Shrines in Central Italy conserve plant diversity and large trees

Frascaroli, Fabrizio; Bhagwat, Shonil; Guarino, Riccardo; Chiarucci, Alessandro and Schmid, Bernhard (2016). Shrines in Central Italy conserve plant diversity and large trees. Ambio, 45(4) pp. 468–479.



Sacred natural sites (SNS) are instances of biocultural landscapes protected for spiritual motives. These sites frequently host important biological values in areas of Asia and Africa, where traditional resource management is still upheld by local communities. In contrast, the biodiversity value of SNS has hardly been quantitatively tested in Western contexts, where customs and traditions have relatively lost importance due to modernization and secularization. To assess whether SNS in Western contexts retain value for biodiversity, we studied plant species composition at 30 SNS in Central Italy and compared them with a paired set of similar but not sacred reference sites. We demonstrate that SNS are important for conserving stands of large trees and habitat heterogeneity across different land-cover types. Further, SNS harbor higher plant species richness and a more valuable plant species pool, and significantly contribute to diversity at the landscape scale. We suggest that these patterns are related not only to pre-existent features, but also to traditional management. Conservation of SNS should take into account these specificities, and their cultural as well as biological values, by supporting the continuation of traditional management practices.

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