Botany

Eastern Mediterranean conifer-sclerophyllous-broadleaf forests

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Habitat along the Jordan River. Source: Creative Commons

The Eastern Mediterranean conifer-sclerophyllous-broadleaf forests ecoregion lies in the heart of the Middle East along the Levantine Sea coasts of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel, as well as in the neighbouring coastal plains and lowlands. Major avian migratory routes pass through this Palaearctic realm, contributing to its status as an area of high bird biodiversity. There is considerable flora and fauna species richness in the ecoregion, with 522 vertebrate taxa being recorded here. The ecoregion is also home to a number of globally threatened wildlife species, including the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita CR) and Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus CR), the endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta EN) and the endangered Euphrates Softshell Turtle (Rafetus euphraticus EN), and the vulnerable Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca VU). This raptor’s territory overlaps with that of the Fertile Crescent, an area which supported some of the early human civilisations, and offers an important record of the interactions between man and nature from prehistoric time to present.

Location and general depiction

caption Eastern Mediterranean conifer-scelophyllous-broadleaf forests. WWF This ecoregion is situated in the eastern and southeastern region of the Mediterranean Basin. It starts in the western part of Turkey’s Mediterranean coastal region, extends east along the coastal zone through southeastern Anatolia and then forks into two branches. The first branch continues largely eastward, encompassing most of the Turkish-Syrian border, and the second branch turns south along the Levantine Sea coast into Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. This ecoregion has three main components:

  1. The southern Mediterranean coastal zone of Anatolia starting from Kemer in the west and extending through Iskenderun Bay in the east: From north to south, this ecoregion extends from the southern skirts of the Taurus Mountains through the coastal zone. Because these mountains affect temperature and precipitation regimes, they delineate the inland boundaries of the ecoregion. The Aksu, Goksu, Seyhan, and Ceyhan Rivers and their associated plains constitute both the chief river systems of the area and the lowlands that represent the ecoregion’s inland-most extensions.
  2. Southeastern Anatolia and the Northern Syrian Basin: This is an inland region in the general area of the Turkish-Syrian border. Here, the northern boundary is delineated by the Anti-Taurus Mountains and the southern boundary is determined by the Syrian Desert. The Euphrates River and part of the Tigris River form the principal valleys of the region, which is heavily influenced by desert. Since this is the driest part of the ecoregion, these two rivers are the principal biological focal points.
  3. Syrian, Lebanese, Israeli and Jordanian plains excluding the Levantine Mountains: From southern Anatolia to northeast Africa, this area represents one of the most diverse segments of Rift Valley habitat. The Palestinian coastal plains, the lowlands of Syria and Lebanon, and the northern parts of the Rift Valley are the chief topographical formations of the region. The Jordan River green belt is also noteworthy.

The climate is characterized by warm, rainy winters and arid, hot summers. Precipitation amounts decrease from west to east, ranging from 1000 to 1250 millimetres (mm) around Antalya, 600 to 800 mm in Mersin, Adana, and Iskenderun Bay, 400 mm around Mesopotamia, and lower amounts in the Syrian basin. In the coastal plains of the southern part of the ecoregion, precipitation reaches 600 to 850 mm around Beirut, Akko, and Zefad, and decreases to about 400 mm in southern Israel.

The relatively harsh climatic conditions and the long history of human settlement constitute two major factors affecting the flora and fauna in this ecoregion. Macro-botanical evidence indicates that deleterious effects of human activities became evident in the region as early as 3000 BC. Since that time, high temperatures, low atmospheric humidity, and poor soil conditions have impeded the vegetation from recovering after human disturbances. There are a number of special status taxa that are found in the Eastern Mediterranean conifer-sclerophyllous-broadleaf forests, denoted by the increasing threat gradations of Lower Risk (LR), Near Threatened (NT), Vulnerable (VU), Endangered (EN), or Critically Endangered (CR).

