Cyprus Mediterranean forests
Located in the Mediterranean Sea, this island ecoregion is home to a variety of flora and fauna. More than 125 endemic plants are found here including the endangered Cyprus cedar (Cedrus brevifolia) and the Cyprus oak (Quercus alnifolia). The island also serves as a stepping stone between Europe and Africa for millions of migratory birds every year. Over 350 species of birds can be found here, most of which are migratory. Some 46 residents and 27 migratory species breed regularly on the island; about 10 species are endemic. The island is home to a number of mammals such as the Cyprus moufflon (Ovis orientalis ophion), which is a rare type of wild sheep found only on the island of Cyprus. Only eighteen percent of the island is covered by its original habitat. Conversion of forest to pastures, urban development, forest fires, and tourism are all causes of habitat loss and continue to be a threat to this ecoregion.
Location and General Description
The Cyprus Mediterranean forests ecoregion encompasses the high and steep Troodos massif (Hionistra, 1961 meters [m]), and hills and low plains of the island (9,251 square kilometers [km2]). Climatically, the ecoregion is characterized by a sharp altitudinal bioclimate gradient, from the warm and semiarid low plains of the central part of the island (average annual temperature of about 17-19 ºC; total rainfall of less than 300 millimeters [mm]) to the cold and humid higher elevations (average annual temperature of about 9-13 ºC; total rainfall up to 1100 mm). The Cyprus Mountains belong to the Alpine orogenic system, being characterized by a very complex lithological composition and relief. Ultrabasic rocks predominate, such as serpentine, diabase, gabbro, and pillow-lava. Cretaceous and Miocene sedimentary rocks, mainly limestone, marl, sandstone and conglomerates, predominate at the lower elevations.
The wide altitudinal range of this ecoregion results in several forest zones. The lowest elevations are distinguished by a predominance of sclerophyllous evergreen and semi-deciduous oak forests (Quercus coccifera, Q. infectoria), "maquis" of strawberry tree (Arbutus andrachne), and juniper and cypress woodlands (Cupressus sempervirens, Juniperus phoenicea). The driest low plains, with less than 300 mm of annual rainfall, host a semi-arid, shrub-like vegetation where wild olive (Olea europaea), carob (Ceratonia siliqua), and jujube lotus (Zizyphus lotus) once flourished.
In the medium elevations mesophyllous pine forests (Pinus brutia) are widespread, and endemic evergreen oak forests (Quercus alnifolia) are locally abundant, such as in the western Troodos range – the relict endemic Cedrus brevifolia forest stands are located here also. The highest elevations host impressive mountain pine (Pinus pallasiana) forests and juniper (Juniperus foetidissima) woodlands.
The plant endemism rate of this ecoregion is about 7% (128 species from a total indigenous flora of 1,750 species). The endemic flora is distributed all along the mountain ranges – Troodos range with 87 endemic plants, the northern Pentadaktylos range with 57 endemics, and the Akamas peninsula with 35 endemic species. Among the most significant endemic plants are the rare and endangered Cyprus cedar (Cedrus brevifolia), the cyprus oak (Quercus alnifolia), a important number of bulb species such as Cyclamen cyprium, Tulipa cypria, Crocus cyprius, C. veneris, Chionodoxa lochiae, and Gagea juliae, and aromatic plants such as Nepeta troodi, Teucrium cyprium, T. micropodioides, Thymus integer, Salvia willeana, and Origanum cordifolium.
This ecoregion has a significant faunal diversity, though endemism is low. The rare and endemic herbivore, Cyprus moufflon (Ovis aries ophion) persists in the region’s forests. These forests are considered an important Center of Bird Diversity. There are approximately 81 bird species with a number of endemics such as Cyprus warbler (Sylvia melanothorax).
This ecoregion’s forests, which are greatly reduced in extent and still recovering from abuse, cover about 18% of the island’s land area (31% of the land above 1,000 m of altitude). During Classic times, Cyprus was an important shipbuilding center and a timber exporting country. The island has seen great fluctuations in population and prosperity under the historical Roman, Byzantine, and Turkish Empires, and a result has seen a long history of use and abuse of timber resources. During the nineteenth century, the national goat population was greater than on any other island in the Mediterranean. Overgrazing and setting of fires to produce fresh grassland have transformed large areas of mature forest into degraded shrubland. Land clearance and crop terracing have destroyed the majority of deciduous oak (Quercus infectoria) forests of the island. These now persist in small stands or lone trees scattered among the crop terraces.
The endemic cedar forests are represented by only a few hundred hectares. Black pine forests are intensively managed for timber, and old-growth pine trees, as well as juniper trees, are found only in high mountain rocky summits of the Troodos range. The predominance of ultrabasic substrates is related to the existence of poor soils, and makes soil restoration a very slow and difficult process.
Types and Severity of Threats
There is a high potential of human impact, mainly due to the abrupt socio-political partition of the island in July 1974. About 100 km2 of forests on the northern part of the island were burned during conflicts.
Mismanagement of pastures and grazing, as well as tourism development (mainly urban development in the coastal zone) are also considerably increasing the risk of forest fires. Ski facilities and road construction represent a growing threat to important forest habitats and endangered species.
Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
This ecoregion includes the entire island of Cyprus. It is comprised of lowland dry conifer forests, and present day eastern Mediterranean evergreen scrub ‘maquis’. There is a small area of montane pine, cypress and fir forests in the highlands.
Additional information on this ecoregion
- For a shorter summary of this entry, see the WWF WildWorld profile of this ecoregion.
- To see the species that live in this ecoregion, including images and threat levels, see the WWF Wildfinder description of this ecoregion.
- World Wildlife Fund Homepage
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