Illyrian deciduous forests
The Illyrian deciduous forests encompass coastal areas on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. This ecoregion is actually comprised of three distinct forest types, two of which are broadleaf and one of which is a mixed conifer/broadleaf plant community. The region has a relatively high floral endemism rate with many relict and narrow range species. Faunal diversity is high, and a number of IBAs (Important Bird Areas) and threatened SPECs (Species of European Concern) are found within the region. Illegal logging, illegal hunting, and uncontrolled plant harvesting have destroyed extensive forest areas that have been relatively intact until recently.
Location and general description
The Illyrian deciduous forests extend all along the coastal ranges of the Eastern Adriatic coast, from the eastern Alps to the northern Ionian coast between Albania and Greece.
The ecoregion is characterised by an average annual rainfall of 1500 to 2000 millimetres (mm), which can locally exceed 3000 mm. Of particular interest is the extremely heavy rainfall of the Velebit Mountains in Dalmatia (over 3000 mm annually). Snow falls frequently during winter and January average temperatures are below freezing (from -10 º C to 0 º C). Average temperatures in July are between 15 to 20 º C.
The wide altitudinal range of this ecoregion results in two major forest zones: a conifer zone, occurring at the highest elevations (average altitudinal range of 1,200-2,500 meters (m)), and a mixed broadleaf zone, covering medium elevations and lowlands. The dominant canopy tree species of the mountain conifer forests are spruce (Picea abies), silver fir (Abies alba), and black pine (Pinus nigra). Mixed fir, spruce, and beech (Fagus sylvatica) forests frequently appear all along the high elevations and the more continental east-facing slopes.
Broadleaf beech and mixed oak forests dominate at medium and lower altitudes in deep soil and humid elevations, valleys and canyons. A remarkably high diversity of deciduous oak species (Quercus frainetto, Q. pubescens, Q. cerris, Q. virgiliana, Q. dalechampii) and other deciduous broadleaf species (Carpinus orientalis, Castanea sativa, Ostrya carpinifolia, Tilia spp., Sorbus spp., Acer spp.) characterize the coastal slopes. Evergreen trees, mainly holm oak (Quercus ilex) and Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), and maquis shrubs (Pistacia terebinthus, Rhamnus alaternus, Phillyrea latifolia, Arbutus unedo) become predominant at the lower altitudes near the coast.
The endemism rate of the ecoregion’s flora is between 10-20%. Notable among the endemic and relict species are Degenia velebitica, Primula kitaibeliana, Symphyandra hofmannii, Bupleurum karglii, Viola elegantula, and Sibiraea croatica. Many plant taxa related to these forest ecosystems have a very restricted distribution range (i.e. Velebit Mountain range) and are included as threatened species on the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants.
The ecoregion supports a very high faunal diversity, mainly with regard to its birds. A few examples are capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), and kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). The region encompasses several IBAs (Important Bird Areas) and threatened SPECs (Species of European Concern). Large carnivores such as brown bear (Ursus arctos), lynx (Lynx lynx), and wolf (Canis lupus), as well as large herbivores like roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), red deer (Cervus elaphus), and chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), maintain significant populations in the mountain ranges.
The ecoregion has an outstanding underground fauna associated with aquatic habitats of the karst systems. About thirty species of the relict genus Niphargus (an underground crustacean) and several underground shrimp of the genus Troglocaris inhabit almost all types of underground habitats. In karst springs and littoral caves, Bogidiella dalmatica can be found. Abundant endemic fish species of genus Paraphoxinus are also found in underground waters.
The mountain ranges of this region have historically held low human populations, and tall forests still prevail widely throughout; however there were pockets of intense exploitation in antiquity. For example, the Roman Diocletian's Palace in present day Split, Croatia is a monument to the population intensity and local resource exploitation circa 200 AD. This edifice is the largest extant Roman palace outside Italy, and continued to thrive continuously through the Dark and Middle Ages. A significant number of pristine large forest stands remained quite untouched until very recently. Rapid and intense forest degradation in the form of illegal logging, pollution, and fire took place during the recent Balkan conflicts that led to the division of the Former Yugoslavia into a number of independent republics
Overexploitation of forests is ongoing in certain areas due to the political instability of most countries in the ecoregion. Additinally the coastal aspects of the region are a present attractant to the tourism industry, and significant amounts of tourism infrastructure and urbanisation are ongoing in the region from these drivers.
Types and severity of threats
Human impact remains high in this ecoregion, mainly due to the socio-economic and political instability of most countries in the ecoregion, where illegal logging, illegal hunting, and uncontrolled plant harvesting have already destroyed extensive forest areas-- including those within certain protected areas.
Justification of ecoregion delineation
This ecoregion in the coastal Grecian and Dinaric mountains and islands is equivalent to the DMEER unit of the same name. It is primarily composed of coastal sub-Mediterranean and meso-supra-Mediterranean downy oak forests with small units of meso-Mediterranean Holm oak forests. These vegetation types have been terminated in the north at the eastern edge of the Po Basin and in the south at the southern boundary of a climatic-vegetation developed during the DMEER process.
- For a terser summary of this entry, see the WWF WildWorld profile of this ecoregion.
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