Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 633–646 | Cite as

Hard times for Italian coastal dunes: insights from a diachronic analysis based on random plots

  • Marta Gaia Sperandii
  • Irene Prisco
  • Alicia Teresa Rosario Acosta
Original Paper


Multi-year temporal studies are invaluable tools for monitoring changes in biodiversity through time. However, their applications in coastal ecosystems are still scarce. We investigated temporal trends in coastal dunes analyzing a set of 858 randomly-sampled georeferenced relevés performed between 2002 and 2015 along Central Italy’s sandy coastlines. Specifically, we explored changes in species richness and cover of targeted sandy habitats, we investigated trends in the cover of selected psammophilous native species and we assessed patterns of invasion by means of regression techniques. We observed a significant decrease in species richness and cover of the dune grasslands habitat. The species-level analysis confirmed a negative trend for two characteristic species of dune grasslands, Cutandia maritima and Medicago littoralis, while revealing a similar decline for Crucianella maritima and for Ammophila arenaria subsp. australis, key species of mobile dunes. The most striking trends emerged analyzing patterns in the cover of an invasive alien species, Carpobrotus sp., which showed a concerning increase in shifting dunes. In conclusion, our analyses reveal concerning changes involving dune grasslands, and at the same time hint at “early warnings” of degradation processes traceable in shifting dunes.


Temporal trends Sand dunes Alien species Habitat conservation Coastal habitats Vegetation database 



We are very grateful to Francesca Izzi, Carlotta Fabbri, Silvia Del Vecchio, Marta Carboni, Riccardo Santoro, Cristina Berardi, Barbara Valentini and Alessandro Ialongo for participating in field sampling activities. We are also thankful to two anonymous reviewers for providing helpful comments which significantly contributed to improve the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10531_2017_1454_MOESM1_ESM.docx (19 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 19 kb)


