Country Profiles

Tunisia - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The following text is an unofficial courtesy translation provided by the SCBD.

Tunisia is characterized by a large diversity of habitats and ecosystems that translates into impressive biodiversity. Located in the southern Mediterranean basin, the country is at the crossroads of ancient civilizations that exist throughout the basin, a feature which has enriched the country’s diversity, particularly its species diversity, due to various exchanges and introductions that have occurred over time.

Tunisia comprises wetlands (5%), cultivated land (32%), forests (almost 13%), urban land (0.5%), as well as unexploited land (50%). The desert comprises between 33% and 40% of the latter, according to the definition of aridity (the surface situated south of 100 mm isohyets), or according to certain landscape features (e.g. Grand Erg Oriental). Altogether, protected areas categories cover around 6% of the total land area. There are currently 44 designated sites, including 17 national parks and 27 nature reserves.

Terrestrial ecosystems consist of forest formations (green oak, cork oak, Aleppo pine, and scrubland derived from degraded areas) mainly concentrated in the Tell and the Dorsale high mountain ranges. Steppe formations extend through the centre-south portion of the country. The country also possesses Saharan pseudo-steppe formations and pseudo-sylvan areas and several specific formations of wetlands (e.g. grasslands, riparian formations, peat bogs) and saline habitats (halophyte vegetation).

The biodiversity of marine and coastal ecosystems is rich and extremely diverse due to the wide assortment of environments along the coast. The continental shelf covers an extensive area and favours the establishment of seagrasses. The shores at the country’s centre are used by turtles for spawning.

The national study on biological diversity was updated in 2009 and identified 7,212 terrestrial and marine animal and plant species.

This noteworthy inventory indicates the presence of 165 endemic species/varieties of flora in Tunisia and surrounding areas, 24 species that are quite rare and 239 that are rare. More than 200 animal and plant species are listed in the IUCN Red List of rare and endangered species for Tunisia.

Tunisian flora comprises 2,162 species, of which 2103 species are distributed among 115 families and 742 genera.

Mammalian diversity comprises 11 large mammals, including the wild boar, Barbary deer, Barbary sheep, 4 distributed species of gazelles, addax antelope and oryx, water buffalo, …

Carnivores are represented by 15 species (civet, mongoose, weasel, zorille, otter, striped hyena, golden jackal, red fox, Rüppell's fox, fennec fox, serval, lynx, caracal, ...)

The number of bird species reported in Tunisia is in the order of 398.

At present, 7 species of amphibians are known in Tunisia. As for reptiles, 6 species of turtles have been reported.

Lizards are represented by 36 species, of which the Trogonophide de Wiegmann is considered rare and requires special protection measures.

Snakes are represented by 24 species, including 14 species of garter snakes and 7 species of vipers.

The country has at least 671 species of insects, distributed among 14 orders and 82 families:

- 61 species of mites belonging to 14 families

- 54 nematode species distributed among 29 families

In summary, biodiversity resources in Tunisia are found in 69 natural ecosystems and 12 agrosystems, comprising in total:

- 7,212 species (3,749 terrestrial plant and animal species and 3,463 marine and aquatic plant and animal species)

- 32 microorganism collections comprising 22,650 strains

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The following text is an unofficial courtesy translation provided by the SCBD.

The greatest negative impacts to wildlife are due to population growth and land use exploitation. The last lion disappeared in 1891 in Babouche, between Tabarka et Ain Draham (northwest); the leopard (Panthera pardus) previously occupied the mountains along the Algerian border, near El Feidja to Nefza. The hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) has also been eradicated, with its last sighting in 1902, 150 km southwest of Tataouine (Lavauden, 1924a). Other species that have disappeared are the addax (1932, in Litt.) and the oryx.

Habitat modification (or destruction) is a major cause for the rarefaction and extinction of species in their natural habitats. This fact is further amplified by the reduction in natural plant cover, urban sprawl and global climate change.

Tunisian vegetation is generally subjected to certain pressures, including forest fires, overgrazing, land clearing, soil erosion. Certain rare species (or species in the process of becoming rarefied), such as the Atlas pistachio (Pistacia atlantica) and carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua), deserve special attention for their protection.

