Passive recovery of Mediterranean coastal dunes following limitations to human trampling
Because of the important functional role that plants play in dune ecosystems, assessing their ability to recover following human disturbance is an important task for the restoration and conservation of coastal dune ecosystems. In this study we assess the effects of limitations to human trampling on dune vegetation in a protected coastal area of central Italy. Using a diachronic approach (studying community changes over time), we compared species cover and richness in two fenced sectors with that of an open sector that has been subjected to trampling over the course of a 4-year experiment. Random vegetation sampling was performed in the three dune sectors using geo-referenced points located with a GPS (10 points in each sector). At each randomly assigned point, all vascular plant species were sampled in a 4-m2 plot. Our results indicated a significant increase in species cover and richness in the fenced sectors, while both parameters remained relatively constant in the control. It appeared that by reducing the effect of trampling, the dune system started to recover some of the spatial structure along the sea-inland gradient that typifies coastal dune vegetation communities, and which was absent in the open sector. These findings highlight the great potential of fencing as a passive recovery method for improving the conservation status of degraded and trampled Mediterranean foredune habitats, as well as helping to gain a clearer picture of how the recovery process takes place. The results of this study are encouraging for managers and stakeholders as they show how a cost-effective and passive practice such as fencing can help restore ecosystem functioning within a relatively short time-frame.