  1. Acosta A, Ercole S, Stanisci A, Pillar VDP, Blasi C (2007) Coastal vegetation zonation and dune morphology in some Mediterranean ecosystems. J Coastal Res 23:1518–1524CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Acosta ATR, Carranza ML, Izzi CF (2009) Are there habitats that contribute best to plant species diversity in coastal dunes? Biodivers Conserv 18:1087–1098CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bazzichetto M, Malavasi M, Acosta ATR, Carranza ML (2016) How does dune morphology shape coastal EC habitats occurrence? A remote sensing approach using airborne LiDAR on the Mediterranean coast. Ecol Indic 71:618–626CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bertacchi A, Lombardi T (2014) Diachronic analysis (1954–2010) of transformations of the dune habitat in a stretch of the Northern Tyrrhenian Coast (Italy). Plant Biosyst 148:227–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biondi E, Blasi C, Burrascano S, Casavecchia S, Copiz R, Del Vico E et al (2009). Italian interpretation manual of the 92/43/EEC directive habitats.
  6. Bruno JF, Kennedy CW, Rand TA, Grant MB (2004) Landscape-scale patterns of biological invasions in shoreline plant communities. Oikos 107:531–540CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Buffa G, Fantinato E, Pizzo L (2012). Effects of disturbance on sandy coastal ecosystems of N-Adriatic coasts (Italy) in G. A. Lameed, Biodiversity Enrichment in a Diverse World, INTECH, pp 339–372 (ISBN 9789535107187). doi: 5772/47480Google Scholar
  8. Burnham KP, Anderson D (2003) Model selection and multi-model inference. A Practical information-theoretic approach. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Carboni M, Santoro R, Acosta ATR (2010) Are some communities of the coastal dune zonation more susceptible to alien plant invasion? J Plant Ecol 3:139–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cardinale BJ, Duffy JE, Gonzalez A, Hooper DU, Perrings C, Venail P, Narwani A, Mace GM, Tilman D, Wardle DA, Kinzig AP, Daily GC, Loreau M, Grace JB, Larigauderie A, Srivastava DS, Naeem S (2012) Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity. Nature 486:59–67CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Carranza ML, Carboni M, Feola S, Acosta ATR (2010) Landscape-scale patterns of alien plant species on coastal dunes: the case of iceplant in central Italy. Appl Veg Sci 13:135–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Castro-Díez P, Pauchard A, Traveset A, Vila M (2016) Linking the impacts of plant invasion on community functional structure and ecosystem properties. J Veg Sci 27:1233–1242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Celesti-Grapow L, Alessandrini A, Arrigoni PV, Banfi E, Bernard L, Bovio M, Brundu G, Cagiotti MR, Camarda I, Carli E, Conti F, Fascetti S, Galasso G, Gubellini L, La Valva V, Lucchese F, Marchiori S, Mazzola P, Peccenini S, Poldini L, Pretto F, Prosser F, Siniscalco C, Villani MC, Viegi L, Wilhalm T, Blasi C (2009) Inventory of the non-native flora of Italy. Plant Biosyst 143:386–430CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ciccarelli D (2015) Mediterranean coastal dune vegetation: are disturbance and stress the key selective forces that drive the psammophilous succession? Estuar Coast Shelf S 165:247–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Conti F, Abbate G, Alessandrini A, Blasi C (2005) An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora. Palombi, RomaGoogle Scholar
  16. D’Antonio CM, Odion DC, Tyler CM (1993) Invasion of maritime chaparral by the introduced succulent Carpobrotus edulis: the roles of fire and herbivory. Oecologia 95:14–21CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Del Vecchio S, Pizzo L, Buffa G (2015a) The response of plant community diversity to alien invasion: evidence from a sand dune time series. Biodivers Conserv 24:371–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Del Vecchio S, Prisco I, Acosta ATR, Stanisci A (2015b) Changes in plant species composition of coastal dune habitats over a 20-year period. AoB Plants 7:plv018. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. Díaz S, Fargione J, Chapin FS III, Tilman D (2006) Biodiversity loss threatens human well-being. PLoS Biol 4:e277. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  20. Drius M, Malavasi M, Acosta ATR, Ricotta C, Carranza ML (2013) Boundary-based analysis for the assessment of coastal dune landscape integrity over time. Appl Geogr 45:41–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fattorini S, Santoro R, Maurizi E, Acosta ATR, Di Giulio A (2012) Environmental tuning of an insect ensemble: the tenebrionid beetles inhabiting a Mediterranean coastal dune zonation. CR Biol 335:708–711CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Feagin RA, Sherman DJ, Grant WE (2005) Coastal erosion, global sea level rise, and the loss of sand dune plant habitats. Front Ecol Environ 3:359–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fenu G, Carboni M, Acosta ATR, Bacchetta G (2013) Environmental factors influencing coastal vegetation pattern: new insights from the Mediterranean Basin. Folia Geobot 48:493–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Géhu JM, Biondi E (1994) Antropizzazione delle dune del Mediterraneo. In: Ferrari C, Manes F, Biondi E (eds) Alterazioni ambientali ed effetti sulle piante. Edagricole, Bologna, pp 160–176Google Scholar
  25. Genovesi P, Angelini P, Bianchi E, Dupré E, Ercole S, Giacanelli V, Ronchi F, Stoch F (2014) Specie e habitat di interesse comunitario in Italia: distribuzione, stato di conservazione e trend. ISPRA, Serie Rapporti, 194/2014Google Scholar
  26. Gigante D, Attorre F, Venanzoni R et al (2016) A methodological protocol for Annex I Habitats monitoring: the contribution of vegetation science. Plant Sociol 53:77–87Google Scholar
  27. Hennekens SM, Schaminée JHJ (2001) TURBOVEG, a comprehensive database management system for vegetation data. J Veg Sci 12:589–591CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Isermann M (2011) Patterns in species diversity during succession of coastal dunes. J Coastal Res 27:661–671CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jandt U, von Wehrden H, Bruelheide H (2011) Exploring large vegetation databases to detect temporal trends in species occurrences. J Veg Sci 22:957–972CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Janssen JAM, Rodwell JS, Criado MG et al (2016) European Red List of Habitats. Part 2. Terrestrial and freshwater habitats. European Union.
