Introduction

Ecosystems in the Mediterranean-climate regions of the world have served as a unit for comparative ecological studies for over two decades. The cohesive-ness of research in this set of widely distributed regions rests on the similarity of the climates where they occur, and the identifiable convergence in elements of their vegetation structure (Di Castri and Mooncy 1973). In this chapter we review functional aspects of what have come to be known as Mediterranean-tvpe ecosystems (MTEs) in the context of a concerned global interest in the sustainability of the human environment and its dependence on biological diversity. The approach we adopt here is to look for evidence that this biodiversity, for which some MTEs are renowned (Cowling, 1992; Hobbs. 1992), has an influence on processes which are important both for the maintenance of natural systems, and for providing "ecosystem services" with human utility.

Almost a century ago, Schimper (1903) recognized the biological similarities between five widely separated regions characterized by Mediterranean-type climates, and much comparative work has been done on that basis since. These regions comprise the Mediterranean basin itself, a major portion of California, central Chile, the southwestern and southern extremities of South Africa, and parts of southwestern and southern Australia (Figure 7.1). The first attention paid to MTEs in terms of quantitative ecological research arose out of the International Biological Programme (IBP) of the 1960s and 1970s. Those efforts focused on comparisons between the Chilean and Californian systems (Mooney 1977), and dealt with parallel models of ecosystem processes, especially water flux (Fuentes et ai 1995). Because of the already perceived similarities between vegetation in these and

Functional Roles oj Biodiversity: A Global Perspective ,

Edited by H.A. Mooney. J.H. Cushman, E. Medina. O.E. Sala and E.-D. Sehul/e (fcaij) Sjfiy ■V '996 SCOPti Published in 1996 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd ^ iwr

Figure 7.1 Location of the five Mediterranean-climate regions around the world

the other three regions, the project was soon extended to include all five regions. The first broad comparative overview was published as an anthology which considered the origins and the convergent evolution of MTE components (Di Castri and Mooney 1973). Although the currently accepted classifications of MTEs is to some extent artificial, it does provide a basis for comparative work, as well as placing mild, temperate winter rainfall regions in perspective with other system types, such as forests, arid lands and even savannas.

It is against this backdrop that the MTE research collegium has grown, giving rise to an organizational structure known as ISOMED (the International Society of Mediterranean Ecologists), which has convened regular conferences under the label MEDECOS, plus a number of extra meetings on specific topics (Table 7.1). One of the more recent in this series of MTE meetings was convened under the auspices of ICSLTs Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) (see Table 7.1), and dealt with the questions about the functional value of biodiversity. This chapter is based on that meeting and its proceedings (Richardson and Cowling 1993; Davis and Richardson 1995), and is a distillation of input by teams of ecologists from each of the five regions.

Table 7.1 Development of comparative and cooperative ecological work in MTEs as reflected by the convening of symposia and workshops and the publication of books

Date

Forum

Topic

Proceeding/reviews

Synthesis book

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