The montado is one of the greatest natural treasures in that it contributes to the preservation of the environment. In addition to the excellence of environmental services provides (including soil conservation, regulation of the water cycle, reduction of carbon emissions and preservation of the biodiversity), it uses an environmentally sustainable process in the cork extraction, as no trees are cut.
In addition to the high biodiversity, the montado plays an essential role in regulating water and soil conservation, providing protection against wind erosion, and increasing the rate at which rain water infiltrates and replenishes the groundwater. Given that the cork oaks intercept around 26.7% of the total rainfall, they also reduce runoff, thus preventing soil erosion.
Cork oaks provide large amounts of material that decomposes to form humus on the top layer of soil. They are able to bring, from the lower levels of the soil to the upper level, a large quantity of nutrients that would otherwise remain inaccessible to the herbaceous vegetation. It has a high water holding capacity due to its porosity, as well as high organic content.
The tree canopy of the montada also created a microclimate that is less excessive in winter and summer, which allows a longer growth period of herbaceous vegetation. Cork oaks also reduce the wind speed, which helps to protect the crops.
In addition, due to their potential economic value, cork oaks woods can be crucial in forming forest areas that act as a barrier against desertification. Meanwhile, they also act as carbon sinks, and can help mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Lung of the Mediterranean
Over the past twenty years, we have seen eleven of the hottest years in the last 125 years, and researchers in the area recognize that these changes are due to greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2). Global warming of 1.4C to 5.8C is forecast, in this century. The cork oak plays a crucial role in this area. In addition to producing oxygen by photosynthesis, the unique cellular structure of cork oak fixes carbon.
According to a study published by the Instituto Superior de Agronomia (ISA) in Lisbon, the montado can retain about 6 tonnes of CO2 per hectare and year, which corresponds, in the case of Portugal, to more than 4 million ton of CO2 per year. It is therefore concluded that the Mediterranean cork oak forests (2.1 million hectares) enable the retention of nearly 14 million ton of CO2 per year.