Italian Peninsula & Islands




Jennifer Hales




Fabrizio Bulgarini (WWF-Italy)


Major Habitat Type

Temperate coastal rivers

Drainages flowing into

Mediterranean Sea (including the Ligurian Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, Adriatic Sea, and Ionian Sea)

Main rivers to other water bodies

Rivers in the ecoregion include the Arno, Ombrone, Tiber, Volturno, and Ofanto. Lakes include Trasimeno, a large endorheic lake, as well as the volcanic lakes Bolsena, Bracciano, and Albano.



The northern boundary of this terrestrial ecoregion corresponds to the Piedmont zone of the northern Apennines and Maritime Alps. It includes the sub-ecoregions no.10 (Sardinia-Corsica) and no.17 (Italian Peninsula and Maltese islands) (Bulgarini et al. 2006). This ecoregion includes the rivers along the coast of Italy that drain the southwestern slopes of the northern Apennines from Liguria south to the Tiber River drainage, and then bisects the central Apennines to incorporate the entire central-southern peninsula from the Ligurian region (west coast) and south of Pescara (east coast). The ecoregion also includes the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, and numerous smaller islands such as Elba, Eolie, Egadi, and Pantelleria. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Venice drainages [415], and is otherwise surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, including the Ligurian Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, Adriatic Sea, and Ionian Sea.


The topography varies from the lowland plains of the Maremma, Agro Pontino, and Campania Plains on the Tyrrhenian coast; Tavoliere delle Puglie, which was once an ocean bottom now on the Adriatic coast; and Metaponto on the Ionic Coast to the Apennine Mountains, which form the backbone along the length of the Italian Peninsula (Gumiero et al. 2009). This chain is younger and shallower in relief than the Alps, although these mountains are rugged with steep peaks. It also varies in its basement composition, which is composed of mainly sedimentary Mesozoic-Tertiary rocks, including limestone, dolomite, marl, schist-marl, and sandstone (Doglioni & Flores 1997; WWF 2001). Paleozoic rocks such as granite, schist, micaschist, diorite, and gneiss are found on Corsica and Sardinia (WWF 2001). High peaks in the ecoregion include Corno grande (2912 m asl), Majella (2795 m asl) and Monte Velino (2487 m). The ecoregion also includes the stratovolcanoes Mt. Vesuvius (1281 m) and Mt. Etna (3329 m), the highest active volcano in Europe, and the tallest peak in the ecoregion.

Freshwater habitats

The rivers of this ecoregion are short due to the shape of the Italian peninsula and the Apennines that bisect this peninsula and divide the runoff on either side. Western-flowing rivers into the Tyrrhenian Sea are generally longer, branched, and meandering compared to eastern-flowing rivers into the Adriatic Sea, which tend to have fewer tributaries and are shorter, steeper, and more linear (Gumiero et al. 2009). There are also ephemeral rivers, such as the Amendolea in Calabria.

The largest river in the ecoregion and second largest basin in Italy is the Tiber River. It originates in the northern Apennines and flows roughly 400 km before emptying in the Tyrrhenian Sea south of Rome. The basin has unique karstic areas as well as lakes like Bolsena (114 km2), Bracciano (57 km2), and Vico (13 km2), which originated from collapsed volcanic structures. Its mean annual discharge is 225 m3/s, with its maximum discharge occurring during autumn and minimum during the summer (Gumiero et al. 2009).

The second longest river in the ecoregion is the Arno. Originating in the northern Apennines, it flows 245 km before emptying into the Tyrrhenian near Pisa. Its mean annual discharge is 90 m3/s (Gumiero et al. 2009).

Terrestrial habitats

Mediterranean flora is one of the richest in Europe, including more than 25,000 flowering plant species (Polunin & Walter 1987). This ecoregion encompasses five terrestrial ecoregions, including Italian sclerophyllous and semideciduous forests [PA1211] and Tyrrhenian-Adriatic sclerophyllous and mixed forests [PA1222] in the lowlands of the Italian peninsula and islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica; Apennine deciduous montane forests [PA0401] and south Apennine mixed montane forests [PA1218] at higher elevations of  the Apennine Range; and Corsican montane and broadleaf mixed forests in the montane zone (between 600 to 1800 m) on the island of Corsica [PA1204] (ECB/NTB 2002; WWF 2001). The Tyrrhenian-Adriatic sclerophyllous and mixed forests contain species such as holm oak (Quercus ilex), cork oak (Q. suber), downy oak (Q. pubescens), manna ash (Fraxinus ornus), and hop hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia). Many of these same species also occur in the Italian sclerophyllous and semideciduous forests, which is distinguished by stands of the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) that occurs along the Tyrrhenian slopes of the central Apennines. The higher elevations of the Apennines include characteristic species such as beech (Fagus sylvatica), black pine (Pinus nigra), dwarf mountain pine (Pinus mugo), Corsican pine (Pinus laricio), and the endemic Etna birch (Betula aetniensis). Higher elevations of the Corsican montane and broadleaf mixed forests include species such as Corsican pine, silver fir (Abies alba), beech, as well as subalpine shrublands with species such as alder (Alnus suaveolens), juniper (Juniperus communis), and maple (Acer pseudoplatanus). Relict common oak (Q. robur) woodlands occur in coastal wetlands on the Italian Peninsula and Corsica (WWF 2001). A typical habitat is represented by “Mediterranean maquis” with sclerophyllous species such as: Ceratonia siliqua, Pistacia lentiscus and species of the genera Arbutus, Daphne, Laurus, Phillyrea, Myrtus, Rhamnus and Viburnum. This Mediterranena ecoregion hosts 40 common tree species and another 50 less common. It also harbors important mammal species such as brown bear, wolf, wild cat, roe dear, and more than 40 species of bats. It also includes seven species of woodpeckers, many raptors, and more 40,000 species of invertebrates. Relict riverine forests are still present, although in the past they were extended up to 2,000 square km (Bulgarini 2006).

Description of endemic fishes

Species endemic to this ecoregion include the vulturino (Alburnus albidus, VU), horse barbel (Barbus tyberinus), Tiber rudd (Scardinius scardafa, CR), Trasimeno chub (Squalius albus, EN), Toscana stream chub (S. lucumonis, EN), Etrurian goby (Padogobius nigricans, VU), Fibreno trout (Salmo fibreni, VU), and Mediterranean trout (S. cettii) (Kottelat & Freyhof 2007). Most of these species are threatened according to the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2009).

Justification for delineation

Southern European ecoregions were delineated based on a bottom-up approach employing both published and unpublished field data and expert assessment (Abell et al. 2008). This includes information based on Bianco’s (1986; 1995) divisions of Italy. It is separated from northern Italy by the Apennines, which limit species crossings. This ecoregion is distinguished by its depauperate fauna, roughly a quarter of which are endemic (M. Kottelat pers. comm. Jan. 16, 2006).

Level of taxonomic exploration



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