Vegetative communities

The vegetation of this ecoregion can be organized into three main groups: (1) broadleaf sclerophyllus vegetation (maquis); (2) coniferous forests of Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis) and Callabrian Pine (Pinus brutia); and (3) various associations of drought tolerant oak (Quercus spp.) woodlands and steppe formations. Here, although the Amanus Mountains and the Anti-Taurus Mountains in the north are not part of this ecoregion, their presence is important, since they serve as topographic barriers between this region's western, eastern, and southern parts. Since they affect the distribution of humid weather, these geographical barriers have an impact on species composition and the physiognomy of the vegetation.

Maquis

Maquis is dominant, especially in the northwestern part of the ecoregion and along the eastern coastal zone of the Levantine Sea. Olive (Olea europea), Carob (Ceratonia siliqua), Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), Cyprus Turpentine (Pistacia terebinthus), Mastic Tree (P. lentiscus), and Greek Strawberry Tree (Arbutus andrachne) are the chief tree taxa of this maquis community. In addition, however, over forty sclerophyllus species also occur here, including: Green Olive Tree (Phillyrea latifolia), Cypress Turpentine (Pistacia terebinthus), Spiny Broom (Calicotome villosa), Genista micrantha, Rhamnus lycioides oleoides, Myrtle (Myrtus communis), Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), Drug Snowbell (Styrax officinalis), and Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum).

Although the Olea-Ceratonia alliance in the coastal belt is greatly degraded, it nevertheless represents the climax community. The Ceratonia siliqua tree layer in particular is so degraded that it is only represented by a few individuals. Olive (Olea europea) forms robust communities surrounding Antalya-Köprülü Kanyon and Adana-Feke. One of the most widespread and important communities of this ecoregion is the Kermes oak (Quercus coccifera) community. Its high ecological tolerance and capacity to recover in degraded Pinus brutia forests make it one of the most dominant vegetation types. Another noteworthy oak is the community of the endemic species Boz-pirnal Oak (Quercus aucheri LR/NT), located near Antalya-Kemer-Faselis.

The maquis formation in the southern part of the ecoregion has quite different features from the more common Mediterranean maquis formation. Due to a drier climate and higher temperatures, and since it is greatly influenced by the Irano-Turanian phytogeographic realm, the southern maquis formation exhibits many deciduous species.

Coniferous forests

Calabrian Pine (Pinus brutia LR/NT) and Aleppo Pine (P. halepensis) are the dominant tree species in the forests of this ecoregion. P. brutia predominates in the northern parts of the ecoregion and P. halepensis is dominant species further to the south. The two species have similar ecological features, and both taxa are known for their high ecological tolerance. Although they can be found from sea level up to 1800 metres, neither grows naturally in the Mesopotamian part of the region. A few remnant stands of Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) accompany the southernmost distribution of Pontic Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum), which is a characteristic species of Euxinic vegetation..

There are good examples of Pinus brutia forest around Mersin, Silifke, Tarsus, Anamur, Gazipaşa, Pos, Adana, and Sarıçam. Usually, elements of maquis vegetation are common in the understory. Also, as these forests are influenced by the sea, they are irregular in shape and their biomass accumulation is slower than elsewhere. Pinus halepensis, in the southern part of the ecoregion, is highly degraded due to the harsh environmental conditions and human impacts.

The coastal plains of the upper Jordan Valley are dominated by Thatching Grass (Hyparrhenia hirta), with scattered thorny shrubs and small trees such as Jerusalem Thorn (Paliurus spina-christi),  Lac Sumach (Rhus tripartita), and Bean Clover (Anagyris foetida).

