Ecosystems in the Alps are considered as hotspots of climate and land use changes. Socio-economic changes in past decades have caused several modifications in the land-use intensity of many mountain regions, and permanent pastures have experienced negative consequences, with effects on biomass production, quality of forage, botanical composition and biodiversity.
Natural pastures result from the combined influence of local environmental characteristics (mainly climate and soil properties) and centuries of managed livestock grazing. Properly managed pastoral farming is recognised as making a significant contribution to ecosystem carbon sequestration. European policies encourage low-carbon agricultural practices, but an accurate accounting of the carbon sink capacities of pastures in the north-west Alps, and the management practices that could enhance them, are not well known.
Climate change is affecting high mountain systems in different ways, such as water resources availability, advances in phenology, shifts in geographic ranges of some species or vegetation types, biodiversity loss and thus reduction in some ecosystem services related to natural resources. However, in many alpine regions, measures to manage alpine pasture in the face of climate change are still lacking, with only ad hoc policies for marginal areas to preserve mountain farming, promote mountain pasture conservation and extensive grazing.
The overall aim of the LIFE PASTORALP project is to reduce the vulnerability and increase the resilience of alpine pasture agriculture by assessing and testing adaptation measures, increasing capacity building and developing improved management strategies for climate change adaptation. The achievement of this goal will be based upon a solid science-based knowledge of future climate change impacts on pastoral communities located in two national parks, (the Parc National des Ecrins in France and the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso in Italy) in the western Alps, as examples of the alpine environment. Another goal of the project is the deployment of the PASTORALP platform tools for facilitating the development and adoption in the two parks of climate change adaptation strategies, which can then be transferred to other pastoral ecosystems across the Alps, along with the creation of guidelines and recommendations for adaptation planning.
In particular, the project will provide improved and alternative criteria for well-informed decision-making by enhancing the knowledge base at local, regional and national level on: (i) climate change projections targeted to the Alps, (ii) vulnerability of pasturelands, (iii) strategies for sustainable pastoralism and, (iv) the demonstration and evaluation of the effectiveness of the adaptation measures.
Expected results: The project will downscale future climate scenarios for the study areas by collecting homogenised pasture (six pasture typologies) and climate data (20 datasets) along with the definition of more than ten environmental and socio-economic indicators of alpine pasture agro-ecological systems status. Importantly, more than 30 stakeholders are expected to be involved throughout the implementation of the project. Additionally, the PASTORALP platform tools are likely to be positively evaluated and will further promote adaptive strategies in the western Alps.
Through the abovementioned specific actions and subsequent results, the main expected results are the following:
The project is expected to facilitate the development of climate change adaptation strategies for alpine pastures and pastoral activity with the deployment of guidelines and recommendations for adaptation planning, underlining the project’s relevance to the EU’s climate change adaptation. Moreover, the PASTORAL platform tools could also be a case study for the European Climate-ADAPT platform in terms of replicability transfer at a later stage. Finally, as mountain pastures are acknowledged as ecosystems crucial for maintaining biodiversity, the protection of such isolated areas will also contribute to the implementation of the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives.