Gran Paradiso

The Gran Paradiso National Park (GPNP) is a protected area instituted in 1922; it is the oldest National Park in Italy. It borders with the Vanoise National Park in France. These two parks form a huge system of high-elevation protected areas in the Alps, characterized by the presence of significant glaciers and high-altitude environments, and host the original surviving population of Alpine ibex (Capra ibex).

Main purpose of the protected area is the conservation of relevant ecosystems for the present and the next generations. Consequently, the Park is interested in the management and the protection of this area, the preservation of the biodiversity and the landscapes, the scientific research, the environmental education, and the promotion and the development of sustainable tourism. The area is directly managed by the Park; research and monitoring activities are coordinated by the Sanitary and Scientific Office of the Park. The National Park had since 1947 its vigilance service, constituted by Park Wardens, which monitor the protected area. The presence of this service allowed the beginning of many different monitoring projects.

GPNP is about 70000 ha in size and constituted by 5 main valleys. Three of these valleys, running North to South, originate from the northern slope of the Gran Paradiso massif (Aosta region), while two East-West oriented valleys originate from the southern slope (Piedmont region).

GPNP includes different ecosystems along the altitudinal gradient (ca. 800-4000 m asl), namely the woody areas of the montane belt, the ecotonal habitats of the subalpine belt and the meadows of the alpine one. The nival belt is widely represented inside the Park. The habitats with scarce or no vegetation (rocks, screes, glaciers) cover about 60% of the territory, meadows and pastures 17%, about 20.2% is characterised by woods and shrubs, while 0.8% by cultivated lands and urban areas. The aquatic ecosystems, beyond the streams, comprise almost 15 lakes, bigger than 10000 m2 and located at an elevation higher than 2000 m asl.

Remarkable differences in elevation, slope and aspect between valleys determine strong climatic differences inside GPNP. However, it is possible to identify the main climatic peculiarities of this area. The climate of the area is typically Alpine-Continental, characterised by low mean temperature, high seasonal differences and a general paucity of precipitation. The climate differs between the northern and southern part of the Park, in particular concerning annual precipitation. Indeed, they are around 900-1300 mm per year in the Piedmont region and about 1.5 times less in the Aosta region. Winter with high amount of snow can be observed and the length of the period in which the snow remain on the ground depend strongly on altitude and aspects (from 4 to 6 months, from November-December to March-April). Concerning temperatures, 2 main periods may be considered: a cold season, including autumn and winter (coldest peak between December and February, with daily mean temperature usually below zero) and a warm season, in spring summer (warmest peak between July and August).

The elements contributing to the distinctiveness of GPNP are numerous and comprise both historical, ecological and scientific reasons.

The Gran Paradiso National Park is the oldest National Park in Italy and one of the most extended. The creation of the protected area was strongly linked to the safeguard of the animal symbol of the Park, the Ibex, that after the disasters of 2nd World war became again an endangered species. Only 416 animals survived in the whole world and they were all within the Park.

Since its foundation, the Park is actively involved in the protection of its animal and vegetal biodiversity and since 1947 it is equipped by its own vigilance service. The rangers have a detailed knowledge of the Park's territory, its animals and its environment, and they provide a service, which is quite unique, watching over the territory from dawn till dusk.

The presence of this service ensure a deep contact with the territory and the possibility to assess exhaustively the presence and distribution of target species and to monitor the evolution of some important habitats.

According to our knowledge (update in 2011) the PNGP presents the following protected habitat and species:

-  36 habitat (Annexe I Dir. 92/43/CEE);

-  5 botanic species (Annexe II Dir. 92/43/CEE);

-  4 invertebrates  (2 in the Annexe II e 2 in the Annexe IV Dir. 92/43/CEE)

-  4 reptiles (Annexe IV Dir. 92/43/CEE);

-  1 fish  (Annexe II Dir. 92/43/CEE);

- 11 mammals  (Annexe II and IV Dir. 92/43/CEE);

- 21 mammals (Annexe IV Dir. 92/43/CEE);

-  1 mammal (Annexe V Dir. 92/43/CEE);

- 15 birds (Annexe I Dir. 09/147 CEE).

