Biologische Vielfalt XX 2011 XX Federal Agency for
The Habitats of Annex I and Climate Change
Although the impacts of climate change on the range of many species have been described
there is relatively little evidence for habitats in general or for the habitats listed on An-
nex I of the EU Habitats Directive in particular. However, if climate change continues as
predicted, changes to both distribution and species composition of habitats are expected.
There is increasing evidence of anthropogenic climate change, with increasing tempera-
tures and changing precipitation regimes while extreme events are becoming more fre-
quent. Indirect effects include rising sea levels and changes to river ow regimes. These
changes are usually attributed to a combination of factors including a rising concentra-
tion of CO2 in the atmosphere as a result of anthropogenic emissions (IPCC 2007). These
changes are resulting in changes to the distribution and phenology of many species (EEA-
JRC-WHO 2008; Settele et al. 2010) and if predictions for future climates are correct,
these changes will continue and increase in magnitude.
Annex I of the EU Habitats Directive lists habitats considered to be rare, threatened or
typical of the region in which they occur and the Member States of the European Union are
required to propose sites (known as Sites of Community Interest (SCI)), and if accepted,
designate and manage these sites as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) (european Com-
miSSion 1992). As most Annex I habitats are largely dened by plant communities, changes
in species distribution due to climate change could potentially have a direct impact on An-
nex I habitats, possibly changing the species composition of a habitat or its distribution,
and in extreme cases leading to its disappearance. Indirect effects are also likely to occur,
especially for habitats associated with coastlines or other physical features.
To date, there appear to be few published studies considering the impact of climate change
on habitats in general and the habitats of Annex I in particular. Literature searches using
‘habitats’ and ‘climate change’ mostly nd studies on the impact (current or predicted) of
the habitat used by a given species or studies which examine the impact of climate change
and habitat loss on single species or species groups. Despite the lack of published studies
on the impact of climate change to date, climate change was noted as one of the reasons
for changes in range and/or area by many Member States when reporting on the conserva-
tion status of Annex I habitats in 2007 (european CommiSSion 2009; Sipkova et al. 2010).
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As shown by Table 1, almost 1/5th of habitats were noted by one or more countries, with
habitats of the habitat groups dunes and wetlands being noted by 29 and 50 % respectively.
Table 1: Number of the habitats per habitat group for which climate change was noted by one or
more Member State as a reason for reported trends in range and/or area for the 2001-2006
report on conservation status required under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive (ETC/
Habitat Group N° affected by
climate change N° of habitats
in group % affected
Bogs, mires & fens 6 12 50
Dunes 6 21 29
Forests 16 72 22
Heaths 2 10 20
Sclerophyllous scrub 2 13 15
Coastal habitats 4 28 14
Rocky habitats 2 14 14
Grasslands 3 29 10
Freshwater habitats 1 19 5
All habitats 42 218 19
2 The Habitats of Annex I
The habitats of Annex I are described in a manual published by the European Commission
(european CommiSSion 2007). There were 170 habitats listed in 1992 when the Directive
came into force and this has increased to 231 today as the European Union has grown from
12 to 27 Member States. The initial list of habitats was based on the CORINE biotopes
classication, but more recent additions are based on the Council of Europe’s Palaearctic
classication (evanS 2006). The habitats are mostly based on a group of related plant
communities indicative for a habitat type with its typical plant and animal species and
its characteristic ecological features, with approximately two-thirds having a vegetation
type, usually a higher level syntaxon, either in the name and/or the description given in
the manual. Sometimes associations given in the names are misleading, as the agreed in-
terpretation does include the whole (sub-) alliance or at least a group of plant associations.
Examples are beech forests 9110 and 9130. However there are also a number of habitats
which are physical features such as ‘1160 Large shallow inlets and bays’ and ‘1620 Boreal
Baltic islets and small islands’ or landscapes such as ‘21A0 Machairs’.
The habitats are of differing inherent variability, varying from single plant associations to
habitats encompassing much variation, there are also variations in how the habitats have
been interpreted between the Member States and sometimes between regions of the same
country (evanS 2010). Figure 1 indicates the inherent variation for the 117 Annex I habi-
tats occurring in France, only 10 habitats are a single plant association while the maximum
variation is found within habitat ‘6210 Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies
on calcareous substrates (Festuco Brometalia)’ with 135 associations.