Oak woodlands

The eastern part of the ecoregion is poorer in terms of woody vegetation since it receives only 400 to 500 mm of annual precipitation. A line running through Viranşehir delineates the boundary between the desert and the Mediterranean formation. One of the main factors linking this xeric eastern area to the Mediterranean part of the ecoregion is the existence of Olive (Olea europea) and other shrub communities that incorporate Mediterranean elements. This part of the ecoregion runs in a west-east direction and ends around Cizre, near the Turkish-Syrian-Iraqi border, extending a distance of approximately 500 to 600 kilometres.

caption Close-up of the Caper flower. Source: J.E.& Bonnie McClellan/EoL This eastern area, which primarily covers the Anatolian and Syrian parts of the ecoregion, supports xeric vegetation dominated chiefly by chamaephytic (dwarf shrub) and hemicrophytic plants such as White Wormwood (Artemisia herba-alba), Phlomis bruguieri, Cousinia stenocephala, Caper (Capparis ovata), Hulwort (Teucrium polium),  Phlomis kurdica, Astragalus caprinus caprinus, and Diffuse Knapweed (Centaurea diffusa). At higher altitudes (about 700 metres) Valonia Oak (Quercus ithaburensis), Turkey Oak (Q. cerris), Brant's Oak (Q. brantii), and Boissier Oak (Q. infectoria  boissieri) comprise the dominant trees in deciduous oak woodland communities. Except for the shrub formations, these woodlands constitute the only woody community in this part of the ecoregion. Euphrates Poplar (Populus euphratica) and Almond Willow (Salix triandra) make up the dominant trees of tree community that forms gallery forests along segments of the Euphrates, Tigris, and Jordan Rivers..  Amygdalus arabica, Cerasus microcarpa, Perfumed Cherry (C. mahaleb), Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum), Common Fig (Ficus carica), Montpellier Maple (Acer monspessulanum), Crateagus taurica, Pyrus syriaca, Oriental Hackberry (Celtis tournefortii), Pistacia khinjuk, and Pistachio Nut tree (P. vera) are the principal species forming shrub communities in those gallery forests.

Biodiversity details

This ecoregion is not home to as many endemic species as the adjacent Taurus and Amanos Mountains. However one of its most important features is the nature-based component of Mediterranean culture. Olive (Olea europea), Carob (Cerotonia siliqua), and species within the genus Ficus are all significant plants in the local human culture. They are significant not only for their edible fruits but also for their ornamental, pharmaceutical, and medicinal uses. They provide fodder for livestock, shade during the hot Mediterranean summers, and fuelwood. In addition, their strong regenerative capacity enables them to recover more easily after repeated human use.

The Mediterranean Basin is an important area for agro-pastoral systems. Recently, such systems have attracted special interest since the mosaic of habitats they can create is thought by some to enhance biodiversity. However, from the perspective of natural succession, ecosystem maturity and ecological processes, the impact of agro-pastoral systems is still being debated in the development of conservation strategies..

The Mesopotamian part of this ecoregion falls within what is referred to as the Fertile Crescent, an area of valuable agricultural land that supported some of the earliest human civilizations. Human settlement and agriculture here date back to the early Holocene, a key factor underlaying the enormous genetic diversity among the area's crop species. Some of the wild relatives of agricultural plants that occur here include species in such genera as Wheat (Triticum), Lentil (Lens), Vetchling (Lathyrus), Pea (Pisum), Sainfoin (Onobrychis), and Clover (Trifolium). For example, four species of Wheat (Triticum baeoticum, T. dicoccoioes, T. durum, and T. aestivum) can be found in this ecoregion. These species constitute a critical resource, since artificial selection processes have narrowed the gene pool of this important grain crop.

This ecoregion hosts a number of noteworthy floristic features and endemic species. Boz-Pirnal Oak (Quercus aucheri) is an endemic tree species with a narrow and scattered distribution limited to southwestern Anatolia. A very large and well preserved dune system lies between Anamur and Mersin; it supports enclaves of Euro-Siberian elements such as Caucasian Walnut (Pterocarya fraxinifolia), English Yew (Taxus baccata), European Cornel (Cornus mas), C. sanguinea australis, Common Nipplewort (Lapsana communis), Dorycnium graecum, and Woolly Blackberry (Rubus canescens). Part of the region between Gülnar, Gilindere, Ermenek, and Karaman is rich in narrow endemics of Verbascum spp. The Çukurova plain hosts endemics that are threatened largely due to intensive agricultural activities; these include the Beet (Beta vulgaris adanensis), Linum anisocalyx, Trigonella halophila, and Bromus psammophilus.