Fire is a serious threat to both plant and animal biodiversity. During the first half of the last century, particularly during the two World War periods, the country experienced intense fires which decreased in intensity in the second half due to government efforts and particularly to the development and implementation of an action plan to combat forest fires.

Land clearing and urbanization pose other threats to biodiversity.

A rapid increase in population and a desire for human settlement place populations in a precarious equilibrium with the environment.

Overexploitation of plant resources is especially significant with respect to forest and steppe ranges, producing overgrazed land at a full-blown rate.

Heavy rains that disperse soil after aggregate rupture, wind transport of fine elements, runoff on steep slopes and the destruction of natural vegetation also contribute to soil erosion, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss.

Soil erosion, degradation or loss of vegetation cover, as a result of clearing or overgrazing and untimely practices of working the soil, are responsible for desertification in the central and southern parts of the country.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The following text is an unofficial courtesy translation provided by the SCBD.

Initiatives taken to implement the CBD include the development of the first National Study on Biological Diversity (1998), which subsequently led to the adoption of the first National Strategy for the Conservation of Biological Diversity and accompanying Action Plan. The primary objective of the Strategy is the establishment and development among all actors (at their respective levels) of a common and rational basis regarding a vision, and an appreciation of the importance of biodiversity.

The Action Plan includes a wide range of activities grouped into six main areas: i) conservation of biological diversity ii) integration of biodiversity conservation and natural resource management iii) management of processes affecting biological diversity iv) improved knowledge and tools to monitor biodiversity management v) mobilization of partners and vi) institutional strengthening for implementation of the Action Plan.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The following text is an unofficial courtesy translation provided by the SCBD.

Although Tunisia is in the process of updating its NBSAP in the light of what has been learned since 1998, as well as aligning it with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, it is important to note the efforts that have been undertaken and those that are in process for preserving and conserving the elements of biodiversity.

Indeed, the efforts undertaken since the adoption of the first NBSAP (1998) have focused on numerous programs and projects as highlighted below:

- Prevention of genetic erosion, particularly in the field of agrobiodiversity

• Creation of a gene bank (2007)

• Creation of a network of botanical gardens to preserve the most endangered plant species

• Development of action plans for the preservation of agricultural species (plant and animal)

• Development of the first core of the Red List (2010)

- Ecosystem protection and management through the implementation of several initiatives and projects such as:

• Project on protected areas management (GEF/WB)

• Project on the protection of marine and coastal resources in the Gulf of Gabes (GEF/WB)

• Project on ecotourism promotion and conservation of desert biodiversity (GEF/WB)

• Project contributing to the implementation of the management plan for Chambi National Park (AFD/FFEM/Monaco)

• Analysis of the ecological representativeness and effectiveness of protected areas management in Tunisia (2010)

• Project on the management of oasis ecosystems in southern Tunisia (GEF/WB, 2014)

• Creation of 20 new protected sites

• Designation of 39 new Ramsar sites

- Training, information dissemination and capacity-building in biodiversity, notably including a self-assessment exercise on national capacities to contribute to the preservation of the global environment, enabled the development of a "synergistic" action plan for implementing the three Rio Conventions

- Needs assessment in national capacity-building in biodiversity, establishment of a CHM and an assistance project for the development of a national biosafety framework

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The following text is an unofficial courtesy translation provided by the SCBD.

To rationalize the use and exploitation of natural resources in general and particularly biological resources, especially in semi-arid regions characterized by very fragile ecosystems, Tunisia has gradually established a legal arsenal perfectly adapted to these circumstances.

This arsenal is constantly being revised, supplemented and/or enhanced by new provisions for the sustainable management of natural resources and biodiversity.

Therefore, many measures have been adopted over the last 10 years. They relate in particular to the ratification of the Cartagena Protocol, complementary amendments to the Forest Code and the Code on Land Use Management and Urban Development (protection of the maritime domain), the creation of the Regional Research Center in Oasis Agriculture, etc.

