Aegean and Western Turkey sclerophyllous and mixed forests

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Sparse higher elevation sclerophyllous forest, Santorini. @ C.Michael Hogan

Situated in parts of Turkey, Greece, and on some of the the Aegean Sea islands, the Aegean and Western Turkey sclerophyllous and mixed forests ecoregion enjoys a Mediterranean climate and encompasses islands, coastal areas and some inland plains. It still supports a few areas of pine forest, and hosts rare and endemic species such as oriental sweetgum and Datça palm. The endangered loggerhead turtle nests here, and fox, wolf and wild boar are included among its mammal populations. Many resident and migratory birds are found here, including threatened species such as the pygmy cormorant, Dalmatian pelican, white-headed duck, and the lesser kestrel. The dense human populations that have inhabited this ancient area of civilization have severely degraded most of the original habitat, beginning in the earlier Holocene, and accelerating in more modern times with the recent human population explosion. .

Location and General Description 

caption Skopelos Island, Greece. Source: Pedro Regato/WWF MedPO

This ecoregion is situated in the coastal lowlands and plains of western Turkey, much of mainland Greece, and many of the Aegean islands. In Turkey, its boundaries extend from the southwestern part of Thrace along the Thracian Sea coast, the Thracian Sea being the northernmost element of the Aegean Sea. Thence the boundary of the ecoregion extends south to Kumluca on the Mediterranean coast. There is also a small strip along the northeastern edge of the Marmara Sea. In Greece, the ecoregion extends from the Peloponnese Peninsula in the south through the central part of the country, excluding the Pindos Mountains, to the Halkidikya Peninsula and northeast across the border with Turkey into Thrace. Many small Aegean islands are also part of this ecoregion, which is surrounded by the Ionian, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.

caption WWF

While the eastern part of the ecoregion encompasses lowlands and plains, the western part is more mountainous, including the Taygetos, Pannon, Aroania and Killini Mountains in the Peloponnese Peninsula, and the Olimpos and Othris Mountains in central Greece. The northern areas, from Thessaloniki Bay to Canakkale, is characterized by a thin belt of plains bordered on the north by the Rodope Mountains.

caption Meteora, Greece. Source: Pedro Regato/WWF MedPO

The mountains of western Anatolia extend from east to west and form a horst-graben system with deep furrows created by rivers such as the Edremit, Bak?rçay, Gediz, Küçükmenderes and Büyük Menderes. This system, formed between the Tertiary and Lower Upper Quaternary, is the main geomorphologic feature of this region. Central Greece and the Peloponnese have a rugged and dissected topography with many promontories and islands. The Meric, Mesta, Sruma, and Vardar rivers are the main water courses in the northern part of the ecoregion, and the Aliakmon and Pintos Rivers are found in the west. There are many plains along all of these rivers.

Metamorphic schist, limestone, ultrabasic rocks, and volcanic rocks are the main parent rock formations of the ecoregion. Although the Mediterranean climate prevails in the area, from north to south it shows considerable changes. In the northernmost parts, summers are wetter and winters have less rainfall than further south. The precipitation regime is winter, autumn, spring, summer, with winter having the most and summer the least rainfall, and annual precipitation ranges from 1,350-600 millimeters (mm).

The Aegean region is considered to lie at the center of the Eastern Mediterranean vegetation zone. However, during different geological periods a number of other phytogeographical elements have penetrated the area, such as Irano-Turanian, Central European, West European, West Mediterranean and South Mediterranean. Greece and western Turkey were connected during the Pliocene era, but later tectonic events separated them. Hence, their vegetation and flora are similar. Although the Aegean islands do not appear important in terms of floristic richness, study of their floristic composition would provide valuable data on the evolutionary patterns on both sides of the Aegean Sea.

The area has one of the most important populations of Callabrian pine (Pinus brutia). Communities of maquis, dominated by evergreen shrubs and Pinus brutia, are the most common formations in this ecoregion. However, there is considerable variation in the vegetation composition, and the species of the maquis change from south to north. The annual growth rate of Pinus brutia also decreases from south to north. In the south, the upper limit for this species is 300 to 400 metres (m), while in the north it is 700 to 800 m.

Table 1. Species with an important part of their global populations in this ecoregion.
Species Scientific name European Threat Status Criteria
Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais pallida SPEC 3 (Vulnerable) Large decline 1970-1990
Olive-tree Warbler Hippolais olivetorum SPEC 2 (Rare) <10,000 pairs
Rüppell's Warbler Sylvia rueppelli SPEC 4 (Secure)  
Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus SPEC 2 (Vulnerable) Large decline 1970-1990
Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea SPEC 2 (Vulnerable) <2,500 pairs
Cretzschmar's Bunting Emberiza caesia SPEC 4 (Secure) Little known

Arbutus andrachne, A. unedo, Spartium junceum, and Laurus nobilis are the main species of maquis vegetation. In the areas where Pinus brutia has been removed, Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), Calicotome villosa, Palirus spina-cristii, and Erica arborea are the main species. Common associations in the maquis formation are: (1) Olea europea-Ceratonia siliqua – widespread from southern parts up to Izmir; (2) Arbutus andrachne-Acer sempervirens-Quercus ilex – one of the rarest Mediterranean formations and well represented on Samsun Dag; and (3) Quercus infectoria forest – one of the most important coastal formations; it forms a mixture with other oak species. Quercus cerris, Q. frainetto, Q. pubescens and Q. ithaburensis once made up deciduous formations in the ecoregion, but these are now highly degraded.

