Ecoregions

Pyrenees conifer and mixed forests

July 11, 2012, 5:20 am
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Laguna Negra, Spain. Photograph by Pedro Regato/ WWF MedPO

Pyrenees conifer and mixed forests reside in the Pyrenees Mountains of Western Europe. The Pyrenees, a mountain system that bridges Central and Mediterranean Europe,contains high levels of biodiversity and many endemic species. Of the 3,500 species of plants found in this ecoregion, about 200 are endemic. Endangered fauna includes the brown bear (Ursus arctos) and the lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus). Although there are still pristine areas of habitat, logging operations, winter resorts, and dams pose a major threat to this unique ecoregion.

Location and General Description

The Pyrenees are situated between the Eurosiberian and the Mediterranean biogeographic regions of Europe. The mountain range extends in a west-east direction from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, covering 500 square kilometres (km2) between France and Spain and encompassing the small nation of Andorra; in fact, this ecoregion comprises the entirety of the ecoregions of Andorra.

The central axis of the Pyrenees is composed of ancient granite and slate more than two hundred million years old, flanked by Mesozoic (limestone, dolomite, and sandstone) and quaternary sedimentary rocks. The Alpine orogeny has shaped the complex Pyrenean landform. It consists of steep rocky slopes, spectacular canyons, karstic high plains, and high summits of more than 3,000 metres (m) (Aneto 3,404 m, Posets 3,375 m, Vignemale 3,298 m). Evidence of Quaternary glaciation is everywhere, with stunning cirques and ice-smoothed, U-shaped valleys, and a few small glaciers still survive on some of the highest peaks.

The Pyrenees are divided into three major bioclimatic sectors. The western portion is affected by the mild and humid Atlantic air streams, the central continental sector by colder and drier weather, and the eastern section by a Mediterranean influence, which brings warm summer drought. A Mediterranean transitional climate type predominates in the southern Pyrenean lower ranges, known as the "Prepyrenees".

The Pyrenees are characterized by a highly diverse altitudinal zoning of forest types, which becomes more evident in the southern Spanish half. Lower elevations and limestone/dolomite canyons have a Mediterranean vegetation type, where mixed evergreen (mainly Holm Oak Quercus ilex) and deciduous species (Quercus faginea, Q. pubescens, Tilia platyphyllos, Acer opalus) predominate.

Cork Oak (Quercus suber) and Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) form important forest stands in the siliceous substrates of the easternmost extreme, near the Mediterranean Sea. Medium elevations are characterized by deciduous mixed forest (Q. petraea, Q. pubescens; Fagus sylvatica mainly to the west) and pine forests of Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Mediterranean Black Pine (P. nigra subsp. salzmannii).

Relic Spanish Juniper (Juniperus thurifera) woodlands, widely spread in Central Spain and North Africa, appear in few areas of the Northern Pyrenees. High mountain forests are mainly composed of mixed European Beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Silver Fir (Abies alba) stands, with Mountain Pine (Pinus mugo subsp. uncinata) mainly found in more continental inner regions. Strictly alpine meadows occur above the timberline and host many endemic and relict species.

Biodiversity Features

caption Laguna Negra, Spain (Photograph by Pedro Regato/ WWF MedPO)

The Pyrenees is an interzonal mountain system (orobiome), in effect a "transition area" between Central and Mediterranean Europe. There remains a high degree of naturalness over large areas. About 3,500 vascular plant species are recorded from the mountains, of which about 200 are endemic, such as Thalictrum macrocarpum, Androsace hirtella, Saxifraga hariotii, Hieracium compositum, Gentiana burseri, Globularia gracilis, and Galium caespitosum. There are two endemic genera representing relicts of subtropical origin: Borderea pyrenaica and B. chouardii from the central Pyrenees, and Xatardia scabra from the eastern Pyrenees. The genus Ramonda, which has one species endemic to the Pyrenees (R. myconae) and two species endemic to the Dinaric Mountains, should also be mentioned.

About 64 species of mammal inhabit the Pyrenees, including some endemic subspecies. Large carnivore populations have been reduced in size or fragmented into small remaining groups. The brown bear (Ursus arctos) population is composed of only a few individuals. Large herbivores are generally have wide distributions, with the exception of the Pyrenean endemic ibex subspecies (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica). Unfortunately, this animal went extinct in early 2000.

About 120 breeding bird species have been identified, as well as an equal number of migratory species. A very highly endangered raptor is the lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), of which some forty pairs are still found in the Pyrenees. Other endangered species, more widely spread in Northern Europe, form isolated populations in certain mountain areas. These include the capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and the ptarmigan (Lagopus muta).

Current Status

Wilderness areas can still be found in certain valleys, canyons, and high slopes of the Pyrenees. Some species of special concern have critically low populations and are susceptible to extirpation in these mountains.