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Many habitats are dened by a mix of oristics and geography, often with reference to one
of the nine biogeographical regions, eg ‘6260 Pannonic sand steppes’. Habitats can occur
beyond the region indicated in their name and these occurrences are often of particular im-
portance, for example ‘3120 Oligotrophic waters containing very few minerals generally
on sandy soils of the West Mediterranean, with Isoetes spp’ can occur in northern France
in areas with a suitable microclimate.
Figure 1: Number of plant associations per Annex I habitat in France (based on BenSettiti 2001-
3 Predicting Changes to Annex I Habitats
The distribution of Annex I habitats, present day or future, can be modelled either by con-
sidering the habitat as a whole or by considering the component species and any physical
requirements of the habitat. The rst method effectively treats the habitat as a pseudo-
Ecological characterisation of plant communities such as that described by gégout et al.
(2005) give the most frequent and range of possible climate based on current day distribu-
tion and together with predictions of future climate can be used to predict possible future
distributions of the plant communities. Table 2 gives the temperature parameters for two
associations. Their is evidence to suggest that a rise in mean January temperature of 4 or
5 °C is likely to result in a change of plant community, other factors (e.g. soil chemistry)
remaining constant. However both associations are part of habitat ‘9130 Asperulo – Fa-
getum beech forests’ which includes beech woods on mesic soils across much of Europe.
The present day distribution of a number of Annex I habitats have been modelled by
müCHer et al. (2009) using a combination of physical factors such as climate, relief and
10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120 130 140
Associations per Annex I habitat
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soils together with the distribution of a small number of species per habitat. This was
relatively successful for woodlands and grasslands but gave poor predictions for river and
lake habitats as the chemical status of water was not available. This methodology could
be adapted as predictions of future climate and species distribution are available and the
authors hope to try this in the near future (C. müCHer pers. com.).
Table 2: Optimum temperature and range for two plant associations of the Annex I habitat ‘9130
Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests’ (based on gégout et al. 2007)
Association Mean January Tempera-
ture (°C) Mean July Temperature (°C)
Hordelymo-Fagetum -0.8 (-0.8 – -0.5) 16.1 (15.6 – 17.3)
Rusco-Fagetum melicetosum &
dryopteridetosum 4.6 (4.3 – 5.7) 16.6 (16.1 – 17.5)
For consideration of the impact of climate change the habitats of Annex I can be consid-
ered in groups, although some may fall into more than one group.
3.1 Habitats Dened by One or Very Few Species
9420 Alpine Larix decidua and/or Pinus cembra forests
9590* Cedrus brevifolia forests (Cedrosetum brevifoliae)
For these habitats a prediction of the future distribution of the species also gives a future
distribution of the associated habitat. Predictions for future distributions of species are
widely available based on a variety of methods (guiSan & tHuiller 2005; tHuiller 2004).
However these predictions need to be used with caution as they can only predict areas
where the conditions are expected to be suitable and the models used rarely take into ac-
count dispersal or whether a species would be able to become established or form the habi-
tat type (Huntley et al. 2010). Such models are also often used to predict the local extinc-
tion of species but again care is required. For example CaSalegno et al. (2010) predict that
the climate in the Carpathians will become unsuitable for Pinus cembra later this century
which suggests that the subtypes of habitat ‘9420 Alpine Larix decidua and/or Pinus cem-
bra forests’ with P. cembra would disappear from this mountain range. However P. cembra
is a long lived species, living up to 400 years (lauBer & Wagner 2000) and although
conditions may not be suitable for its full live cycle, it is possible that the existing trees
may remain for some time, a situation analogous to extinction debt described for habitat
loss (tilman et al. 1994). There is also evidence that many species are especially sensitive
to extreme climatic events (e.g. peterken & mountForD 1996, leBourgeoiS et al. 2010).
3.2 Habitats Dened or Largely Determined by Physical or Geological
8310 Caves not open to the public
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8340 Permanent glaciers
Several of the habitats in this group, such as caves and lava elds may change in species
composition with changing climate but will remain the same Annex I habitat. This group
also includes the only Annex I habitats which are currently directly threatened by climate
change – ‘8340 Permanent glaciers’ where there are well described losses with predic-
tions that the habitat will disappear in many parts of its current range within a few decades
(gruneWalD & SCHeitHauer 2010) and ‘7320 Palsa mires’ which are mires with an ice core
and are considered to be at risk of becoming extinct in the European Union by the end of
this century (Fronzek et al. 2010).
