Project

'WORLDCLIMB': Patterns of the climbing impacts on cliff vegetation of the Mediterranean Biome: implementation of an innovative and comprehensive methodology in a worldwide geographical range

Goal: In recent years, rock climbing has grown tremendously in popularity, placing pressure on cliff ecosystems. Although limited, these ecosystems can support a great diversity of species. However, few studies have assessed the effects of climbing activity on the vegetation of these habitats. Furthermore, the few existing studies were conducted at local scales. For these reasons, we aim here to carry out the first comprehensive study of climbing effects on a large-scale ecosystem: the Mediterranean environment. This is one of the most fragile environments on the planet due to its varied climatic conditions, but at the same time, one of the most biodiverse. Mediterranean environmental conditions can be found in several regions around the world, including the Mediterranean basin, Southwest of Africa, California (USA), central Chile and Southwest Australia. It is therefore possible for us to study the climbing impacts on Mediterranean environments in different locations around the world. This study will allow us to evaluate if there is a common pattern of the climbing effect. Therefore, we expect that our study will unify the systematics to be used in this field, and that this will create a precedent for the management and long-term conservation of these ecosystems.

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Martí March Salas
added a research item
In recent years, the popularity of rock-climbing has grown tremendously, setting an increasing pressure on cliff habitats. Climbing may be particularly harmful in the Mediterranean biome due to its appropriate environmental conditions for climbing. A few studies have identified the effect of climbing on plant diversity at a small-scale (namely locally or even just in specific climbing areas). However, no studies exist assessing the potential risk of rock-climbing on a broad-scale (e.g., regional or national). The study aims to identify the priority locations and priority cliff plant species in Spain to focus future study efforts. Spain was selected because it is a plant biodiversity hotspot, with a great diversity of endemic and endangered species, and one of the most popular destinations for climbers. We used a geographic information system-based approach to model the spatial concurrence among Spanish climbing areas (and climbing intensity), natural protected areas (NPAs), and distribution of threatened cliff plants (and their IUCN threat category). We found that 53.5% of climbing areas in Spain are located within a NPA, most of them falling into NPAs of medium protection level. We mapped 151 threatened cliff plants, identifying four medium priority Mediterranean locations and eight priority species in which future research efforts should be focused. High-priority study locations are absent in Spain according to our spatial modeling. For the first time on a national scale, this study identifies areas in which climbing represents a potential threat for cliff habitats and threatened plants. These findings contribute to designing field studies on the effects of rock-climbing on Mediterranean cliffs, laying the groundwork for a sustainable, yet challenging, balance between the protection of these unique habitats and rock-climbing.
Juan Lorite
added a research item
In recent years, the popularity of rock-climbing has grown tremendously, setting an increasing pressure on cliff habitats. Climbing may be particularly harmful in the Mediterranean biome due to its appropriate environmental conditions for climbing. A few studies have identified the effect of climbing on plant diversity at a small-scale (namely locally or even just in specific climbing areas). However, no studies exist assessing the potential risk of rock-climbing on a broad-scale (e.g., regional or national). The study aims to identify the priority locations and priority cliff plant species in Spain to focus future study efforts. Spain was selected because it is a plant biodiversity hotspot, with a great diversity of endemic and endangered species, and one of the most popular destinations for climbers. We used a geographic information system-based approach to model the spatial concurrence among Spanish climbing areas (and climbing intensity), natural protected areas (NPAs), and distribution of threatened cliff plants (and their IUCN threat category). We found that 53.5% of climbing areas in Spain are located within a NPA, most of them falling into NPAs of medium protection level. We mapped 151 threatened cliff plants, identifying four medium priority Mediterranean locations and eight priority species in which future research efforts should be focused. High-priority study locations are absent in Spain according to our spatial modeling. For the first time on a national scale, this study identifies areas in which climbing represents a potential threat for cliff habitats and threatened plants. These findings contribute to designing field studies on the effects of rock-climbing on Mediterranean cliffs, laying the groundwork for a sustainable, yet challenging, balance between the protection of these unique habitats and rock-climbing.
Martí March Salas
added an update
Assessment of the climbing impacts on the flora, mosses and lichens of the Mediterranean cliffs of Chile.
 
Martí March Salas
added an update
'WORLDCLIMB' - Climbing impact on cliff vegetation: first large-scale study on the worldwide Mediterranean biome
 
Martí March Salas
added a project goal
In recent years, rock climbing has grown tremendously in popularity, placing pressure on cliff ecosystems. Although limited, these ecosystems can support a great diversity of species. However, few studies have assessed the effects of climbing activity on the vegetation of these habitats. Furthermore, the few existing studies were conducted at local scales. For these reasons, we aim here to carry out the first comprehensive study of climbing effects on a large-scale ecosystem: the Mediterranean environment. This is one of the most fragile environments on the planet due to its varied climatic conditions, but at the same time, one of the most biodiverse. Mediterranean environmental conditions can be found in several regions around the world, including the Mediterranean basin, Southwest of Africa, California (USA), central Chile and Southwest Australia. It is therefore possible for us to study the climbing impacts on Mediterranean environments in different locations around the world. This study will allow us to evaluate if there is a common pattern of the climbing effect. Therefore, we expect that our study will unify the systematics to be used in this field, and that this will create a precedent for the management and long-term conservation of these ecosystems.
 
Luis R. Pertierra
added a research item
Questions: Is rock climbing pressure, together with microtopographic conditions, disturbing cliff plant cover and composition? What are the climbing impacts on rock specialist and non-specialist species? Can a case-control approach, not previously implemented in cliff environments, offer additional value for actual and long-term ecological research? Location: Chulilla, Levante coast, Spain.Methods: We surveyed in situ nine rock climbing routes in order to examine differences in plant species richness and vegetation cover between unclimbed and climbed transects. To evaluate the effect of rock climbing on vegetation, we implemented a case-control methodology using the two zones immediately adjacent to common climbing routes as control points (i.e. unclimbed transects). Three quadrats of 3 m × 3 m were established at different cliff heights. All identified species were categorized as either specialized rock species or non-specialized rock species based on their habitat preferences from literature. Non-specialized rock species were further differentiated as either moderately associated with rocky environments or strict generalists. The rock climbing impact on each group of species was analysed using LMM. Results: Our results provide evidence of the effects of rock climbing on a Mediterranean cliff, which has received little attention so far. Significantly fewer generalist species were present on climbed compared to unclimbed transects, while specialized and moderately specialized rock species were not significantly affected by rock climbing intensity. Furthermore, while rock-specific and moderately specialized species could cope with microsite heterogeneity, areas with fewer cracks had significantly negative effects on generalist species. Conclusions: Moderate rock climbing activity on cliff environments might not reduce the presence of specialized rock-dwelling species; however, this activity inherently impacts the biodiversity of cliff ecosystems due to its large effect on generalist species. We recommend that future conservation studies account for the degree of species dependence on rocky habitats to better understand rock-climbing impacts in these singular ecosystems. According to our experience, the implementation of an adjacent case-control survey design for monitoring cliff vegetation can help improve and unify methodology for such studies, as this is still an underdeveloped field.