The LTER Montado site was officially created in 2011 after being selected in the frame of a competitive call open by the national Science and Technology Foundation and having an international evaluation panel.
Located in the Alentejo province (southwestern Iberia) it represents a unique agro-silvo-pastoral ecosystem (named montado, or dehesa in Spain) found only in the Mediterranean basin. These savannah-like landscapes, dominated by cork (Quercus suber) or holm (Q. rotundifolia) oaks, with understory vegetation ranging from shrubs to grasslands, were shaped over millennia of traditional land use practices, and have high socio-economic and conservation value. These multi-use forests combine, in a single space, forest harvesting, livestock husbandry, pastures and/or crops, with other uses (e.g. hunting). Recently, increasing awareness arose on their benefits as other ecosystem services providers, eg biodiversity, but these non-productive functions are not equally perceived and valued by users, as they tend to be conflicting with productive ones. Long-term subsistence of such ecosystem depends therefore on active management and use by humans and its future is menaced by multiple causes (e.g. agriculture intensification, increasing fire frequencies, technological development, etc).
South Mediterranean ecosystems are the weaker represented at ILTER network and none of the pre-existing represented the montado ecosystem. Capitalising on the interdisciplinary expertise and research investments of 7 institutions in the montado ecosystem, a consortium was established to allow long-term M&R of the ecosystem structure and functions, as well as its response to environmental, social and economic drivers.
Due to the variability found in montado landscapes, resulting from different climate-soil interactions, main tree species and land-use patterns, LTER Montado was established as a macro-site with six core research and monitoring (R&M) stations distributed in the Alentejo province to cover the range of climate and soil types (Fig. 1).
Research at these stations focuses on improving our understanding on the long term consequences of land use practices and management options, and how these effects interact with other socio-economic and environmental drivers operating at scales from local (e.g., agriculture intensification, cattle pressure) to global (e.g. climate change, desertification). Although still spread in space and time, available datasets refer to meteorological data, CO2 and H2O fluxes (in one site), soil respiration and soil water content, vegetation cover and land use changes, growth and health of individual cork-oaks, acorn (and other fruits) production, plant and animal diversity, integrity biotic indexes, among other; current efforts are concentrated in standardising different level ecological indicators and monitoring protocols.
Besides the individual scientific capabilities of the research teams joined in consortium, and the accumulated data on the montado system, the strength of this site relies on the logistics and interest made available by the study case-sites (envisaging a long-term sustainability) and other stakeholders, such as the biggest world cork industry (Corticeira Amorim S.A.), local municipalities and forestry and development state departments. Another strength of the site is the existence of logging facilities in the majority of the R&D stations with emphasis in the field station of the University of Lisbon (Herdade da Ribeira Abaixo, Grândola), located in the core area of the montado range and representing the LTER Montado site headquarters.
These stations conceptualize a socio-economic platform by representing different land-use regimes and desertification scenarios, therefore involving different pressures (Table 1).
Fig. 1 - Montado sites map.
Table 1. - Stations conceptualize a socio-economic platform by representing different land-use regimes and desertification scenarios, therefore involving different pressures
Portugal LTER site