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Reporting period: 2018-06-01 to 2019-10-31

Healthy ecosystems provide essential goods and services and are fundamental for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, anthropogenic pressures, including climate change, cause severe threats to ecosystem integrity, functions and processes, potentially leading to a loss of ecosystem services - the benefits that ecosystems provide to humankind. In this framework, protected areas (PA) are a crucial component of the natural capital, since they host rare and fragile habitats and species, sustain biodiversity and provide ecosystem services often unavailable in the surrounding regions.
Proper management and conservation actions require quantitative knowledge of the current and expected state and changes of ecosystems. Recent advances in Earth Observation (remote sensing and in situ measurements) offer new opportunities to monitor ecosystem functions, processes and services, and the pressures they face.
The project focused its research activities and pilot actions on a targeted set of protected areas, including mountain, arid and semiarid, coastal and marine ecosystems, assessing expected ecosystem changes and delivering products and tools based on Earth observation data, to facilitate monitoring ongoing changes and support PA effective management. A “whole-system” approach was followed, considering in detail biotic-abiotic interactions. The project implemented climate-driven ecological models able to generate future ecosystem projections, complemented by corresponding uncertainty estimates. The project considered changes in provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem services and policy developments, included citizen science activities and supported capacity building and outreach activities with the PA personnel.
The scientific results have been published following “open access” standards, and all data, models and acquired knowledge have been made available on several common and open platforms and repositories, contributing to the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), thus benefitting scientists, protected area managers and citizens.
Further information on the project is available at:
The project achieved the following main results:
(1) identification of protected areas (PA) research and knowledge needs and conservation challenges;
(2) identification of the characteristics, relevance and uniqueness of the network of PAs included in the project and of its possible extensions;
(3) definition of a set of “Storylines”, that is, narratives stimulated by specific ecological challenges posed by climate and anthropogenic pressures on the ecosystems;
(4) identification/collection/retrieval of the remote sensing and in-situ data needed for addressing the challenges identified in the project’s Storylines, and development of hundreds of remote sensing products, available to any user through the web browser “Protected Areas from Space” (;
(5) identification of the changes occurring in PAs and at pan-European level for the main ecosystem variables and for their meteo-climatic drivers;
(6) definition of climate and land-use change scenarios, including the implementation of climate downscaling procedures, for driving the ecosystem models;
(7) identification of the Essential Variables to effectively describe ecosystem and their changes in different PAs;
(8) development of EODESM, a freely available system for automated classification and the change analysis of land cover from remote sensing images (Earth Observation Data for Ecosystem Monitoring);
(9) development of a number of ecosystem models for describing the temporal dynamics of ecosystems and ecosystem services;
(10) publication of more than 150 open access scientific papers on peer reviewed journals and presentation of the project’s results at more than 470 conferences;
(11) reach out of the project’s results for different audiences to reach awareness on the importance of nature conservation;
(12) sharing of the created knowledge by means an array of tools: products and publications are available on open access repositories as Zenodo ( the GEO portal ( and the CNR repository PUMALab ( or through the ECOPOTENTIAL website ( The models and the EODESM system are also available through a virtual laboratory (Vlab) implemented at and that will be the basis for further development in EU RIs such as LifeWatch ERIC.
(13) establishment of a network of scientific collaborations with other projects/programmes.

What are the ECOPOTENTIAL Storylines?
ECOPOTENTIAL scientific partners co-designed with the Protected Area technical personnel a number of narratives (the Storylines), which contextualize the project workflow in particular ecological, management and policy settings and address the main ecological challenges encountered. The Storylines specify the needs for Earth observations for ecosystem modelling, services, cross-scale analysis, demands for future protections, policy and capacity building.

Essential Variables (EV) for ecosystems are defined as the minimal set of variables that characterize the ecosystem state and changes. EVs are also a strong communication and assessment tool that allows scientist and practitioners to better understand the ecosystem conditions and shifts, allowing also for better targeting the monitoring efforts and policy design.
ECOPOTENTIAL’s view is that ecosystems are “one physical system” with their environment, and that they are characterized by strong geosphere-biosphere-anthroposphere interactions across multiple space and time scales. Building on the knowledge gained in individual Protected Areas (PAs) and from Earth observation data, ECOPOTENTIAL addressed geosphere-biosphere interactions from local to continental scales. The project provided a comprehensive and updated view of the PAs ecosystems, as well as an assessment of the ongoing changes in their meteo-climatic, environmental and ecological conditions, fostering the use of remote sensing observations in nature conservation and ecosystem management.
The project developed a suite of models to estimate current and future ecosystem conditions in a targeted set of PAs.
ECOPOTENTIAL contributed to making existing Earth Observations accessible, usable and interoperable, developing new remote sensing products and analysis frameworks.
In addition, ECOPOTENTIAL defined the needs and requirements of future protected areas and upscaled its results to broader regional and continental scales, developing a methodology that can be extended beyond the selected protected areas. An Ecosystem Community of Practice has been initiated, as a contribution to the activities of GEO ECO.
The Virtual Laboratory Platform, developed during the project, allows access to the models and software developed and it will provide input to other programmes and projects such as LifeWatch ERIC, eLTER RI, GEO ECO and ERA Planet that will assure continuation of the project approach and achievements.
A presentation at the European Parliament made available the scientific and technological knowledge to support better decision-making.
General poster depicting the many activities done
Map of the Protected Areas currently included in the ECOPOTENTIAL Project
Lake Dres in Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy, one of the ECOPOTENTIAL Protected Areas