The hidden magic of Mediterranean forests

A PhD untangles how the vibrant tapestry of life shapes the Mediterranean forests, revealing how diversity strengthens their resilience and unlocks secrets to a greener future.

Experimental site in Bordeaux, France. Photo: T. Chahine

In the heart of the Mediterranean, a silent drama unfolds among the trees, roots, and creatures that call these forests home. My Ph.D. journey, conducted between the University of Sassari in Sardinia, Italy, and INRAe in Bordeaux, France, revealed fascinating insights into how biodiversity shapes the very fabric of our natural world.

Experimental site in Sardinia, Italy. Photo: T. Chahine

Scientists have long known that biodiversity plays a crucial role in the health and functionality of ecosystems. While most early research focused on grasslands, the spotlight has recently shifted to tree ecosystems, revealing a tapestry of interactions that are both intricate and vital.

One of the most captivating discoveries is the powerful bond between biodiversity and productivity. The more diverse a forest, the more robust its growth and resilience. However, the real magic happens below the surface and within the ecological context. The exact impact of biodiversity depends on who is living in the community and the environment around them.

My exploration took me deep into the Mediterranean’s mixed forests, where the Water Stress Gradient Hypothesis (SGH) came into play. This theory helps explain how forests respond to changes in water availability, a critical factor in our increasingly dry world. I also delved into how the diversity of tree species affects their relationships with herbivores and other creatures.

But the story doesn’t end with the trees. Beneath the forest floor lies a hidden world of root systems and fungal networks that play a crucial role in carbon sequestration. These underground alliances help lock away carbon, a vital process in the fight against climate change. Additionally, I discovered how chlorophyll a fluorescence, a measure of plant health, shapes the dynamics of these vibrant ecosystems.

Conducting analysis on collected samples in the laboratory as part of my research on Mediterranean forest ecosystems. Photo: T. Chahine

Studying both single-species forests (monocultures) and mixed-species forests revealed a treasure trove of insights. I learned how tree diversity and species identity impact ecological processes and contribute to the conservation of these precious habitats.

One of the most exciting parts of this journey was uncovering the strategies trees use to adapt to different environmental conditions, especially when dealing with herbivores. Understanding these mechanisms can help us make science-based recommendations for managing forests more sustainably.

In conclusion, my exploration into the Mediterranean forests has shed light on the complex relationships between tree species diversity, water availability, and ecosystem health. These findings underscore the ecological and economic benefits of mixed forest plantations and highlight their resilience in the face of climate change.

The Mediterranean forests hold lessons for all of us, showing how nature-based solutions can combat climate change and protect biodiversity. As we look to the future, these forests stand as a testament to the power of diversity and the promise of a greener, more sustainable world.

“Dr. Tony Chahine, The potential of Biodiversity for Adaptation Strategies to Global Change in Mediterranean Ecosystems. PhD thesis in Agrometeorology and Ecophysiology of Agricultural and Forest Systems, University of Sassari.”

Download the complete PhD thesis

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Tony Chahine
With a PhD in Forest Engineering, my background includes managing forest ecosystem restoration projects in Lebanon for an NGO. Researching biodiversity's role in Mediterranean ecosystem adaptation was my focus during my Ph.D. in Italy. Currently, as a climate advisor at Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC) in Italy, my work centers on assessing climate change impacts on soil health and biodiversity.