STUDY SITE 2: Albatera Range, Alicante, Spain

Responsible partner: UA

1. General information

The Albatera range is located in Southeast Spain, one of the most desertification affected areas in Europe. Past exploitation and management activities, and harsh environmental conditions, have driven the site towards a highly degraded state. According to off-site impacts, indicators of land degradation, and the expertise of local stakeholders and managers, spontaneous reversion of degradation processes can not be expected at management time scale –e.g. one to three generations, even if most of the degradation driving forces have ceased. In response to this condition, a number of restoration programmes have implemented ns, ecosystem functioning needs to be repaired by restoration actions.

2. Geographical description

Albatera Range is located in the Alicante province, SE Spain (Figure 6.2). The climate is semiarid Mediterranean, with mean annual precipitation of 286 mm that falls mainly in autumn and spring, and mean annual temperature of 19 ºC. Most degraded areas occur on the south-facing slopes of the range. Slope angles are moderate (30%), and soils are relatively shallow, developed over clays and conglomerates, and with very low organic carbon content.

Figure Location and general view of the Albatera Range.

3. Main ecosystem(s) in the study area, and functions/services they provide

The main ecosystems in the study area are semiarid thermo-Mediterranean shrublands, which mainly provide recreational use and support marginal grazing by goats and sheep. Marginal agriculture (fig, almond and olive trees) also occurs in the area. The area includes a number of scattered Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) forest patches, which have resulted from past reforestation programs implemented in the area. These actions, mainly aimed at controlling erosion and floods, have yielded poor results and in some cases promoted ecological and management problems.
In recent years, a new set of restoration actions have been implemented in the site by the Valencia Region Forest Service and the Spanish Ministry of Environment. These actions mainly consisted of multi-species and spatially heterogeneous plantations designed to combat land degradation. The selection of plant species was focused to match the diversity of habitats, landscape functional units, and natural patterns in the target area. The main objectives of the restoration program were: 1) to repair ecosystem functioning by creating fully functional vegetation patches that contribute to the conservation of resources, 2) to increase ecosystem diversity and resilience, and 3) to prevent further landscape degradation and off-site damage.

4. Ecosystem dynamics – are there indications for irreversible change in the area, and that critical thresholds and tipping-points regulate such changes? And what are the drivers for change?

Land degradation has been driven by the synergetic effect of past exploitation and management –grazing, marginal agriculture, wood gathering– and harsh environmental conditions such as scarce and highly variable rainfall and soils prone to erosion. Further anthropogenic disturbances, such as terracing, roads, water channelling for irrigation, etc., have deeply altered soil surface and landscape. The main indicators for irreversible changes are:

  • Loss of ecosystem functions: water infiltration and nutrient cycling are not fully functional in the degraded area; productivity is therefore greatly reduced; plant cover in very low. The system is producing net losses of resources.
  • Deeply altered landscape patterns due to past and current land uses: terracing, irrigation works and channelling, and derived gullies and rills.
  • Off-site damage due to flooding. According to the Land Action Plan to Prevent Flooding in the Valencia Region (PATRICOVA, Regional Government), the Albatera-Crevillente range, which includes the pilot area, is one of the hot spots of flooding risk in the province of Alicante.

The restoration actions implemented in the study site during the last decade aimed to stop and reverse land degradation.

5. Relevant end-users of knowledge in the region / country (like natural resource and biodiversity managers, local/regional/national authorities, users or beneficiaries of ecosystem services

  • Ministry of Environment (MARM, Spanish Government)
  • Regional Forest Services (Regional Government of Valencia, Generalitat Valenciana)
  • Research and Academic institutions (CEAM Foundation, University of Alicante, University of Barcelona, IAMZ-CIHEAM
  • Albatera Municipality
  • Environmental NGOs 
  • Recreational and cultural associations, including hunting associations

6. Past and on-going projects on ecosystem functioning, thresholds, and related aspects

  • Prevention and Restoration Actions to Combat Desertification. An Integrated Assessment (PRACTICE), GA226818. EC-funded Support Action, 2009-2012.
  • Gradual and sudden climate changes and environmental impacts (GRACCIE), CSD2007-00067. CONSOLIDER-INGENIO 2010, Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, 2007-2011.
  • Interactions between diversity and function in degraded drylands. Effects on restoration (FUNDIVFOR), (FPA/2009/035). Fundación Biodiversidad, Gerónimo Forteza Program, 2009.
  • Restoration strategies to combat desertification in a context of climate change. Effects on water balances (ESTRÉS), 063/SGTB/2007/7.1. Nacional Program of Science and Environmental Technologies. National Plan on Research and Innovation, Spanish Ministry of Environment, 2007-2009.
  • Evaluation of ecological restoration techniques for restoring Mediterranean ecosystems (TRESECO), CGL2005-07946-C02-02/BOS. Biodiversity National Program, Ministry of Education and Science. 2005-2008.
  • Restoration Actions to combat desertification in the Northern Mediterranean (REACTION). EC-funded Accompanying Measure. 2003-2005.

7. Key references about ecosystem dynamics in the study area or wider spatial setting

  • Bautista S., Orr B.J., Alloza J.A., and Vallejo V.R. 2010. Evaluation of the restoration of dryland ecosystems in the northern Mediterranean: Implications for Practice. Chapter 18. In: M-F Courel and G. Schneier-Madanes (eds.) Water in Arid and Semi-arid Zones. Advances in global change research. Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp. 295-310.
  • Zucca C., Bautista, S., Previtali, F. 2009. Desertification: Prevention and Restoration. In R. Lal (ed.), Encyclopedia of Soil Science, Second Edition. Taylor & Francis Group, New York, US.
  • Chirino, E. Vilagrosa, A., Cortina, J., Valdecantos, A., Fuentes, D., Trubat, R., Luis, V.C., Puértolas, J., Bautista, S., Baeza, J., Peñuelas J.L., Vallejo, V.R. 2009. Ecological Restoration in Degraded Drylands. In: Steven P. Grossberg (ed.), Forest Management. Nova Publishers. 
  • Bautista S., Aronson, J., Vallejo, R. (editores). 2009. Land Restoration to Combat Desertification. Innovative Approaches, Quality Control and Project Evaluation. Fundación CEAM. 168 pp.
  • Cortina, J., Maestre, F.T., Ramírez, D.A. 2009. Innovations in Semiarid Land Restoration. The case of Stipa tenacissima L. Steppes. In S. Bautista, J. Aronson, and R. Vallejo (editores). Land Restoration to Combat Desertification. Innovative Approaches, Quality Control and Project Evaluation. Fundación CEAM, pp. 121-144.
  • Pausas, J.G., Bladé, C., Valdecantos, A., Seva, J.P., Fuentes, D., Alloza, J.A., Vilagrosa, A., Bautista, S., Cortina, J., Vallejo R., 2004. Pines and oaks in the restoration of Mediterranean landscapes: New perspectives for an old practice – A review. Plant Ecology 171: 209-220