Tunisia currently has comprehensive legislation which should allow for the rational exploitation of biological resources and contribute to the conservation of biodiversity.

At present, Tunisia possesses the following legal instruments:

• Forestry Code

• Water Code

• Code on Water and Soil Conservation (CES)

• Code on Land Use Management and Urban Development

• Regulation on public maritime matters

• Specific regulations on:

- Protection of wetlands, with the creation of 40 Ramsar sites

- Protection of biological resources, notably including the Fisheries Law, the law on the organization of the production and marketing of seeds and plants, the regulation on the import-export of seeds and plants, various legal dispositions and regulations on the creation of marine and terrestrial protected areas (national parks, nature reserves, etc.).

Such measures are constantly being reviewed with a view towards their updating, supplemented and/or enhanced by new provisions for the sustainable management of natural resources and biodiversity. In recent years, the following measures have enhanced the legal arsenal:

• Law No. 2002-58 of 25 June 2002 approving the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (JORT No. 52, 25 June 2002)

• Law No. 2003-78 of 29 December 2003 amending and supplementing the Code on Land Use Management and Urban Development (JORT No. 104, 30 December 2003), with a view to protecting areas in the public maritime domain and some components in the public waters domain (lakes, navigation channels, watercourses and reservoirs established on watercourses).

• Decree No. 1748 of 11 August 2003 establishing the National Gene Bank, whose mission is to assess, preserve and assign values to local genetic resources.

• Law No. 2005-13 of 26 January 2005 amending and supplementing the Forestry Code (JORT No. 9, 1 February 2005), according important provisions to various aspects of the Code.

• Decree No. 2005-1747 of 13 June 2005 establishing a national council to combat desertification, pursuant to the provisions of the UNCCD.

• Decree No. 2006-1431 of 22 May 2006 establishing the Regional Centre of Research on Oasis Agriculture, its organization and manner of operations.

• Law No. 49-2009 on the establishment of marine and coastal protected areas.

Tunisia is currently finalizing the development of an Environment Code which will certainly strengthen the achievements in these domains.

A priori in Tunisia, as elsewhere, stakeholders with an interest in biodiversity comprise a wide and ever-expanding range of institutions and organizations, including public institutions, professional and inter-professional organizations comprised of associations of biodiversity users (farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, merchants, etc.), civil society associations with notably groups of producers and non-governmental organizations.

Biodiversity stakeholders can be classified into three groups:

- Public sector institutions, including administrative structures and development and support structures concerned primarily with the management of biodiversity components (agriculture, mountain, arid zones, etc.)

- Institutions of higher education in agronomy and scientific research institutes equipped with laboratories and specialized research units, particularly concerned with knowledge and, to some extent, the conservation of the different components of biodiversity in different environments at both national and regional levels.

- Mixed institutions, including inter-professional organizations and specialized technical centers, primarily concerned with the use of some elements of agrobiodiversity at national and/or regional or local levels.

- Private sector and civil society institutions, including professional organizations and grassroots organizations, such as the Agricultural Development Group (GDA), primarily concerned with the use and valuation of certain biodiversity resources (production, processing, trade, etc.).

- Grassroots organizations of civil society (NGOs) particularly involved in awareness-raising on biodiversity and, to some extent, the valuation and conservation of certain biodiversity resources at the local level.

In addition:

- Consultative bodies at different levels that can play a certain role in biodiversity management.

- International and/or regional organizations that support national institutions in the field of biodiversity.

Capacity in biodiversity management and conservation

Tunisia has significant capacity, with stakeholders consisting of simple users (farmers, ranchers, etc.) to policy-makers through to development officers, project and programme developers, administrators, planners and strategists, covering various fields such as agricultural and agro-forestry-pastoral production, agronomic research and scientific research in biology, development economics, etc.

Biodiversity capacity in Tunisia is increasing; programmes to upgrade and strengthen means and capacity adapted for sustainable biodiversity management are a part of the country’s biodiversity policy.

In terms of individual capacity, Tunisia possesses significant assets in expertise that covers all topics of biodiversity.

There is good engagement from all actors as well as a deeper commitment towards NBSAP implementation through established mechanisms, which should be supported and strengthened.

