Ecoregions

Ecoregions of Austria

Content Cover Image

Source: NASA/Michael Schmid

Austria has four ecoregions as illustrated in the figure below;

  1. Alps conifer and mixed forests;
  2. Western European Broadleaf forests;
  3. Central European mixed forests; and,
  4. Pannonian mixed forests

Alps conifer and mixed forests

Located in Central Europe, the Alps conifer and mixed forests stretch across the countries of France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. As with nearby mountain chains, the Alps are very important as they contribute much of what is left of the original forest cover of central and southern Europe. Some of the last forests in Europe of an almost natural state are found in this ecoregion. Formed during the Oligocene and Miocene epochs, the Alps are home to a high level of biodiversity. Over 4500 species of plants are found here, 400 of which are endemic. Faunal diversity is also high with 200 bird, 21 amphibian, 15 reptile, and 80 mammal species. While large areas of habitat remain untouched, winter resorts and increasing human populations threaten this ecoregion. Wilderness areas can still be found throughout much of the Alpine territory.

The foremost conservation concern in the Alps is the excessive fragmentation and loss of habitats and populations. This mainly threatens the permanence of large carnivores (who are naturally returning or are being reintroduced in the Alps). Moreover, Alpine conservation has to do not only with difficulties in protecting a rather large area, but also with the necessity of dealing with an area that is inhabited and exploited by man (through tourism, agriculture, and power plants/industry), as well as where the air and water pollution factor becomes more and more dangerous. Conservation policies must therefore deal with trends such as the decreasing importance of traditional agriculture, the high intensity of tourism, the expansion of urban centers and the development of commuter systems. This means that any conservation action must have many facets, including topics dealing with wilderness, education, and ecological networks.

Western European Broadleaf forests

This ecoregion covers 190,100 square miles of critical/endangered temperate broadleaf and mixed forests from France in the west to Poland in the east, including large parts of Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland. This ecoregion as a whole has been heavily degraded and transformed, beginning in the early Holocene, chiefly by the expanding human population and corresponding large scale conversion of natural habitat to agricultural use. Presently the extant fauna of the ecoregion manifests a low rate of endemism.

The ecoregion has a variety of plant assemblies, ranging from true broadleaf forests, to raised bogs and moorlands, although most of the land area has been converted to agriculture. Typical dominant trees are Quercus robur, beech and birch.

Central European mixed forests

Located in the lowland plains of northern Europe, the Central European mixed forests ecoregion extends from eastern Germany to northern Moldova and northeastern Romania. The ecoregion covers large portions of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine, as well as a portion of the Czech Republic. Though dominated by mixed broadleaf and conifer forests, due to past glaciation, uniform topography, and proximity to Eastern European steppe, many boreal and thermophilous plant species can be found in the ecoregion. The notable Bialowieza Forest reserve contains one of the last remaining herds of European bison.

ther notable natives are Lynx, White-tailed Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle and Black Grouse. Today, much of the ecoregion has been cleared for agriculture, plantations and urban areas. Nevertheless, semi-natural habitats (like extensively used meadows and traditional pastures) still support important plant and animal communities that include many of the original faunal inhabitants.

About 75% of the original Central European mixed forest cover is estimated to be lost. Pristine and relic stands of this forest type are believed to have been eliminated completely except in the Bialowieza Forest in Poland and Belarus. At the European level, only about 6.3% of forests have protected status, and among mixed broad-leaved forests only 1.3%. On average, 95% of European protected forests are fragments smaller than 10 sq. kilometers (km). None of the 20 largest forest protected areas in Europe are situated within the Central European mixed forest ecoregion.

The native mixed forests that once dominated the region have been gradually replaced during last two centuries, mostly by Scots pine monocultures. There is a general tendency towards an increase of forested area in the region, and the formerly widespread extensive forest management has been gradually replaced by intensive measures.

Pannonian mixed forests

This ecoregion consists of a large topographic depression surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, Alps, and Dinaric Mountains. Avifauna diversity is high; there are fifty Important Bird Areas in this ecoregion. Lake Neusiedel with Seewinkel National Park, and other important wetlands are renowned for their bird life. Resident mammals are of the widespread throughout Europe including the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), Wolf (Canis lupus), and the endangered European mink (Mustela lutreola). There are a number of endangered reptiles including Orsini’s viper and Balkan wall lizard. Recreation and tourism, unsustainable exploitation, development and fragmentation, agricultural abandonment, and disturbance of wildlife, are other important threats. There are a number of natural parks in this ecoregion, but much of the natural habitat has been lost to agriculture.

There are a total of 377 native vertebrates that have been recorded in the Pannonian mixed forests; however, a complete count of migratory birds and other occasional sightings swells this record to over 500 taxa. Moreover, none of these taxa are endemic due to the free migration of species among the Eurasian ecoregions, owing to ample large scale biological corridors in prehistoric times and to the landscape permeability of these ecoregions. Dominant canopy trees of the ecoregion include oak, poplar, beech and hornbeam.

Context

Ecoregions are areas that:

[1] share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
[2] share similar environmental conditions; and,
[3] interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence.

Scientists at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), have established a classification system that divides the world in 867 terrestrial ecoregions, 426 freshwater ecoregions and 229 marine ecoregions that reflect the distribution of a broad range of fauna and flora across the entire planet.

References

  • Udo Bohn, Gisela Gollub, and Christoph Hettwer. 2000. Reduced general map of the natural vegetation of Europe. 1:10 million. Bonn-Bad Godesberg 2000.
  • John Chapman. 2000. Fragmentation in Archaeology: People, Places, and Broken Objects. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-15803-9
  • S.D.Davis, V.H. Heywood and A.C. Hamilton. 1994. Centers of plant diversity. Vol. 1: Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia and Middle East. WWF and IUCN, Washington DC.
  • Digital Map of European Ecological Regions (DMEER), Version 2000/05
  • M.F.Heath and M.I.Evans, editors. 2000. Important bird areas in Europe: Priority sites for conservation. 2 vols. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  • H.Heinzel, R. Fitter, and J. Parslow. 1977. Pareys Vogelbuch - Alle Vögel Europas, Nordafrikas und des mittleren Ostens. Aufl. Verl. P. Parey, Hamburg, Berlin.
  • Ozenda, P. 1994. Végétation du Continent Européen. Delachaux et Niestlé, Lausanne, Switzerland.
  • P. Pettitt. 2008. Art and the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition in Europe: Comments on the archaeological arguments for an early Upper Paleolithic antiquity of the Grotte Chauvet art. Journal of Human Evolution
  • Stanners, D., and P. Bourdeau, editors. 1995. Europe's environment: The Dobris assessment. European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.
Glossary

Citation

Fund, W., & Hogan, C. (2013). Ecoregions of Austria. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbf3807896bb431f6ad15c