Human societies and ecosystems are interdependent, as they co-evolve across different spatial and temporal scales. The result of this co-evolution is the creation of the so-called socio-ecosystems.
Along the millennia, the development of Mediterranean rural societies has been guided and limited by severe environmental constraints: the complex geomorphologies and the extreme and changing climatic conditions – such as seasonal water shortage and extreme weather events – which are typical of this region at the crossroads between the tropical and temperate zones of the globe.
Mediterranean socio-ecosystems are genuine “mosaic” landscapes, where different land uses coexist in a relatively limited geographic region: natural ecosystems with varying degrees of “naturalness” like forests, shrublands, mountains, freshwater and coastal habitats are found at close distance with pastures and open landscapes, wetlands, agriculture land and urbanised areas. All these patches are knitted together in a complex fabric where the health of each patch is closely related to the evolution and state of the others.
This is product of the efforts made by rural communities to adapt to the complexity of the surrounding environment, and make use of its resources and biological diversity. In order to truly understand Mediterranean ecosystems’ dynamics, it is necessary to account for the human dimension, which has shaped them perhaps more profoundly than anywhere else on earth. Mosaic landscapes are often made up of several poorly-understood, interlinked biophysical and socio-economic systems which can undergo damage and irreversible shifts when critical thresholds are crossed.