Western European broadleaf forests

Content Cover Image

Bec d'Allier and Loire, France Photograph by © WWF-Canon/Hartmut Jungius

The Western European broadleaf forests ecoregion comprises approximately 190,100 square miles, covering most of eastern France, southern Germany, northern Switzerland, northern Austria, a portion of the Czech Republic and a small element of western Poland; it is classified within the biome of Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests.

The ecoregion 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.

Location and general description

The Western European broadleaf forests spans most of eastern France, the extreme east of Belgium, southern Germany, northern Switzerland, northern Austria, a portion of the Czech Republic and a small element of western Poland. The ecoregion has no portion which is tangent to a marine body. The ecoregion covers extensive lowlands, but also areas of higher elevation such as the Alps and the Ardennes. The protected area of the Haute Fagnes in the Ardennes extends between Eupen in the north, Monschau in the east, Spa in the west and Malmedy in the south.

The Rhône-Alpes are situated in the east of France. The central part of the Rhone Alps region comprises the river valleys of the Rhône and the Saône. The confluence of these two rivers is at Lyon. The western part of the region contains the start of the Massif Central mountain range. The region also borders or contains notable lakes such as Lake Geneva and Lake Annecy. The Ardèche River flows through the southwest portion of the Rhone Alps, having carved the deepest gorge in Europe.

The Hautes Vosges Mountains, extends from Belfort to the valley of the Bruche. The rounded summits of the Hautes Vosges are termed ballons in French. The Sandstoned Vosges lie between the Permian Basin of Saint-Die and include the Devon-Dinantian volcanic massif of Schirmeck-Moyenmoutier and the Col de Saverne the Lower Vosges, between the Col de Saverne and the headwaters of the Lauter. caption Location of the Western European broadleaf forests ecoregion. Source: World Wildlife Fund

Vegetative assemblies

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, after all, been converted to agriculture. Typical dominant trees are Quercus robur, beech and birch.

The Haute Fagnes (or High Fens) is a protected area of the Ardennes in eastern Belgium, having considerable topographic relief, consisting chiefly of peat bogs, and low wood-covered hills, moorland and forest.

Much of the Swiss Alps are technicall within the ecoregion, but a considerable portion of this alpine area is above the timberline and has little significant forested area.


There are a total of 379 distinct vertebrate taxa that have been identified within the ecoregion, although faunal endemism is low. Special status, but non-endemic, mammals in the Western European broadleaf forests are the:

  • Near Threatened Alpine shrew (Sorex alpinus);
  • Vulnerable Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus);
  • Vulnerable Mehely's horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus mehelyi);
  • Near Threatened Pond bat (Myotis bechsteini);
  • Near Threatened Schreiber's long-fingered bat (Miniopterus schreibersi);
  • Near Threatened Bechstein's bat (Myotis bechsteini);
  • Near Threatened Horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus euryale);
  • Vulnerable European suslik (Spermophilus citellus);
  • Vulnerable Southwestern water vole (Arvicola sapidus);
  • Endangered European mink (Mustela lutreola);
  • Near Threatened European otter (Lutra lutra);
  • Near Threatened Western barbastelle (Barbastella barbastellus);
  • Near Threatened European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus);
  • Near Threatened Garden dormouse (Eliomys quercinus);
  • Near Threatened Greater noctule bat (Nyctalus lasiopterus); and
  • the Vulnerable Long-fingered bat (Myotis capaccinii).

caption Alpine newt. Source: Christian R. Linder Amphibians in the Western European broadleaf forests are represented by the:

  • Common European toad (Bufo bufo);
  • Parsley frog (Pelodytes punctatus);
  • Coruna frog (Pelophylax perezi);
  • Edible frog (Pelophylax esculentus)
  • Moor Frog (Rana arvalis)
  • Pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae)
  • European common frog (Rana temporaria)
  • European treefrog (Hyla arborea)
  • Mediterranean treefrog (Hyla meridionalis)
  • Yellow-bellied toad (Bombina variegata)
  • Fire-bellied toad (Bombina bombina)
  • Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita);
  • Olive midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans)
  • Lake frog (Pelophylax ridibunda);
  • Spring frog (Rana dalmatina);
  • European fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra);
  • Crested newt (Triturus cristatus);
  • Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris);
  • Palmate newt (Triturus helveticus)
  • Alpine newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris); and,
  • the Marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus).

