Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada (Andalusia, SE Spain), is a mountainous region with an altitudinal range between 860 m and 3482 m a.s.l. covering more than 2000 km2. The climate is Mediterranean, characterized by cold winters and hot summers, with pronounced summer drought (July-August). The annual average temperature decreases in altitude from 12-16ºC below 1500 m to 0ºC above 3000 m a.s.l., and the annual average precipitation is about 600 mm.

Additionally, the complex orography of the mountains causes strong climatic contrasts between the sunny, dry south-facing slopes and the shaded, wetter north-facing slopes. Annual precipitation ranges from less than 250 mm in the lowest parts of the mountain range to more than 700 mm in the summit areas. Winter precipitation is mainly in the form of snow above 2000 m of altitude. The Sierra Nevada mountain range hosts a high number of endemic plant species (c. 80; Lorite et al., 2007) for a total of 2,100 species of vascular plants (25% and 20% of Spanish and European flora, respectively), being considered one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the Mediterranean region (Blanca et al., 1998). This mountain area comprises 27 habitats types from the habitat directive. It contains 31 fauna species (20 birds, 5 mammals, 4 invertebrates, 2 amphibians and reptiles) and 20 plants species listed in the Annex I and II of habitats and birds directives. There are 61 municipalities with more than 90.000 inhabitants.

This mountain range has several legal protections: Biosphere Reserve MAB Committee UNESCO; Special Protection Area and Site of Community Importance (Natura 2000 network); and National Park. The area contains 61 municipalities with more than 90,000 inhabitants. The main economic activities are agriculture, tourism, cattle raising, beekeeping, mining, and skiing (Bonet et al., 2010)


Fig. 1. Boundaries of National and Natural Parks.


Sierra Nevada Global Change Observatory: available data

The Sierra Nevada Global-Change Observatory is intended to put together useful and relevant information regarding the ecological systems and the socioeconomics of Sierra Nevada. The project has four fundamental parts to fulfill its overall objectives: 1) a monitoring programme to collect biophysical, ecological and socioeconomic data; 2) an information system for appropriate data management; 3) a series of mechanisms that enable the effective transfer of the results on adaptive management; and 4) a outreach and reporting system. Dissemination is indeed one of the hallmarks of the project, since the design of management systems is considered vital to reinforce the resistance and resilience ability of the natural systems confronted with the new hypothetical scenarios.

The design of the Global-Change Monitoring Programme in the Sierra Nevada is based on the conceptual and thematic frameworks proposed by the GLOCHAMORE strategy (GLObal CHAnge in MOuntain REgions projects/glochamore), sponsored by UNESCO, in which hundreds of noted experts (scientists, managers, technicians) have participated. Thus our monitoring programme in the Sierra Nevada can be considered an implementation of the GLOCHAMORE conceptual framework. The local implementation of the global initiative first required the exhaustive compilation of monitoring protocols that were previously used in the Sierra Nevada. Thus, many of the monitoring protocols for wild fauna (Spanish ibex and wild boar) and flora (threatened species endemic to the high peaks) have been incorporated into the current programme. The result provides 48 methodologies related to data collection on various aspects of the composition, structure, and function of the Sierra Nevada ecological system. This set of protocols is the result of including existing methodologies (after a review process) and the specifically designed philosophy of the GLOCHAMORE project. These protocols were designed under the supervision of scientific experts in each field.

For each of the thematic areas proposed by GLOCHAMORE, monitoring methodologies are defined in order to assess both the status of key ecological functions, such as the processes of the main Sierra Nevada ecosystem as well as possible global-change impact on Sierra Nevada. It also defines monitoring methods to characterize human activity in Sierra Nevada. The scheme allows us to cover many of the aspects considered to be crucial by the scientific community in evaluating the effects of global change in ecosystems processes of mountain regions. Therefore, the characterization of GLOCHAMORE thematic areas and the methodology design associated with each of them is based on scientific hypotheses to be addressed by the monitoring programme. In addition, each monitoring procedure is included into a consistent conceptual model based on the ecosystem, our monitoring programme can be considered to be “monitoring based on questions”. Each protocol provides information on a number of environmental variables related to the thematic sphere covered. The data is gathered from a total of 130 different variables.

