The role of Italian coastal dunes as carbon sinks and diversity sources. A multi-service perspective
Coastal dunes support biodiverse habitats of conservation interest and provide other essential but often overlooked benefits to society, such as carbon sequestration, thanks to their high soil carbon accumulation rates. The recently established coastal dune Natura 2000 network in the Italian Adriatic coast aims at protecting dune habitats diversity, yet its capacity to provide other ecosystem services, and the potential trade-offs with biodiversity provision have so far not been evaluated. In this paper we conduct this analysis for a key ecosystem service: carbon storage and sequestration. We i) quantify soil carbon stocks and sequestration within four coastal dune EU habitat types along the Adriatic Natura 2000 network; ii) upscale these data to create an inventory of carbon stocks for all dune Natura 2000 sites in the study area; iii) collate biodiversity data of the selected EU habitat types using plant diversity measures as surrogates of coastal dune biodiversity and iv) explore the trade-offs between carbon storage and biodiversity value for the selected habitats. Italian Adriatic coastal dune Natura 2000 sites sequester 4998 t of CO2e per year, with the majority in wooded dunes. Wooded dunes showed significantly higher soil carbon density than the other dune habitats, and had a much greater area, but they were characterized by lower species richness. By contrast, the endangered fixed dunes, which survive in few residual patches along the study area, showed the highest plant diversity for both total species richness and dune focal species, but had a much lower carbon density and extent. Although further analyses of additional services would be desirable for a more comprehensive assessment, these findings suggest that conservation actions should favor restoration of the natural dune zonation, since it guarantees both dune species diversity and carbon storage. The carbon stocks and EU habitat type extents produced in this study constitute the first systematic inventory for dune systems in the Mediterranean.