Special status non-endemic reptiles of the ecoregion are the Near Threatened European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) and the Lower Risk Grass snake (Natrix natrix).

Special status, but non-endemic, birds found in the ecoregion are the Near Threatened Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata), The Near Threatened Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata), the Near Threatened Ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca), the Vulnerable Saker falcon (Falco cherug), the Vulnerable Great bustard (Otis tarda), the Greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga), the Near Threatened Little bustard (Tetrax tetrax) and the Near Threatened Red kite (Milvus milvus).

Current status

The conservation status of the Western European broadleaf forests is classified as Critical/Endangered by the World Wildlife Fund, although the ecoregion has not been accorded a G200 designation, implying that this unit is not deserving of the highest priority for conservation, viewed on a worldwide basis.

Types and severity of threats

The greatest threat is the ongoing land conversion to agriculture, which land use change has been accelerating over the entire Holocene, in response to the human population explosion, the effects of which may have reached their maximum velocity of land cover change during the late Medieval to Industrial Revolution era. The Alps represent the greatest refugium opportunity, since such terrain has minimized the opportunity for agriculture and urbanization.

Protected areas

caption Parc Naturel Haute Fagnes. Source: Creative Commons Protected areas in the Western European broadleaf forests include: the Sumava National Park of the Czech Republic, which has the most extensive forest cover in central Europe as well as the largest lynx population; the Parc Naturel Haute Fagnes in the Ardennes region of eastern Belgium; the Bavarian Forest National Park in southeastern Germany, which has important raised bog habitat;


The ecoregion encompasses the earliest location where recorded artworks are extant from Homo sapiens. These cave dwellers inhabited locations such as the Chauvet Cave in eastern France within the Rhone Alps, where well preserved cave paintings date to circa 35,000 to 30,000 years before present.

Justification of ecoregion delineation

This ecoregion is equivalent to the DMEER (2000) unit of the same name and reflects the influence of climatic data during the DMEER delineation process. It predominantly includes lowland to altimontane beech and mixed beech forests of Western Europe (with the exception of the beech and mixed beech forests of the Alps) in the Central Massif, Jura, Central German Uplands, Bavarian Plateau, and Bohemian Massive. It also includes small areas of sub-Mediterranean and meso-supra-Mediterranean downy oak forests and mixed oak hornbeam forests (Bohn et al. 2000). 


  • Bohn, Udo, Gisela Gollub, and Christoph Hettwer. 2000. Reduced general map of the natural vegetation of Europe. 1:10 million. Bonn-Bad Godesberg 2000.
  • Davis, S.D., V.H. Heywood, and A.C. Hamilton. 1994. Centres of plant diversity. Vol. 1: Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia and Middle East. WWF and IUCN, Washington DC.D
  • Digital Map of European Ecological Regions (DMEER), Version 2000/05 (
  • Gasc J.P., A. Cabela, J. Crnobrnja-Isailovic, D. Dolmen, K. Grossenbacher, P, Haffner, J. Lescure, H. Martens, J.P. Martinez Rica, H. Maurin, M.E. Oliveira, T.S. Sofianidou, M. Veith and A. Zuiderwijk, editors. 1997. Atlas of amphibians and reptiles in Europe. Societas Europaea Herpetologica & Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (IEGB/SPN), Paris.
  • Heath, M.F., and M.I. Evans, editors. 2000. Important bird areas in Europe: Priority sites for conservation. 2 vols. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  • IUCN 2000: The Global Redlist of Species, of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. URL:
  • 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.
  • Wheatley, N. 2000. Where to watch birds in Europe and Russia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.


Fund, W., & Hogan, C. (2013). Western European broadleaf forests . Retrieved from