Pinus brutia forest supports a limited range of typical European woodland bird species, including: wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), blackbird (Turdus merula), chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), coal tit (Parus ater), blue tit (P. caeruleus), great tit (P. major), short-toed treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla), jay (Garrulus glandarius), and chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). Krüper's nuthatch (Sitta krueperi) is common in this habitat and is probably the habitat's most important bird species. It occurs only in southeast Europe and the vast majority of its population is found in Turkey.

Characteristic bird species of maquis communities include assemblages of Sylvia warblers (subalpine warbler (S. cantillans) and Rüppell's warbler (S. rueppelli)), buntings (Cirl bunting (Emberiza cirlus), rock bunting (E. cia), black-headed bunting (E. melanocephala)), and partridges (red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa), rock partridge (A. graeca) and chukar (A. chukar)). Those species with an important part of their global populations in this ecoregion are listed below with their European Threat Status and criteria as determined by Birdlife International.

Biodiversity Features

Although this region is not as rich as the steppe formations or the Taurus Mountains in terms of plant species diversity, it does have some interesting and unique components. In the southern part of the Aegean region in Turkey, the Ayd?n and Samsun Mountains have rich and varied maquis communities. Quercus aucheri, Cupressus sempervirens, and Juniperus phoneica are important species and, although maquis communities are extremely disturbed throughout the ecoregion, these mountains contain some of the few remaining intact and well-protected examples of this habitat. Additionally, the Samsun Mountains contain many Euro-Siberian elements.

caption Stream frog (''Rana graeca''), Greece. (Source: Photograph by Michael Frede & CalPhotos)

Southwestern Turkey also has several endemic taxa. For example, oriental sweet gum (Liquidambar orientalis), considered vulnerable by IUCN, is endemic to this area and has a highly restricted distribution. It occurs in scattered patches from the Çine Stream in the northwest to Fethiye in the southeast. The trees are cut for firewood and the resin is collected to produce a fixative in the perfume industry. In 1949, Liquidambar orientalis forests covered 6,312 hectares (ha), but there are now only 1,215 ha remaining. Its main stronghold is around Köyce?iz, where at least 50% of all Liquidambar orientalis occurs. A distinct bird community is associated with the Liquidambar orientalis forests, with the principal species being nightingale (Luscinia megarhyncos), olivaceous warbler (Hippolais pallida) and Cettis warbler (Cettia cetti). The Levant sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes), a rare breeding bird of prey in Europe whose favored habitat is broad-leaved woodland lying along river valleys, occurs in the larger and more mature patches of habitat.

The Datça palm (Phoenix theophrastii) is another highly localized endemic species in this ecoregion. It is restricted to the deep, isolated coastal valleys of Datça and Kumluca-Karaöz, with additional populations in Bodrum-Gölköy and Crete. These are the only known populations of this species. One of the largest populations is on the Datça peninsula, where it grows in two valleys: Hurmal?bük Valley, facing south, which has the larger population and Eksere Valley, facing north. Although this species has a very restricted range and a small population, it is less endangered than Liquidambar orientalis. The largest population in Crete is protected under Greek law. Finally, Q. aucheri is the other endemic tree species whose occurrence is restricted to southwestern Anatolia. Its main distribution lies within the boundaries of Mu?la district (Datça, Köyce?iz) and Dilek Peninsula National Park. In Datça it can be found on Emecik Da?? and Kocada?, and in Köyce?iz it forms good communities around Çand?r and Yang? villages.

Species such as wild boar (Sus scrofa), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), porcupine (Hystrix cristata), jackal (Canis aureus), wolf (C. lupus), badger (Meles meles), hare (Lepus spp.), hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), squirrel (Sciurus spp.) and pine marten (Martes martes) can be found in parts of this ecoregion, particularly in some of the national parks and protected areas. There are also occasional reports of lynx (Lynx lynx), wild cat (Felis sylvestris), and bear (Ursus arctos).

There are 17 important nesting sites for the globally endangered loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) in Turkey, and six of the sites are found in this ecoregion. Bat colonies have been reported in Oluk gorge, in the Dilek peninsula.

A number of important bird species nest in or migrate through this ecoregion, primarily in the coastal habitats and wetlands. Examples include the pygmy cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus), dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala), and the lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni). All of these have a European threat status of vulnerable except the white-headed duck, whose conservation status is endangered, according to Birdlife International.