There is commendable interest in the development of traditional knowledge and the promotion of quality of life through the sustainable and rational use of all biodiversity elements. A study on the inventory of local agricultural genetic resources and the elaboration of an action plan for their conservation and valuation, undertaken by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MEDD) in 2007-2008, addressed this issue with respect to local agrobiodiversity.

Indeed, it is through such knowledge and practices that many local varieties (e.g. Baklouti pepper, Chaâbani pepper, Moknine melon and pear, varieties of Djérid/Gabes dates, varieties of apricot, etc.) have been created and have survived to the present day. They were maintained because of their importance in local and regional socioeconomic life, serving as the basis for food and/or for traditional trade systems. These measures should be promoted in terms of the use of best practices and traditional knowledge on biodiversity, and also better assessed in terms of values.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The following text is an unofficial courtesy translation provided by the SCBD.

A number of institutions involved in biodiversity management, in one way or another, have developed or are developing indicators for monitoring certain biodiversity components, particularly within the context of specific projects. Such is the case with the Directorate General for Forestry, National Institute for Research in Rural Water and Forestry Engineering, Directorate General for the Environment and Quality of Life, National Agency for Environmental Protection, Agency on Coastal Protection and Management, National Gene Bank, etc.

In 2002, the General Directorate for Forestry adopted six indicators for monitoring the sustainable management of Tunisian forests, and forest and para-forest ecosystems, and is currently in the process of updating this strategy with new targets and indicators.

Some monitoring indicators

- Indicators for monitoring protected areas

These indicators pertain to 3 national parks (Ichkeul, Bouhedma, Jbil) that are the subject of a planning and management project on protected areas (PGAP), co-financed by the GEF/IBRD for a five-year period (2003-2008 ), which therefore should see the project implemented in the short term.

- Strengthening of the institutional capacity for administering sustainable protected areas management

- Restoration and ecosystem management in the three parks to protect the flora and fauna, support for the development of ecotourism activities, and formulation of community development plans with local communities that revolve around sustainable biodiversity conservation

- Awareness-raising and strengthening of public support for biodiversity conservation at local and regional levels

A number of indicators to achieve the above objectives have been adopted, including:

- Stabilization or improvement of the demographic status of settlements

- Main biological indicators considered for parks, particularly vegetation cover and the distribution of animal/bird populations for each national park, and water management for Ichkeul National Park

- Percentage of annual work programme activities assigned or transferred to local communities

- Participatory process for management plans and annual work programme (across the local development council and project management team)

- Number of private tourism concessions in each of the three parks

- Overall improvement in the effectiveness of protected areas management as defined by the "IUCN SCORECARD”

- The creation of permanent delegated conservation posts in the three parks that will be responsible for public and community relations

The use of these indicators should be followed up by structures involved in project implementation, primarily the Directorate General of Forests and its local and regional structures involved with national parks.

Indicators for monitoring the ecology and biodiversity in coastal, lagoon and island environments

Regarding specific projects for developing and managing coastal, lagoon and island ecosystems that focus on the understanding and characterization of the ecosystem, indicators for monitoring biodiversity have been developed or are in development. This is particularly the case for the following projects:

- Project for the protection of marine and coastal resources in the Gulf of Gabes

- Conservation project for wetlands and coastal ecosystems in the Mediterranean Basin (MedWetCoast)

- Regional project for the development of maritime zones and protected coasts in the mediterranean region

The indicators in question relate primarily to the monitoring of biodiversity in the ecosystems under consideration, notably flora and fauna, habitat and species status.

These projects involve a number of institutions, mainly the Directorate General for the Environment and Quality of Life, Agency on Coastal Protection and Management, International Centre for Environmental Technologies (Tunis), National Institute of Sea Sciences and Technologies, among others, which should ensure an increase in the use of the indicators in question for the sites under consideration and establish appropriate monitoring devices.

Regarding the updating of the National Biodiversity Strategy that is currently underway, the following outcomes are expected in 2014:

- Identification of national goals

- Identification of national indicators

- Updating of the status of locations of elements of biodiversity