STUDY SITE 3: Mariola Range, Spain

Responsible partner: CEAM

1. General information

Most of the present-day forests and shrublands in eastern Spain have been developed on abandoned agricultural lands where tree and shrub sprouting-species have been historically eliminated, reducing ecosystem resilience to wildfires. Thus, post-fire landscapes in the area are commonly dominated by shrub seeder-species. Moreover, as a consequence of increasing fire incidence and abandonment of agricultural practices, these shrubland communities have significantly spread in the Mediterranean coastal strip of Spain, further increasing fire risk due to their high combustibility, which has established a positive feedback between fire risk and land degradation. Under these conditions, and the projections of increasing fire incidence, vegetation management strategies to enhance ecosystem resistence and resilience to wildfires are a priority in vast areas of the Mediterranean Basin.

2. Geographical description

The study area covers a series of mountain ranges (Ayora and Mariola) located in the Central to South part of the Valencia Region, SE Spain. The climate is dry Mediterranean, with mean annual rainfall and temperature varying between 350-700 mm and 13-18ºC, respectively. The dominant soils in the area are Regosols developed over marls and limestone colluviums but shallow Leptosols and Luvisols developed over limestones are also found. The topography is characterised by moderate to steep slopes. Many of these slopes are covered by crop terraces that are currently abandoned and degraded.

Figure: Location of the Ayora and Mariola mountain ranges.

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

The landscape in the area is a mosaic of agricultural land and abandoned fields covered mainly by post-fire regenerating pine woodlands and shrublands with a variety of dominant seeder species and successional stages. Main goods and services provided by these ecosystems include regulating and supporting services such as soil and water conservation, cultural services such as tourism and recreation areas, and various timber and non-timber forest products, including forage, aromatic plants, mushrooms, honey.

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?

The recent increase in fire incidence in the area combined with the loss of ecosystem resilience due to past agricultural use and grazing have driven a shift in the composition of vegetation communities, from woodlands and shrublands dominated by resprouting species to shrublands dominated by seeding species. When these shrublands are burned, further changes in plant species composition may occur, being this transition process influenced by fire recurrence. Thus, in the study area, fire recurrence is considered to drive important shifts in plant communities (from woodland to shrublands, from heath-shrublands to open herb-sedgeland), and associated ecosystem functioning.

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, etc etc

  • Ministry of Environment (MARM, Spanish Government)
  • Regional Forest Services (Regional Government of Valencia, Generalitat Valenciana)
  • Research and Academic institutions (CEAM, University of Alicante, University of Barcelona, IAMZ-CIHEAM)
  • Ayora, Zarra, Enguera, Bañeres, Bocairent and Albaida Municipalities
  • Environmental NGOs 
  • Recreational and cultural associations

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

  • Land use change interactions with fire in Mediterranean landscapes (LUCIFER). European Comission (Environment and Climate Programme, nº env4-ct96-0320), 1997-2000.
  • Geomatics in the assessment and sustainable management of Mediterranean rangelands (GEORANGE) nº evk2-ct-2000-00091. 2001-2003.
  • Integrated analysis of forest fire risk using remote sensing data and geographic information systems. Ecosytems vulnerability to fire. (FIREMAP). Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, CGL2004-06049-c04-04, 2005-2007.
  • Fire recurrence in mediterranean ecosystems: consequences for regressive or progressive successional trajectories in a global change scenario (FIREMED) AGL2008-04522/FOR, 2009-2011.
  • Forest fires under climate, social and economic changes in Europe, the Mediterranean and other fire-affected areas of the world (FUME), European Comission, GA243888, 2010-2013.

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

  • Santana, V.M., Baeza, M.J., Marrs, R.H., Vallejo, V.R., 2010. Old-field secondary succession in SE Spain: can fire divert it? Plant Ecology, 211:337-349.
  • Chuvieco, E, Aguado, I., Yebra, M., Nieto, H., Salas, J., Martín, M. P., Vilar, L., Martínez, J., Martín, S., Ibarra, P., De la Riba, J., Baeza, M. J., Rodríguez, F., Molina, J. R., Herrera, M. A., and Zamora, R., 2010. Development of a framework for fire risk assessment using remote sensing and geographic information system technologies. Ecological Modelling 221, 46-58.
  • Valdecantos, A., Baeza, M.J., Vallejo, V.R., 2009. Vegetation management for promoting ecosystem resilience in fire-prone Mediterranean shrublands. Rest. Ecol. 17: 414-421.
  • Baeza, M.J., Vallejo, V.R., 2008. Vegetation recovery after fuel management in Mediterranean shrublands. Appl. Veg. Sci. 11, 151–158.
  • Baeza M.J., Roy J. 2008. Germination of an obligate seeder (Ulex parviflorus) and consequences for wildfire management. Forest Ecology and Management 256; 685–693.
  • Röder, A., Hill, J., Duguy, B., Alloza, J.A., Vallejo, R. 2008. Using long time series of Landsat data to monitor fire events and post-fire dynamics and identify driving factors. A case study in the Ayora region (eastern Spain). Remote Sensing of Environment 112: 259-273.
  • Baeza M.J., Valdecantos A, Alloza J.A., Vallejo VR., 2007. Human disturbance and environmental factors as drivers of long-term post-fire regeneration paterns in Mediterranean forest. Journal of Vegetation Science 18: 243-252.
  • Duguy, B., Alloza, J.A., Röder, A., Vallejo R., Pastor, F. 2007. Modelling the effects of landscape fuel treatments on fire growth and behaviour in a Mediterranean landscape (eastern Spain). International Journal of Wildland Fire 16: 619-632.
  • Baeza, M. J., Raventos, J., Escarré, A., Vallejo, V. R., 2006. Fire risk and vegetation structural dynamics in Mediterranean shrubland. Plant Ecology 187, 189-201.