the Mediterranean region.
Figure 3 Status of habitats and species
- Almeida, J.D. and Freitas, H. (2006) Exotic naturalised flora of continental Portugal – a reassessment. Botanica Complutensis 30: 117-130.
- Almeida, J.D. 1999. Flora exótica subespontânea de Portugal continental (plantas vasculares). 2.ª edição. Catálogo das plantas vasculares exóticas que ocorrem subespontâneas em Portugal continental e compilação de informações sobre estas plantas. Dissertação de Mestrado. Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade de Coimbra.
- APA (2008). Relatório do Estado do Ambiente 2007. Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente. Amadora.
- EC (2010). Sites of Community Importance, Update of December 2009.
- EC (2010) Special Protection Areas, Update of December 2009.
- ICNB (2010). ICNB presentation
- INE (2009). Indicadores Agro-ambientais 1989-2007. Instituto Nacional de Estatística. Lisbon.
- Marchante, H; Campelo, F. & Freitas, H. 2006. Avaliação do impacto de Acacia longifolia [Andrews] Willd. sobre a diversidade vegetal dos sistemas dunares (Dunas de S. Jacinto e Palheirão). In: Rodrigues, L.; Reino, L.; Gordinho, L.O & Freitas, H. (eds.) Actas do 1º Simpósio sobre Espécies Exóticas: Introduções, Causas e Consequências. Pp. 67-71. Liga para a Protecção da Natureza, Lisboa.
- Marchante, H., Marchante, E. & Freitas, H. (2005). Invasive plant species in Portugal: an overview. In: International Workshop on Invasive Plants in Mediterranean Type Regions of the World (ed. S. Brunel),Montpellier, France. Council of Europe Publishing, pp. 99-103.
- MEA (2004). Pereira, H.M, T. Domingos, and L. Vicente (editors). Portugal Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: State of the Assessment Report. Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa.
 For additional information on the Vertebrates Red List:
 For additional information on the National Plan for the Conservation of Endangered Species of the Portuguese Flora:
 For additional information on preservation of genetic diversity:
 For additional information on invasive species:
 For additional information on Natura2000:
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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