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Is vegetation an indicator for evaluating the impact of tourism on the conservation status of Mediterranean coastal dunes?

Pinna, M.S., Bacchetta, G., Cogoni, D., Fenu, G.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.674 pp. 255-263
anthropogenic activities, coasts, conservation status, dunes, humans, indigenous species, plants (botany), tourism, trampling damage, vegetation
Mediterranean coastal dunes are threatened by several factors; particularly, tourism causes modifications to the vegetation and the disappearance of endemic species. Understanding the dunes' conservation status is crucial for preserving these vulnerable environments through appropriate management strategies.This study was conducted on 17 Sardinian coastal dunes, with different levels of touristic pressure. We focused on endemic plant species and developed a new endemicity index (EI).Our study aimed: 1) to assess the conservation status by applying the diversity indices; 2) to verify if the study sites would reveal a general pattern based on different degrees of human disturbance and 3) to test the effectiveness of the EI index.Four m2 plots (2 × 2 m) were placed along orthogonal transects to the coastline (446 plots in total), in which all plant species were identified, and their relative abundance was estimated.We found significant differences among the sites for Hdune and EI values but no statistically significant differences in the N values. The EI showed the high naturalistic value of Sardinian coastal dunes and allowed us to distinguish the sites with higher anthropic pressure.We found significant differences in the indices among the degrees of human disturbance in the coastal systems. The Hdune values were positively related to a medium level of human disturbance, and the EI allowed us to distinguish the sites with varying levels of human disturbance, although it differentiated better those with the highest anthropic pressure. A medium level of human disturbance was positively related to the plant richness and cover, and human trampling could be tolerated by psammophilous vascular plants.Results showed a satisfactory conservation status of Sardinian dune systems and highlighted diversity indices as valuable support for implementing a conservation strategy, compatible with the tourism purposes and the integrated management of the Mediterranean coastal dune systems.