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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.
Negative effects on single species are often amplified by changes in interactions with other species, in particular for specialist species.
Land take by the expansion of residential areas and construction sites is the main cause of the increase in the coverage of urban land at the European level. Agricultural zones and, to a lesser extent, forests and semi-natural and natural areas, are disappearing in favour of the development of artificial surfaces. This affects biodiversity since it decreases habitats, the living space of a number of species, and fragments the landscapes that support and connect them. The annual land take in European countries assessed by 2006 Corine land cover project (EEA39 except Greece) was approximately 108 000 ha/year in 2000-2006. In 21 countries covered by both periods (1990-2000 and 2000-2006) the annual land take decreased by 9 % in the later period. The composition of land taken areas changed, too. More arable land and permanent crops and less pastures and mosaic farmland were taken by artificial development then in 1990-2000. Identified trends are expected to change little when next assessment for 2006-2012 becomes available in 2014.
The area covered by forests and other wooded land in Europe (39 EEA countries) has increased for many decades.
Forest biomass in the EEA region is also growing, and the average growth rate has increased from 1990 to 2010.
In some central and western areas of Europe, forest growth has been reduced in the last 10 years due to storms, pests and diseases.
Future climate change and increasing CO 2 concentrations are expected to affect site suitability, productivity, species composition and biodiversity, and thus have an impact on the goods and services that the forests provide. In general, forest growth is projected to increase in northern Europe and to decrease in southern Europe.
Fire risk depends on many factors, including climatic conditions, vegetation (e.g. fuel load and condition), forest management practices and other socio-economic factors.
The number of fires in the Mediterranean region has increased over the period from 1980 to 2000; it has decreased thereafter.
In a warmer climate, more severe fire weather and an expansion of the fire-prone area and longer fire seasons, as a consequence, are projected, but with considerable regional variation.
The impact of fire events is particularly strong in southern Europe on already degraded ecosystems.
Observed climate change is having significant impacts on European fauna. These impacts include range shifts as well as local and regional extinctions of species.
There is a clear poleward trend of butterfly distributions from 1990 to 2007 in Europe. Nevertheless, the migration of many species is lagging behind the changes in climate, suggesting that they are unable to keep pace with the speed of climate change.
Distribution changes are projected to continue. Suitable climatic conditions for Europe’s breeding birds are projected to shift nearly 550 km north-east by the end of the 21st century under a scenario of 3 °C warming, with the average range size shrinking by 20 %.
Habitat use and fragmentation and other obstacles are impeding the migration of many animal species. The difference between required and actual migration rate may lead to a progressive decline in European biodiversity.
Several European plant species have shifted their distribution northward and uphill. These changes have been linked to observed climate change, in particular to milder winters.
Mountain ecosystems in many parts of Europe are changing as plant species expand uphill and cold-adapted species are projected to lose climatically suitable areas.
By the late 21st century, distributions of European plant species are projected to have shifted several hundred kilometres to the north, forests are likely to have contracted in the south and expanded in the north, and about half of the mountain plant species may face extinction.
The rate of climate change is expected to exceed the ability of many plant species to migrate, especially as landscape fragmentation may restrict movement.
Many animal groups have advanced their life-cycles in recent decades, 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 more generations to be produced per year.
The observed trends are expected to continue in the future but quantitative projections are rather uncertain.
The timing of seasonal events in plants is changing across Europe, mainly due to changes in climate conditions. Seventy-eight per cent of leaf unfolding and flowering records show advancing trends in recent decades whereas only 3 % show a significant delay. Between 1971 and 2000, the average advance of spring and summer was between 2.5 and 4 days per decade.
As a consequence of climate-induced changes in plant phenology, the pollen season starts on average 10 days earlier and is longer than it was 50 years ago.
Trends in seasonal events are projected to advance further as climate warming proceeds.
The total area of nationally-designated protected areas in Europe (1) has increased over time. The total area of nationally designated sites in 39 European countries was more than 1 million square kilometres in 2009. In Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA countries), the area of nationally designated sites is at least 1.5 million square kilometres. 1.2 million square kilometres can be added to the area in the EECCA countries, the information about the year of the designation is missing, however (2).
This quantitative information needs to be complemented by a qualitative assessment of the efficiency and the representativeness of the network of designated areas including good management practices.
A "Nationally designated area" is an area designated by a national designation instrument based on national legislation. If a country has included in its legislation the sites designated under the EU Birds and Habitats directive, the Natura 2000 sites of this country are included in the figure.
For 39 European countries, there is 0,037 km2 of additional designated areas but without any information of designation year. For the EECCA countries, for 25 % of sites included in the database, no size information is available.
Around half of the species of Community interest (those species which, within the territory of the European Union are listed in Annexes II, IV and V of the Habitats Directive) have an unfavourable conservation status, with variation across biogeographic regions (1) . There are still significant gaps in knowledge, especially for marine species. (1) The reporting format uses three classes of Conservation Status. 'Good' (green) signifies that the species or habitat is at Favourable Conservation Status (FCS) as defined in the Directive and the habitat or species can be expected to prosper without any change to existing management or policies. In addition, two classes of 'Unfavourable' are recognised: 'Unfavourable-Bad' (red) signifies that the habitat or species is in serious danger of becoming extinct (at least locally) and 'Unfavourable-Inadequate' (amber) is used for situations where a change in management or policy is required but the danger of extinction is not so high. The unfavourable category has been split into two classes to allow improvements or deterioration to be reported. (Assessment, monitoring and reporting under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive: Explanatory Notes & Guidelines DRAFT 2 January 2006).