In addition, our programme is designed to take into account the great spatial heterogeneity and ecological diversity of the massif. Consequently, the programme follows a hierarchy of spatial scales of the data gathering. Thus, the scale or spatial resolution of the data compiled for all methodologies covers a large part of the spatial heterogeneity of the Sierra Nevada. As a result, we have procedures that gather data on a finer scale (points and transects), on a somewhat coarser scale but covering the entire space (pixels of satellite images or polygons of a vegetation map, for example), and finally on an administrative-boundary scale (public mountain, municipal area, or catchment basin). In addition, many of the sampling points that take more detail (points and transects) are spatially aggregated in places with high density and have a multi-parameter weather station. These sites are known as Intensive Monitoring Stations. Each of these protocols not only collects data on a spatial scale but may also apply them in other different spatial fields. For example, data from a weather station (collection-point scale) can be extrapolated using various techniques in all territories (the entire area). This interpolation process cannot be applied to other ecological sampling such as the monitoring of raptors. Thus, each procedure can also be characterized by the extent of the application of data captured therein. Some protocols have an extension point, while others may extrapolate their values to municipal scales or to the entire protected area.

Finally, our monitoring programme incorporates the temporal dimension from two different perspectives. On the one hand, we consider it essential to gather historical information on the structure and dynamics of the Sierra Nevada ecosystems. The purpose of this historical reconstruction is to ascertain the past in order to understand the present and thereby try to predict future scenarios. In this regard, it is important to consider the length of the series available for each subject monitored. Highlights include the vegetation and climatic data for those with a longer series. On the other hand, it is vital to consider the frequency of the data collection in each protocol. In this sense, we use the methodologies, which take information periodicities of less than a day (weather stations) to others by which inventories are conducted annually or every several years (e.g. reptile monitoring).

In short, the monitoring programme to assess the effects of global change in Sierra Nevada is comprised of a multidisciplinar array of protocols that can be described based on a number of attributes, thematic (according to GLOCHAMORE approach), spatial (data-collection scale and the extent of data application), and temporal (length of time series and data-collection periodicity).


Area surveyed

The protected area covers 171,000 ha. There are sampling points distributed along this area (Fig. 2).


Fig. 2. Map of the Sierra Nevada protected area.


Ecosystems surveyed

  • High mountains wet grasslands.
  • High mountains grasslands.
  • Olm oak forests and Pyrenean oak forests (Quercus ilex and Quercus pyrenaica)
  • High mountain shrubland (Juniper, Genista, Cytisus, etc.)
  • Mid mountain shrubland (Rosmarinus, Thymus, Stipa)
  • Pine plantations
  • Rivers and alpine lakes


Data availability

According to the outlined monitoring program, we are collecting information regarding the following biophysical variables:

  • Land use changes using ortophotos.
  • Detailed characterization of plant communities using ortophotos.
  • Vegetation mapping using old documents.
  • Retrospective analysis of forest management
  • Analysis of palaeolimnological indicators in Sierra Nevada lakes.
  • Reconstruction of the vegetation using palynological analysis.
  • Climatic information via meteorological stations.
  • Climate simulations.
  • Monitoring snow cover extent using MODIS.
  • Monitoring snow water content using field stations.
  • Simulating hydrological cycle and snow cover.
  • Monitoring physicochemical variables in aquatic systems.
  • Monitoring biological communities in aquatic systems
  • Monitoring brown trout populations.
  • Monitoring atmospheric pollution using passive dosimeters.
  • Deposition of atmospheric aerosols.
  • Assessment of forest management in pine plantations.
  • Assessment of management in Holm oak woodlands.
  • Monitoring post-fire restoration.
  • Monitoring emerging diseases in wild fauna
  • Flowering phenology
  • Monitoring plant demography
  • High-mountain plant communities: Project GLORIA.
  • Monitoring riparian vegetation.
  • Monitoring wild board populations.
  • Monitoring Spanish Ibex populations.
  • Monitoring micrommamals.
  • Monitoring carnivorous mammals.
  • Monitoring raptors
  • Passerines and other birds.
  • Amphibians and reptiles.
  • Butterflies
  • High mountain terrestrial arthropods
  • Monitoring pine processionary moth.
  • Assessent of primary production using remote sensing.
  • Monitoring carbon and water-vapour exchanges at an ecosystem scale using Eddy Towers.
  • Assesment of erosion control ecosystem services.