Birdlife

This ecoregion is an important area of avian biodiversity because it is situated on one of the world’s major avian migratory routes. The Upper Rift Valley extends into the ecoregion around Israel, and Jordan, reaching from the Levantine Mountains in Lebanon and the Syrian plains to the Belen Pass. This area thus supports the continuation of a key migratory route from Africa on to the north.

In addition, there are six Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the western part of this ecoregion. From west to east they are: the Goksu Delta, the Aydincik Islands, Tuzla Lake, Akyatan Lake, Agyatan Lake, and Yumurtalik Lagoon. The Goksu Delta supports numerous avian taxa, including: Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus). In the Goksu Delta there are a number of threatened bird species, such as, Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus VU); Marbled Duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris VU), classified as Vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List; Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca NT), Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga VU), and Imperial Eagle (A. heliaca VU).  Akyatan Lake, Agyatan Lake and Yumurtalik Lagoon all belong to the same system and support important species such as the Marbled Duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris VU), Black Francolin (Francolinus francolinus), Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus), Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Spur-winged Lapwing (Vanellus spinosus), Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) and a large number of waterfowl..

A population of the critically endangered bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) occurs in this ecoregion. The only population in Turkey, with 61 pairs, it cannot survive completely in the wild, however; it lives in a breeding station in Birecik, and flies free during the breeding season. The other remaining population of this species, in Morocco, is wild and in good condition with 250 pairs.

Mammals

A number of large mammal species inhabit this ecoregion. Gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa), which once enjoyed a wider distribution, are now mainly confined to southeastern Turkey. Their population has been greatly reduced during the last 50 years, and the wild population is believed to number less than 500. There is a captive population in Urfa-Ceylanpınar. The Caracal (Caracal caracal) inhabits the arid hilly steppe desert and mountain terrain to which it is adapted, and Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) are found in wooded hills and forests. Striped Hyaena (Hyaena hyaena) are distributed from Turkey to Iraq; however, the population in Turkey is fragmented and believed to include fewer than 250 individuals. The Asia Minor Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus xanthoprymnus NT) is a near-endemic found chiefly on open steppe in Anatolian Turkey. Another special status mammal in the ecoregion is the Euphrates Jerboa (Allactaga euphratica NT), who, like all its genus members, is nocturnal with daytimes spent in burrows.

The Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) has been virtually extirpated from many parts of the ecoregion, although there are rare reports of sightings in areas near the mountains. Golden jackal (Canis aureus) is distributed throughout the ecoregion; it may have expanded into the areas that were once occupied by wolves. The Golden Jackal is the most widely distributed apex predator in the ecoregion. Small carnivores such as the Eurasian Badger (Meles meles), Stone Marten (Martes foina), and Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) can be found in favourable habitat. Egyptian Mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon), which prefers areas with water and dense plant cover, can be found in scrub habitat bordering cultivated plains.

Reptiles

The endangered Euphrates Softshell Turtle (Rafetus euphraticus EN) is a characteristic aquatic species here and is distributed throughout the streams of the ecoregion. Southeastern Anatolia, Syria, and Iraq constitute important areas of distribution for this species.

The endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta EN) and the critically endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) are flagship species for marine conservation activities in Turkey. The country’s Mediterranean coastal zone provide these two marine species with some of their most important nesting sites, and nine of the country’s seventeen Caretta caretta nesting sites lie within the boundaries of this ecoregion. Habitat destruction poses the main threat to both species, since the nesting sites are located in areas coinciding with high tourism intensity. Another key threat for the Mediterrean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus CR) is mortality from accidental capture by net fishermen.