By mid-2008, most EU Member States were close to reaching the target levels for designation of Natura 2000 sites thought necessary to protect habitats and species targeted by the Habitats Directive. Twentyone countries had a sufficiency of above 80 % and the new Member States (EU-10+2) were doing well given their recent accession. This is measured against a threshold that is considered adequate to achieve a favourable conservation status for the species and habitats of concern.
To date, the Red List Index has been calculated only for bird species at a European level, so the information in the current indicator is limited to European birds. The overall risk of extinction among Europe's birds has generally been on the rise over the last decade. While the status of some species has due to conservation action, many more have deteriorated because of worsening threats and/or declining populations.
Two-thirds of EU citizens do not know the meaning of the word 'biodiversity', let alone understand what the threats and challenges to its conservation are. Most EU citizens have never heard of the Natura 2000 network (80 %). However, over two-thirds of EU citizens report personally making efforts to help preserve nature.
Biodiversity has served as a major resource for patent activity across a wide swathe of science and technology sectors ranging from agriculture to cosmetics, functional foods, traditional medicines, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and emerging developments such as synthetic biology. About 9 % of European patent activity relates to biodiversity, rising to 16 % if the full spectrum of pharmaceutical activity is included. After rapid growth, patent activity for biodiversity now shows a declining trend. The decrease from 2005 seen in Figure 1 is due to the time lag between the filing of a patent and its publication (2 years and more). This means that for recent years, the data may not yet be in the database (see Oldham and Hall, 2009). Additional work is required to link the data with wider economic and geographical information.
In countries that reported data, 85 % of stations reported no changes in oxidised nitrogen levels in transitional, coastal and marine waters in the period 1985 - 2005 and 82 % reported no change for orthophosphate. At stations that identified changes, decreases were more common than increases.
In the majority of European seas, the Marine Trophic Index (MTI) has been declining since the mid - 1950s, which means that populations of predatory fishes decline to the benefit of smaller fish and invertebrates.
In several countries, populations of native breeds, although generally well adapted to local circumstances and resources, remain in critically low numbers, being replaced by a few and widespread highly productive breeds, introduced for this purpose. The fact that native breeds make up only a small part of the total population, and that a high percentage of native breeds are endangered (1) indicates a risk of loss of biodiversity. Although data are available for only a few countries, these indicate that many native cattle breeds are endangered. The situation for sheep is also problematic. Overall, the situation is stable but negative. (1) According to FAO, an endangered breed is assessed on quantitative criteria as the total number of breeding females or the overall population size and the percentage of purebred females. Here, however, each country has its own interpretation.
The cumulative number of alien species introduced has been constantly increasing since the 1900s . While the increase may be slowing down or levelling off for terrestrial and freshwater species, this is certainly not the case for marine and estuarine species. A relatively constant proportion of the alien species establishedcause significant damage to native biodiversity, i.e. can be classified as invasive alien species according to the Convention on Biological Diversity. This increase in the number of alien species established thus implies a growing potential risk of damage to native biodiversity caused by invasive alien species. While the majority of the approximately 10 000 alien species recorded in Europe (DAISIE project) have not (yet) been found to have major impacts, some are highly invasive. To identify the most problematic species to help prioritise monitoring, research and management actions, a list of 'Worst invasive alien species threatening biodiversity in Europe' (15) , presently comprising 163 species/species groups, has been established. While invasive alien species are recognised as a major driver of biodiversity loss, the issue of 'alien species' may in the future need to be considered in the context of climate change and particularly adaptation. For example, as agricultural food production adapts to a changing climate, farmers may welcome the arrival of pollinator species that match the new plant varieties that are used. Indeed, the movement of plant and animal species together may be necessary to facilitate adaptation. (5) A species, subspecies or lower taxon, introduced outside its natural past or present distribution; includes any part, gametes, seeds, eggs or propagules of such species that might survive and subsequently reproduce. An invasive alien species is an alien species whose introduction and/or spread threaten biological diversity www.cbd.int/invasive/terms.shtml, accessed on 2 December 2008). (15) Based on expert opinion in the SEBI 2010 expert group on invasive alien species.
Climate change is having a detectable effect on bird populations at a European scale, including both negative and positive effects. The number of bird species whose populations are observed to be negatively impacted by climatic change is three times larger than those observed to be positively affected by climate warming in this set of widespread European land birds. The Climatic Impact Indicator, which illustrates the impact of climate change on bird populations, has increased strongly in the past twenty years, coinciding with a period of rapid climatic warming in Europe. Potential links between changes in bird populations and ecosystem functioning and resilience are not well understood.
Conservation status (1) is quite variable across the regions. A relatively large proportion of habitats (35 %) have a favourable status in the Alpine region but the situation is much worse in the Atlantic region where more than 70 % have an unfavourable status.That means their range and quality are in decline or do not meet the specified quality criteria. There are still significant gaps in knowledge on marine areas, except for the Baltic. (1) The reporting format uses three classes of conservation status. 'Good' (green) indicates that the species or habitat is at Favourable Conservation Status as defined in the Directive and the habitat or species can be expected to prosper without any change to existing management or policies. Two classes of 'Unfavourable' are also recognised. 'Unfavourable-Bad' (red) signifies that a habitat or species is in serious danger of becoming extinct (at least locally) and 'Unfavourable-Inadequate' (amber) is used for situations where a change in management or policy is required but the danger of extinction is not so high. The unfavourable category has been split into two classes to allow improvements or deterioration to be reported. (Assessment, monitoring and reporting under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive: Explanatory Notes & Guidelines DRAFT 2 January 2006).
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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