All this information is stored in a comprehensive information system that is accessible via web ( required registration). We have also a metadata system that allows the documentation of all this information using international standards: EML and INSPIRE (ISO 19115). This metadata catalog can be queried using metacat:


Ecosystem services


Current modeling activities

We can provide a hydrological model to forecast the behavior of the hydrological cycle in a global change context. We are also developing IBM to simulate the functioning of woody areas in Sierra Nevada. Finally we have downscaled climatic models using IPCC datasets.


Remote sensing:

We have created an information system able to automatically process and analyze the whole MODIS time series regarding snow and vegetation products. We have also designed and implemented an ontology that allows the creation of complex queries to the earth observation database. This link ( shows a manuscript that we have just submitted regarding this issue. 


Table of ecosystem services/functions and available data



All the information used to fill the table comes from publications, reports and other sources listed below:

Moreno-Llorca, R.A.; González-Moreno, P.; Navarro, I.; Bonet-García, F.J.; Pérez-Luque, A.J. & Zamora, R. (2011). Montaña mediterránea. In: Montes, C.; Benayas, J. & Santos-Martín, F. (Coords.). Evaluación de los Ecosistemas del Milenio de España. Conservación de los ecosistemas y biodiversidad de España para el bienestar humano. Pp: 421-459. [In Spanish]


Moreno Llorca, R.; Navarro González, I. & Bonet García, F.J. (2011). Evolution of ecosystem services in intensive and extensive Agricultural Systems. In: 12th European Ecological Federation Congress. Responding to rapid environmental change. Ávila (Spain).


Bonet, F.J.; Pérez-Luque, A.J.; Moreno, R. & Zamora, R. (2010). Sierra Nevada Global Change Observatory. Structure and Basic Data. Environment Department (Andalusian Regional Government) – University of Granada. 48 pages.


García Nieto, A.P.: Quintas Soriano, C.; García Llorente, M.; Palomo, I.; Montes, C. & Martín López, B. (2015). Collaborative mapping of ecosystem services: The role of stakeholders' profiles. Ecosystem Services, 13: 141-152. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoser.2014.11.006


Palomo, I.; Martín-López, B.; Potschin, M.; Haines-Young, R. & Montes, C. (2013). National Parks, buffer zones and surrounding lands: Mapping ecosystem service flows. Ecosystem Services Journal, 4: 104-116. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoser.2012.09.001


Palomo, I.; Martín-López, B.; Alcorlo, P. & Montes, C. (2014). Limitations of protected areas zoning in mediterranean cultural landscapes under the ecosystem services approach. Ecosystems, 17 (7): 1202-1215. doi: 10.1007/s10021-014-9788-y


Moreno, J.; Palomo, I.; Escalera, J.; Martín-López, B. & Montes, C. (2014). Incorporating ecosystem services into ecosystem-based management to deal with complexity: a participative mental model approach. Landscape Ecology, 29: 1407-1421. doi: 10.1007/s10980-014-0053-8


Palomo, I.; Martín-López, B.; Moreno, J.; Escalera, J. & Montes, C. (2011). Report of I Taller de expertos del proyecto: Gestionando los Parques Nacionales más allá de sus límites: evaluación y cartografía de servicios como herramienta de gestión territorial ante el cambio global. Sierra Nevada, Pinos-Genil, 27 - 28. [In Spanish]



Click here to download a poster of the protected area.