Identification of current ecosystem functional types in the Iberian Peninsula


*Correspondence: Domingo Alcaraz Segura, Departamento de Biología Vegetal y Ecología, Universidad de Almería, La Cañada de San Urbano, E-04120, Almería, Spain. E-mail:


Aim  To examine the geographical patterns of the interception of photosynthetically active radiation by vegetation and to describe its spatial heterogeneity through the definition of ecosystem functional types (EFTs) based on the annual dynamics of the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), a spectral index related to carbon gains.

Location  The Iberian Peninsula.

Methods  EFTs were derived from three attributes of the NDVI obtained from NOAA/AVHRR sensors: the annual integral (NDVI-I), as a surrogate of primary production, an integrative indicator of ecosystem functioning; and the intra-annual relative range (RREL) and month of maximum NDVI (MMAX), which represent key features of seasonality.

Results  NDVI-I decreased south-eastwards. The highest values were observed in the Eurosiberian Region and in the highest Mediterranean ranges. Low values occurred in inner plains, river basins and in the southeast. The Eurosiberian Region and Mediterranean mountains presented the lowest RREL, while Eurosiberian peaks, river basins, inner-agricultural plains, wetlands and the southeastern part of Iberia presented the highest. Eurosiberian ecosystems showed a summer maximum of NDVI, as did high mountains, wetlands and irrigated areas in the Mediterranean Region. Mediterranean mountains had autumn–early-winter maxima, while semi-arid zones, river basins and continental plains had spring maxima. Based on the behaviour in the functional traits, 49 EFTs were defined.

Main conclusions  The classification, based on only the NDVI dynamics, represents the spatial heterogeneity in ecosystem functioning by means of the interception of radiation by vegetation in the Iberian Peninsula. The patterns of the NDVI attributes may be used as a reference in evaluating the impacts of environmental changes. Iberia had a high spatial variability: except for biophysically impossible combinations (high NDVI-I and high seasonality), almost any pattern of seasonal dynamics of radiation interception was represented in the Peninsula. The approach used to define EFTs opens the possibility of monitoring and comparing ecosystem functioning through time.