  31. Jucker T, Carboni M, Acosta ATR (2013) Going beyond taxonomic diversity: deconstructing biodiversity patterns reveals the true cost of iceplant invasion. Divers Distrib 19:1566–1577CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kallimanis AS, Touloumis K, Tzanopoulos J, Mazaris AD, Apostolopoulou E, Stefanidou S, Scott AV, Potts SG, Pantis JD (2014) Vegetation coverage change in the EU: patterns inside and outside Natura 2000 protected areas. Biodivers Conserv 24:579–591CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Landi M, Ricceri C, Angiolini C (2012) Evaluation of dune rehabilitation after 95 years by comparison of vegetation in disturbed and natural sites. J Coastal Res 28:1130–1141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Malavasi M, Santoro R, Cutini M, Acosta ATR, Carranza ML (2013) What has happened to coastal dunes in the last half century? A multitemporal coastal landscape analysis in Central Italy. Landsc Urban Plan 119:54–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Malavasi M, Conti L, Carboni M, Cutini M, Acosta ATR (2016) Multifaceted analysis of patch-level plant diversity in response to landscape spatial pattern and history on mediterranean dunes. Ecosystems 19:850–864CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. McLachlan A, Brown AC (2006) The ecology of sandy shores. Academic Press, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  37. Medvecká J, Jarolímek I, Senko D, Svitok M (2014) Fifty years of plant invasion dynamics in Slovakia along a 2500 m altitudinal gradient. Biol Invasions 16:1627–1638CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Michalcová D, Lvončík S, Chytrý M, Hájek O (2011) Bias in vegetation databases? A comparison of stratified-random and preferential sampling. J Veg Sci 22:281–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Miller TE, Gornish ES, Buckley HL (2010) Climate and coastal dune vegetation: disturbance, recovery, and succession. Plant Ecol 206:97–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Novoa A, González L, Moravcová L, Pyšek P (2013) Constraints to native plant species establishment in coastal dune communities invaded by Carpobrotus edulis: implications for restoration. Biol Conserv 164:1–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pignatti E, Pignatti S (2014) Plant life of the dolomites. Vegetation structure and ecology. Springer, HeidelbergCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pinna MS, Cañadas EM, Fenu G, Bacchetta G (2015) The European Juniperus habitat in the Sardinian coastal dunes: implication for conservation. Estuar Coast Shelf S 164:214–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Poeta G, Battisti C, Acosta ATR (2014) Marine litter in Mediterranean sandy littorals: spatial distribution patterns along central Italy coastal dunes. Mar Pollut Bull 89:168–173CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Poeta G, Conti L, Malavasi M, Battisti C, Acosta ATR (2016) Beach litter occurrence in sandy littorals: the potential role of urban areas, rivers and beach users in central Italy. Estuar Coast Shelf S 181:231–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Prisco I, Carboni M, Acosta ATR (2013) The fate of threatened coastal dune habitats in Italy under climate change scenarios. PLoS ONE 8:e68850. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  46. Prisco I, Carboni M, Jucker T, Acosta ATR (2016a) Temporal changes in the vegetation of Italian coastal dunes: identifying winners and losers through the lens of functional traits. J Appl Ecol 53:1533–1542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Prisco I, Stanisci A, Acosta ATR (2016b) Mediterranean dunes on the go: evidence from a short term study on coastal herbaceous vegetation. Estuar Coast Shelf S 182:40–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. R Core Team (2016) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.
  49. Salvati L, Smiraglia D, Bajocco S, Ceccarelli T, Zitti M, Perini L (2014) Map of long-term changes in land sensitivity to degradation of Italy. J Maps 10:65–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Seabloom EW, Ruggiero P, Hacker SD, Mull J, Zarnetske P (2013) Invasive grasses, climate change, and exposure to storm-wave overtopping in coastal dune ecosystems. Glob Change Biol 19:824–832CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sperandii MG, Prisco I, Stanisci A, Acosta ATR (2017) RanVegDunes—a random plot database of Italian coastal dunes. Phytocoenologia 47:231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sytnik O, Stecchi F (2015) Disappearing coastal dunes: tourism development and future challenges, a case-study from Ravenna, Italy. J Coast Conserv 19:715–727CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Traveset A, Brundu G, Carta L, Mprezetou I, Lambdon P, Manca M, Médail F, Moragues E, Rodríguez-Pérez J, Siamantziouras ASD, Suehs CM, Troumbis AY, Vilà M, Hulme PE (2008) Consistent performance of invasive plant species within and among islands of the Mediterranean basin. Biol Invasions 10:847–858CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tsiafouli MA, Apostolopoulou E, Mazaris AD, Kallimanis AS, Drakou EG, Pantis JD (2013) Human activities in natura 2000 sites: a highly diversified conservation network. Environ Manag 51:1025–1033CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Van Der Maarel E (2003) Some remarks on the functions of European coastal ecosystems. Phytocoenologia 33:187–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Vellend M, Baeten L, Myers-Smith IH, Elmendorf SC, Beauséjour R, Brown CD, De Frenne P, Verheyen K, Wipf S (2013) Global meta-analysis reveals no net change in local-scale plant biodiversity over time. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110:19456–19459CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  57. Vilà M, Tessier M, Suehs CM, Brundu G, Carta L, Galanidis A, Lambdon P, Manca M, Médail F, Moragues E, Traveset A, Troumbis AY, Hulme PE (2006) Local and regional assessments of the impacts of plant invaders on vegetation structure and soil properties of Mediterranean islands. J Biogeogr 33:853–861CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di ScienzeUniversità degli Studi Roma TreRomeItaly
  2. 2.Envix-Lab, Dipartimento di Bioscienze e TerritorioUniversità degli Studi del MolisePescheItaly

Personalised recommendations