Current ecological status

There are three national parks within the Turkish areas of this ecoregion: Köprülü Canyon (36,614 hectares) and Olimpos-Beydağları in Antalya (34,425 ha), and Karatepe Aslantaş in Adana (7715 hectares). Karatepe Aslantaş National Park is an archeological park dedicated to the protection of ruins from the Hittite Civilization. Köprülü Canyon is important in terms of plant biodiversity, sheltering high numbers of endemic species as well as a 500 hectare stand of native Mediterrean Cyprus (Cupressus sempervirens). Although this tree is not classified as a rare species, this forest type is extremely rare and the stand in Köprülü Canyon is the only known example in Turkey. Olimpos-Beydağları National Park is an extension of the Beydağları range and includes Taurus fir (Abies cilicica), Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), and Callabrian Pine (Pinus brutia) forests and maquis communities. It is also possible to find one of two natural populations of the narrow endemic species Datça Palm (Phoenix theophrasti LR/NT).

There are two nature reserves in the Turkish areas of this ecoregion. The Sütçüler Sığla Ormanı Nature Reserve is dedicated to the conservation of the Oriental Sweetgum (Liquidambar orientalis), a narrow endemic tree species which occurs as a riverine community along the Karacaören Stream. The second reserve is the Akyatağan Lagoon, which protects a complex system of terrestrial and lacustrine communities.

The Authority for Specially Protected Areas in Turkey (ASPA) has declared two Specially Protected Areas (SPAs) in the area under consideration: Belek (Antalya) and Goksu Delta (Mersin). These sites are mainly intended to address the impacts of construction activities in the coastal zone, but they also engage in the conservation and monitoring of Caretta caretta nesting sites.

Types and severity of threats

The Mediterranean region and the Middle East are among the most degraded areas in the world due to their long history of heavy human settlement. Most coastal sites are heavily impacted by both tourism and agriculture. While agricultural activities destroy natural habitats in the lowland plains, tourism destroys coastal dunes, one of the most fragile and rare habitat types. Maquis is another important natural formation that suffers from human activities, but its biodiversity is usually underappreciated as it is structurally quite different from the forest. Human-caused fire is another important cause of forest habitat destruction, and intensive grazing prevents the development of seedlings into mature plants. Although in most cases ecosystems have the capability to recover on their own, continual human pressures in these areas impede the normal forest regeneration processes. In the eastern part of the ecoregion agriculture is so extensive that, except in the hilly areas, all the natural vegetation has been converted to fields. Even in the hilly areas, natural communities are highly degraded due to overgrazing.

Extensive agricultural activities also threaten bird communities. Overuse of herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers kills many birds every year. One of the best examples of this is offered by the Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita CR) population in Birecik-Urfa. As noted above, this is the only Turkish population of this species, and one of two populations in the world. Its breeding site is located along the Euphrates River, and each year new hatchlings die from insecticide or herbicide poisoning.

Dams constructed on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers also pose threats to the natural habitats of this ecoregion. The dams have destroyed the integrity of these rivers and isolated many species to areas between the dams. One notable species that has suffered from the dams is the endangered Euphrates Softshell Turtle (Rafetus euphraticus EN).

Justification of ecoregion delineation

This ecoregion was developed to include the following formations as identified by Guidotti et al.(1986): the eastern Mediterranean evergreen oak forests and woodlands, Middle East evergreen tree steppes, the eastern Mediterranean evergreen scrub maquis, and the southeastern Anatolia and Middle East lowland dry conifer forests.

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Disclaimer: This article contains certain information that was originally published by the World Wildlife Fund. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth have edited its content and 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.

 

 

 

 

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Citation

Fund, W., & Hogan, C. (2014). Eastern Mediterranean conifer-sclerophyllous-broadleaf forests. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbed777896bb431f6925b7

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