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What is a tree in the Mediterranean Basin hotspot? A critical analysis

Abstract : Background: Tree species represent 20% of the vascular plant species worldwide and they play a crucial role in the global functioning of the biosphere. The Mediterranean Basin is one of the 36 world biodiversity hotspots, and it is estimated that forests covered 82% of the landscape before the first human impacts, thousands of years ago. However, the spatial distribution of the Mediterranean biodiversity is still imperfectly known, and a focus on tree species constitutes a key issue for understanding forest functioning and develop conservation strategies. Methods: We provide the first comprehensive checklist of all native tree taxa (species and subspecies) present in the Mediterranean-European region (from Portugal to Cyprus). We identified some cases of woody species difficult to categorize as trees that we further called "cryptic trees". We collected the occurrences of tree taxa by "administrative regions", i.e. country or large island, and by biogeographical provinces. We studied the species-area relationship, and evaluated the conservation issues for threatened taxa following IUCN criteria. Results: We identified 245 tree taxa that included 210 species and 35 subspecies, belonging to 33 families and 64 genera. It included 46 endemic tree taxa (30 species and 16 subspecies), mainly distributed within a single biogeographical unit. The countries with the highest tree richness are Greece (146 taxa), Italy (133), Albania (122), Spain (155), Macedonia (116), and Croatia (110). The species-area relationship clearly discriminated the richest central-eastern (Balkans) and northern (Alpine and Cevenno-Pyrenean) biogeographical provinces, against the five western provinces in the Iberian Peninsula. We identified 44 unrecognized "cryptic trees", representing 21% of the total trees. Among the 245 taxa identified, 19 are considered to be threatened (15 CR + EN + VU) or near threatened (4 NT) by IUCN. Conclusions: The Mediterranean-European region includes an unsuspectedly high number of tree taxa, almost 200 tree taxa more than in the central European region. This tree diversity is not distributed evenly and culminates in the central-eastern part of the Mediterranean region, whereas some large Tyrrhenian islands shelter several narrow endemic tree taxa. Few taxa are recognized as threatened in the IUCN Red list, and the vulnerability of these species is probably underestimated.
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Frédéric Médail, Anne-Christine Monnet, Daniel Pavon, Toni Nikolic, Panayotis Dimopoulos, et al.. What is a tree in the Mediterranean Basin hotspot? A critical analysis. Forest Ecosystems, Springer, 2019, 6 (1), ⟨10.1186/s40663-019-0170-6⟩. ⟨hal-02078441⟩

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