Types and Severity of Threats

Intensive logging operations, ski runs, winter tourism resorts, road construction, and power stations/dams threaten the survival of some of the best preserved forest habitat in Western Europe. Current human activity in the Pyrenees does not bode well for the forests’ endemic plant species, large mammals, and bird populations. In fact, forest fragmentation and road construction are leading to the likely extinction of the Spanish brown bear populations. Air pollution related to power stations has already provoked major problems for important forest areas in the eastern Pyrenees.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation

This ecoregion is equivalent to the DMEER unit of the same name, and the boundaries are primarily a result of that process. It includes a complex of vegetation types in and around the Pyrenees, including areas of lowland to altimontane beech and mixed beech forests, sub-Mediterranean downy oak forests, sub-and oro-Mediterranean pine forests, subalpine and oro-Mediterranean vegetation, alpine Mediterranean vegetation.

Additional Information on this Ecoregion

Further Reading

  • Bacaria, J., et al. 1999. Environmental Atlas of the Mediterranean. Fundaciò Territori i Paisatge Eds. ISBN: 8473065921
  • Bohn, U., G. Gollub, and C. Hettwer. 2000. Reduced general map of the natural vegetation of Europe. 1:10 million. Bonn-Bad Godesberg 2000.
  • Costa, Morla and Sainz editors. 1997. Los bosques Ibéricos. Una interpretación geobotánica. Planeta Ed. ISBN: 8408019244
  • Delaugerre, M and M. Cheylan 1992. Batraciens et Reptiles de Corse. Parc Naturel Regional de Corse. ISBN: 2905468092
  • Digital-Map of European Ecological Regions (DMEER), Version 2000/05.
  • Elena-Rosselló, R. 1997. Clasificación Biogeclimática de España Peninsular y Balear. Ministerio de Agricultura, Pesca y Alimentación, Madrid.
  • Folch i Guillèn 1981. La Vegetació dels Paisos Catalans. Ketres Ed., Barcelona. ISBN: 8485256204
  • Gaussen, H. 1956. La végétation des Pyrénées espagnoles. In: Die Pflanzenwelt Spaniens. Veröff. Geobot. Inst. RÜBEL. 31.
  • Gomez Campo, C. 1985. Plant Conservation in the Mediterranean Ecosystems. Junk Ed. (Geobotanica 7).
  • Gruber, M. 1980. Etages et séries de végétation de la chaine pyrénéenne. Ecologia Mediterranea 5.
  • Heath, M.F. and Evans, M.I., editors. 2000. Important Bird Areas in Europe: Priority sites for conservation. Vol 2: Southern Europe. BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series No: 8). ISBN: 0946888361
  • IUCN. 1996. 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Publication Service Unit, Cambridge. ISBN: 2831703352
  • Medail, F. and Quezel, P. 1997. Hotspots Analysis for Conservation of Plant Biodiversity in the Mediterranean Basin. Ann. Missouri Gard. 84
  • Morillo C., editor. 1986. Lista Roja de los Vertebrados de España. ICONA, Madrid.
  • Ozenda P. 1994. Vegetation du continent Europeen. Delachaux et Niestle, Lausanne, Swizerland. ISBN: 2603009540
  • Rivas-Martínez, S. et al. 1984. La vegetación de la Alta Montaña Cantábrica. Los Picos de Europa. Ed. Leonesas.
  • Shackleton, D.M., editor, and the IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group. 1997. Wild Sheep and their Relatives. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Caprinae. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. ISBN: 2831703530
  • Sainz Ollero, H. and J.E. Hernández-Bermejo. 1981. Síntesis corológica de las dicotiledoneas endémicas de la Pen´nsula Ibérica e Islas Baleares. INIA, Madrid.
  • Swenson, J.E. et al. 1999. Final Draft Action Plan for Conservation of the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) in Europe. WWF, Switzerland.
  • Water, K.S., and Gillett, H.J., editors. 1998. 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. Compiled by WCMC. IUCN, Publication Service Unit, Cambridge.
  • WWF and IUCN. 1994. Centres of Plant Diversity. A guide and strategy for their conservation. 3 Volumes. IUCN Publication Service Unit, Cambridge. ISBN: 2831701988
  • WWF. 2001. The Mediterranean forests. A new conservation strategy. WWF, MedPO, Rome.
  • WWF. In preparation. Mediterranean Forest Gap Analysis Database. WWF, MedPO, Rome.
  • Jiménez-Caballero, S. 2000. El estado de conservaciòn y la protecciòn de los bosques españoles. Panda N. 68. WWF, España.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the World Wildlife Fund. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the World Wildlife Fund should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.

 

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Citation

Fund, W. (2012). Pyrenees conifer and mixed forests. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/155620

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