Climatic Representativeness of ECOPOTENTIAL Protected Areas

Carl Beierkuhnlein1, Samuel Hoffmann1 & Antonello Provenzale2

1Dept. of Biogeography, University of Bayreuth, Germany

2Institute of Geosciences and Earth Resources, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Pisa, Italy

The call launched by the European Union in 2014 asked proposals to “…provide a full picture of the state and temporal evolution of ecosystems in existing internationally recognised protected areas.” (Horizon 2020 call SC5-16-2014 “Making Earth Observation and Monitoring Data usable for ecosystem modelling and services”). For this reason, in the ECOPOTENTIAL project funded under this call, we focus on a set of Protected Areas (PAs) of global importance.

The ECOPOTENTIAL PAs are distributed over the whole continent of Europe, including European islands in the Mediterranean and overseas (Fig. 1). These PAs sample the great variety of ecological conditions and address the most important biogeographical regions across Europe (Fig. 2). A range of particularly vulnerable ecosystems such as semi-arid drylands, coastal areas and mountain ecosystems is included. ECOPOTENTIAL is aiming to assess the state and future development of these sites based on existing information and data, making best use of Remote Sensing observations and developing ecosystem models capable to incorporate Earth Observation data and aimed at predicting future ecosystem conditions. Through this approach, a large portion of European biological diversity is addressed.

Here, we demonstrate the representativeness of the ECOPOTENTIAL PAs for the conditions of the European network of protected areas and also for the overall climatic conditions and biogeographical regions of Europe. This overview is mainly based on the Database on National Designated Areas (EEA 2016) and on the very comprehensive World Database on Protected Areas (IUCN-WCPA and UNEP-WCMC 2016). Please note that a single ECOPOTENTIAL PA may comprise more than one protected area extracted from these databases. For instance, the Wadden Sea and Dutch Delta as it is part of ECOPOTENTIAL includes several protected areas of various designations (Fig. 1). Moreover, almost all the single ECOPOTENTIAL PAs belong to different categories simultaneously (e.g., National Parks and World Heritage and Natura 2000 sites). Therefore, as here we analyze and count the PAs by category and not by geographical site, the number of protected areas that are included in this analysis and assigned to ECOPOTENTIAL differs from the number of geographical sites that take part to ECOPOTENTIAL as the same geographical site may be counted more than once.

The climatic space of the European continent and of the ECOPOTENTIAL PAs is calculated based on 2.5 arc min grid cells (approx. 5 km), excluding Kazakhstan and Greenland, but including Iceland, Svalbard, Canary Islands, Acores, Turkey, Russia to the Ural Mts. Sources for climatic information are Hijmans et al. (2005) for Annual Mean Temperature, Annual Precipitation, Jones et al. (2009) for Solar radiation and Trabucco & Zorner (2009) for Potential Evapotranspiration.

The results of our analysis clearly show that the selection of ECOPOTENTIAL PAs properly represents several characteristics of European terrestrial PAs such as size (Fig. 3), age (time since establishment) (Fig. 4), species richness of threatened or listed species (Natura 2000, Unit Nature & Biodiversity, DG Env, EC 2016) (Fig. 5), and the attribution to biogeographical regions (Fig. 2). Generally, the selection of ECOPOTENTIAL PAs satisfies the criterion to assess a wide range of characteristics of the terrestrial environments of Europe. The range of European climatic conditions is correctly captured (Fig. 6 & 7), an important fact in face of the current and expected climatic changes. Some deficit has been identified in arctic environments. Additional needs may exist in boreal forest ecosystems, but most PAs in that type of environment do not comply to the major criteria of ECOPOTENTIAL selection, such as global importance.

A strategy for coping with the few limitations detected in the selection of PAs is based on adding a few further sites to the set of project PAs. Contacts and negotiations with additional PAs are on the way, based on the quantitative analysis of spatial and ecological gaps. After this, methods to translate the ECOPOTENTIAL findings to others PAs and other environmental conditions will be implemented.



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EEA (2016), Nationally Designated Areas (CDDA), June/2016. Copenhagen, Denmark. Available at:

Hijmans, R. J., Cameron, S. E., Parra, J. L., Jones, P. G., & Jarvis, A. (2005). Very high resolution interpolated climate surfaces for global land areas. International Journal of Climatology, 25(15), 1965-1978.

IUCN and UNEP-WCMC (2016), The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), May/2016. Cambridge, UK: UNEP- WCMC. Available at:

Jones, P.G., Thornton, P.K., Heinke, J. (2009). Generating characteristic daily weather data using downscaled climate model data from the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS); Waen Associates; International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Trabucco, A., & Zomer, R. J. (2009). Global aridity index (global-aridity) and global potential evapo-transpiration (global-PET) geospatial database. CGIAR Consortium for Spatial Information. Published online, available from the CGIAR-CSI GeoPortal at: http://www. csi. cgiar. org/(2009). Global Aridity Index (Global-Aridity) and Global Potential Evapo-Transpiration (Global-PET) Geospatial Database. CGIAR Consortium for Spatial Information, Washington, D.C., USA.

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