3.3 Habitats Partly Linked to Their Region
1620 Boreal Baltic islets and small islands
2340* Pannonic inland dunes
The Habitats Directive refers to 9 biogeographical regions. The map of the biogeographi-
cal regions is based on maps on potential natural vegetation (ETC/BD 2006) which in
turn are related to climate. The map is designed to be used at small scales and is likely to
be sufciently accurate for the near future. However, if climate changes as predicted the
boundaries of the regions will shift in time. metzger et al. (2008) show predicted changes
in environmental zones which can be correlated to the Biogeographical regions of the
Habitats Directive. This predicts that some regions will change more than others, with the
Alpine and Boreal regions decreasing in size, the Mediterranean expanding and the Atlan-
tic remaining little changed.
Many habitats are partly dened by their vegetation zone with many restricted to the Al-
pine zone, e.g. ‘6170 Alpine and subalpine calcareous grasslands’. It is widely predicted
that these altitudinal zones will move upwards (e.g. parmeSan 2006; Settele et al. 2010)
with the Alpine zone becoming much smaller and the range of associated habitats also
decreasing. There is already evidence for tree levels rising across much of Europe but this
is often attributed to changes in land use such as reduced grazing (améztegu et al. 2010).
4 Impact of Changing Climate on Other Factors
Many of the published studies of potential future distributions of species and habitats only
take into account climatic factors such as precipitation and temperature. However it is pre-
dicted that other factors which control the distribution of some Annex I habitats will also
change, such as sea level and hydraulic regimes of rivers and these need to be taken into
account. In southern Europe many rivers which currently ow all year are likely to become
seasonal (alCamo et al. 2007), with habitat ‘3280 Constantly owing Mediterranean rivers
with Paspalo-Agrostidion species and hanging curtains of Salix and Populus alba’ chang-
ing to ‘3290 Intermittently owing Mediterranean rivers of the Paspalo-Agrostidion’.
Coastal habitats such as dunes, seacliffs and coastal saltmarshes will clearly be impacted
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by rising sealevels as well as increased frequency of extreme storms with predicted losses
of intertidal areas and associated habitats such as ‘1140 Mudats and sandats not covered
by seawater at low tide’ (riCHarDS & niCHollS 2009). In some parts of Europe such as the
Baltic, sea level is rising while the land is also rising due to post glacial rebound leading to
a complex situation (joHanSSon et al. 2004).
For both coastal and riverine habitats there is a potential impact on biodiversity, including
Annex I habitats, from measures taken to protect existing land use, including infrastruc-
ture, from the impacts of climate change.
In many instances site management is likely to be important, and site managers will have
to decide if they want to facilitate adaptation to changing climate, possibly by encourag-
ing change or to try and maintain the habitat unchanged. For example, Fagus sylvatica is
considered to be native only in southern England although it is present throughout most
of Great Britain. WeSCHe et al. (2006) note that at present, F. sylvatica seedlings are often
cleared from woodland nature reserves in northern England, beyond the accepted natural
range of the species although it could be argued that these sites should be allowed to de-
velop to a ‘future natural’ state (peterken 1996) which might be ‘9130 Asperulo-Fagetum
beech forests’ or ‘9120 Atlantic acidophilous beech forests with Ilex and sometimes also
Taxus in the shrublayer (Quercion robori-petraeae or Ilici-Fagenion)’ on more acidic soils.
At present there is little evidence that climate change has had a signicant impact on the
majority of habitats listed on Annex I of the Habitats Directive and the major pressure is
changing land use. However this is likely to change if climate change continues as predict-
ed. The Annex I habitats with limited inherent variability are more likely to become locally
extinct than those which are more variable. Even where habitat distribution is unlikely to
change, changes in species composition are expected.
As the species composition of the habitats starts to change it may be necessary to redene
some habitats and possibly add further habitats, which may be existing habitats which
have started to become rare and thus qualifying as ‘habitats of Community Interest’ or
newly arising habitats types (HoBBS et al. 2009; WilliamS & jaCkSon 2007).
Zusammenfassung: Die Habitate von Annex I und Klimawandel
Obwohl die Auswirkungen des Klimawandels auf die Verbreitung zahlreicher Arten be-
reits beschrieben wurden, gibt es relativ wenige Aussagen für Biotoptypen. Insbesondere
für die Lebensraumtypen nach Anhang I der FFH-Richtlinie fehlen entsprechende Un-
tersuchungen. Wenn sich der Klimawandel jedoch wie angenommen weiter fortsetzt, ist
langfristig sowohl eine Veränderung der Verbreitung als auch der Artenzusammensetzung
vieler Lebensraumtypen zu erwarten.
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European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity
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