Forests & shrubland

Authors: Eleni Briassoulis, Agostino Ferrara

Editor's note 10Sept12: Add googlemap of forests & shrubland study sites and part of table from  study site landing page with study site names.

Forests & shrubland occupy around 30 percent (3.9 billion ha) of the total world terrestrial land area according to the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FAO 2006). In the Mediterranean region, they cover 73 million hectares, in China 197 million hectares and in Morocco 4.4 million hectares. The Global Forest Resources Assessment distinguishes four global categories of forests/shrublands as shown in Table below.


Major forest types Main forest type characteristics
Primary forest no clearly visible indications of human activities and management
Natural forests clearly visible indications of human activities with naturally regenerated native species
Semi-natural forests forest composed by native species mainly established through planting, seeding or assisted natural regeneration
Forest plantations forests of introduced species and in some cases native species, established through planting or seeding:
•    Productive forest plantations
•    Protective forest plantations

Source: (FAO 2006)

Forests & shrubland systems provide important ecosystem services. Provisioning services include timber products (raw materials), non-wood forest products (NWFPs), renewable energy, food (nuts, mushrooms, fruits, honey, spices, herbs, and flavourings), biochemical products, pasture (fodder for cattle, sheep and swine) and genetic resources. Regulating services include climate and microclimate regulation, carbon sequestration, water regulation, drought mitigation, protection/prevention against soil erosion and mitigation of natural hazards. Supporting services include regulation/mitigation of disturbances, recovery/generation of soil fertility, water and air purification and control, and biodiversity conservation. Finally, cultural services include educational values, cultural diversity and identity, social values, inspiration, aesthetics, recreation, and (eco)tourism. Inappropriate management practices in forests/shrublands may impair these ecosystem services and produce significant disservices such as land and ecosystem fragmentation, increase of soil erosion and compaction, phytosanitary deterioration of forest cover, water stress, loss in wildlife and loss of cultural functions.

Forests & shrubland are facing various LEDD issues that are driven by the demand for (a) land to meet the needs of agriculture and grazing, (b) renewable energy and natural resources, (c) housing and other urban functions; (d) tourism development as well as by the over-exploitation of land resources. These drivers set in motion various degradation processes and generate LEDD problems such as land degradation and desertification, forest productivity decline, soil organic matter decline, biodiversity loss, loss of water storage capacity, among many others.

Responses to LEDD in forests & shrubland vary with the spatial level on which they occur as well as on the general and specific mode of production in a particular forests & shrubland region. Those responses may have either positive or negative impacts depending on the biophysical and the human context. Positive responses may be generally considered the various protection practices such as forest management plans, fire protection plans soil erosion protection plans, grazing control and landslides protection. Other examples include the implementation of adaptive forest management methods and the adoption of principles of ‘close-to-nature-silviculture’ (Gayer 1898).

Negative responses can be generally considered the absence of forest management plans, overexploitation of natural resources, land abandonment leading to general forest degradation, soil erosion and desertification. 

Land use change, planned or spontaneous, figures as an important response to LEDD whose impacts depend on the type of change; for example, conversion of forests & shrubland into urban settlements or tourism development usually produces unwanted environmental impacts. On the other hand, afforestation and reforestation usually produce beneficial environmental impacts.

To better understand the responses to LEDD in forests & shrubland, to develop methods and techniques for their assessment and to provide land management and policy support for alleviating the pertinent LEDD issues, LEDDRA develops the »theory of responses, offers »response assessment methods, analyzes the »policy context and provides applications in selected study sites in Mediterranean coastal and upland study site in »Matera prefecture (Italy) and »Baixo Guadiana study site (Spain and Portugal). The main findings of this analysis are presented in the »Synthesis section.


  • FAO (2006) Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005. FAO Forestry Paper 147. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.
  • Gayer, K. (1898) Der Waldbau. Berlin, Parey.
2014-11-28 10:48:39