These are only the species or habitat protected by European directive, but especially for invertebrates the vulnerability is higher especially considering other important categories (endemism, tolerance to temperature, dispersal capability…).

Moreover, the Park, for its natural state, the high level of conservation of its ecosystems, the good integration between tourism and agricultural activities (more than one million people visit the Park every year) and its position of trans boundary protected area, close to the Vanoise National Park and Mont Avic Natural Park, obtained in 2007 the European Diploma of Protected Areas, the prestigious award of the Council of Europe.

From the scientific point of view, of greatest interest are all the long-term monitoring data, regarding different species and habitat.

In the case of alpine ungulates (Capra ibex and Rupicapra rupicapra), the census data represents one of the longest series available (since 1956). Since 1992, the position of the 59 glaciers of the Park is monitored. The monitoring of animal biodiversity (7 selected taxa) in 30 plots is active since 2005, and repeated with periodic frequency.

Also many eco-ethological studies have been carried out, in particular concerning the alpine ibex (since 1994), the chamois (since 1993), the Alpine marmot (since 2006).

Data about vegetation are collected since 1998.

More than 10 Universities and Research Institutes actively cooperate with the Park, developing research and monitoring projects inside the territory of the protected area.

More than 50 scientific articles have been published during the last ten years.


Monitoring activities

Monitoring of Animal Biodiversity - Presence and relative abundance data are collected in 30 sampling points (circular plots with a radius of 100 m), for 7 taxa (Coleoptera Carabidae, Coleoptera Staphylinidae, Araneae, Formicidae, Lepidoptera Rhopalocera, Orthoptera, birds), applying semi-quantitative census techniques. Sampling points are distributed along 5 altitudinal transects, one per each valley of the Park (altitudinal range 1200-2600 m asl). The data collection started in 2006 and has been repeated during the complete vegetative season in 2007, 2012 and 2013. It is a long term monitoring project, i.e. the repetition of the monitoring activities is expected and planned with a two-years period of activity followed by a 5-years stop, and it represents the first attempt to develop a protocol for long-term monitoring of multiple taxa in the Italian Alps.

Each plot is also characterised by:

-         micro-climatic data; temperature has been collected in field by the use of datalogger, iButton DS1922;

-         vegetation data; presence and relative abundance of plant species has been monitored in each plot, once every 5 years.

The data will become open access during the project.

Biological metadata are also available. They are: collector name, taxonomist name, nomenclature we followed, time of collection, precision in the identification (family, genus or species level).

Monitoring of Alpine Ungulates. Census of the alpine ibex (Capra ibex) and chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) over all the territory of the Park, since 1956, with annual sampling.

Monitoring of Alpine Lake - Physical, chemical and biological monitoring of alpine lakes, characterised by the collection of abiotic (temperature, oxygen, chemical compounds) and biotic (phyto- and zoo-plankton) data, since 2006.

Monitoring of Vegetation - Monitoring of periglacial flora in 5 study sites through floristic census. Since 2009 (Phenoalp Project) monitoring of vegetation phenology.

Climate change in alpine pastures - This project started in 2012, in 9 localities, distributed among the five valleys of the Park. The study sites comprise alpine pastures (both the grazed and the rocky one), inside an altitudinal range between 2000 and 2850 m asl. Main purpose of the work is the validation of satellite indexes as an estimate of nutritional quality of alpine pastures, the spatio-temporal analysis of satellite data, and the application to the study of the ungulates population dynamics.


Ecosystem services

These are the most important ecosystem services provided by the protected area:

-         Biodiversity reservoir (endemic species, species richness);

-         Water tower;

-         Cultural heritage;

-         Agricultural products;

-         Protection from natural hazards;

-         Carbon storage;

-         Aesthetic value;

-         Profitability.

The ES we would like to improve and to monitor deeply are the first four (biodiversity reservoir, water tower, cultural heritage, agricultural products).


Table of ecosystem services/functions and available data



Click here to download a poster of the protected area.