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The Italian Peninsula:

A Hotspot of Biodiversity

Everyone is familiar with le meraviglie that the cities of Rome, Florence and Venice can offer. But did you know that Italy offers much more than just food and art?

Italy is a small but diverse country. At just about the size of Arizona and making up 1/30 of the European continent, Italy hosts 30% of all animal species and 50% of all plant species found in Europe. The country is home to an impressive number of life forms: 58,000 animal species of insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. It also has more than 6,700 plant species, from moss to lichens, trees and flowering plants.

Many of these unique forms of life can be found exclusively in Italy. Examples of these “Made in Italy” rarities include camoscio d’Abruzzo (Apennine chamois) and orso bruno marsicano (Marsican brown bear), both found only in the Apennine mountains of Central Italy. Other unique animals include the venomous salamandrina dagli occhiali (spectacled salamander) of the Apennine mountains in Basilicata e Calabria, and the chirocefalo del Marchesoni, a tiny red coral shrimp that lives in Lago di Pilato, a lake by Mount Vettore in the Marche region.    

The richness of lifeforms that roam the Italian territory is the result of its unique topography, geological history, climate events and its position at the center of the Mediterranean Sea. All of these factors make Italy one of only 33 hotspots of biodiversity in the world.

The elevation changes from sea level on the coasts, up to 15,774 ft at the top of Monte Bianco (Alps). The terrain continues to change through the flatlands of the Pianura Padana, the hilly countryside, and the high peaks of the Apennines and the Alps. This variety of landscapes has allowed many species to avoid extinction. During the climate shifts that occurred in the last millennia, animals were able to move up or down in elevation in search of more favorable conditions . The diversity in elevation, paired with the north-south orientation of the stivale (or 'boot shape' of the peninsula) and the presence of the Apennine mountain chain that acts as a barrier to wind and clouds coming from the Balkans, generates an incredible variety of micro climates that host many different life forms.

Moreover, thanks to its elongated shape, Italy acts as a land bridge for many species, especially birds, that every year migrate from Africa to northern Europe and back. Sicily, Sardinia, and many other smaller Italian islands also add to the number of ecosystems that result in this impressive kaleidoscope.

Italy offers numerous opportunities to experience its riches at a slower pace. Across Italy, from the mountains to the seas, there are 23 National Parks and 134 Regional Parks that are waiting to be explored. Each protected area has its own unique natural treasures: breathtaking landscapes, challenging climbs, idyllic beaches and leisurely walks through ancient forests. There is something for everyone.

And in a land where nature and humans have coexisted for thousands of years, good food and arts are surely never too far away. 

YouTube: I parchi italiani (IT)
Blog: 15 Best National Parks in Italy to Visit
Complete List of All Italian Parks & Reserves (EN)

Article written by Fabiola Iannarilli in collaboration with the ICC Editorial Team

The Italian Cultural Center of Minneapolis/St. Paul is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization
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