Current Status

The original community types of the area, Pinus brutia forests and maquis, are highly degraded in most of this region. There are very few patches of undisturbed habitat remaining; the Mente?e region, Bozda?lar, the foothills of the Ayd?n mountains, and the Marmara coast of the Gelibolu Peninsula hold the main intact remnants of Pinus brutia forests. The Datça peninsula in the south, with its low human population density, is still relatively undisturbed. The Samsun and Ayd?n Mountains and the Karada? peak are the other main areas that still support blocks of original habitat. Patara beach is another important site with its dune vegetation and loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) nesting sites.

Table 2. Important species with an unfavorable conservation status in Europe and with significant populations.
Species Scientific name European Threat Status Criteria
Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus SPEC 2 Vulnerable Moderate decline, <10,000 pairs
Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus SPEC 1 Vulnerable <2,500 pairs
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus SPEC 3 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax SPEC 3 Declining Moderate decline 1970-1990
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides SPEC 3 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea SPEC 3 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus SPEC 3 Declining Moderate decline 1970-1990
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia SPEC 2 Endangered Large decline 1970-1990, <10,000 pairs
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber SPEC 3 Localized Localized
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea SPEC 3 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca SPEC 1 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala SPEC 1 Endangered <250 pairs
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni SPEC 1 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus SPEC 3 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola SPEC 3 Endangered Large decline 1970-1990, <10,000 pairs
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus SPEC 3 Declining Moderate decline 1970-1990
Spur-winged Plover Vanellus spinosus SPEC 3 Endangered Large decline 1970-1990, <2,500 pairs
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia SPEC 3 Endangered Large decline 1970-1990, <10,000 pairs
Little Tern Sterna albifrons SPEC 3 Declining Moderate decline 1970-1990
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus SPEC 3 Declining Moderate decline 1970-1990

There are three national parks, three specially protected areas (SPAs), one strict nature reserve, and twelve Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the Turkish part of this ecoregion. Turkey's Gelibolu National Park (33,000 ha.) is a site of historical significance, dedicated to the memory of the Çanakkale War. It is home to such species as Sus scrofa, Vulpes vulpes and possibly Canis lupus, and also to bird species that are common to dry eastern Mediterranean coastal areas. Marmaris National Park (12,390 ha.) contains intact Pinus brutia formations and several small patches of Liquidambar orientalis along its streams. Dilek Peninsula and Büyük Menderes Delta National Park (27,675 ha.) are important for their intact habitat, maquis communities, and high ratio of Euro-Siberian elements and wildlife; this area is also an IBA.

Specially Protected Areas (SPAs) include: the Datça Peninsula; Köyce?iz-Dalyan, important for its Liquidambar orientalis habitats and Caretta caretta nesting beaches, and also an IBA; and the area of Dalaman.

Eleven Important Bird Areas (IBA) have been identified within the Turkish part of this ecoregion, all of them wetlands and most of them in coastal habitats. Important species with an unfavorable conservation status in Europe and with significant populations using these IBAs are shown in Table 2.

Types and Severity of Threats

As in all Mediterranean coastal areas, dense human population, extensive settlements, and agricultural activities have largely destroyed the natural habitat. Urbanization, conversion to agriculture, overgrazing and illegal logging are the principal causes of destruction.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation

This ecoregion was deliniated by combining two bioregional systems defined by Guidotti et al. and Bohn et al. In the Aegean area of Turkey, the ecoregion is based on Guidotti et al. and consists of the Anatolian lowland dry conifer forests and the Eastern Mediterranean evergreen oak forests and woodlands. The Greek portions of the ecoregion were delineated using the meso-Mediterranean Holm oak forests, wild olive-locust tree formations, sub-Mediterranean and meso-supra-Mediterranean downy oak forests, and small areas of floodplain vegetation and lowland moist forests as delineated by Bohn et al. Upland inclusions in the ecoregion are areas of meso- and supra-Mediterranean fir forests on the Peloponnesus Island as well as the Mediterranean pine forests and montane to altimontane beech and mixed beech forests of the Pindus Mountains that are part of Pindus Mountains mixed forests ecoregion.

Further Reading

  • For a more terse summary of this entry, see the WWF WildWorld profile of this ecoregion.
  • Akeroyd, J.R., and V.H. Heywood. 1994. Regional Overview: Europe. Pages 293-349 in S.D. Davis, V.H. Heywood and A.C. Hamilton, editors. Centres of Plant Diversity. Information Press, Oxford, England. ISBN: 283170197X
  • Akman, Y., M. Barbero, and P. Quézel. 1978/1979. Contribution à l’étude de la végétation forestiére d’Anatolie méditerranéenne. Phytocoenologia 5.
  • Akman, Y. 1995. Türkiye Orman Vejetasyonu. Ankara Üniversitesi Yay?nlar?. Ankara, Turkey.
  • Atalay ?., ?. Sezer, and H. Çukur. 1998. K?z?lçam Ormanlar?n?n Ekolojik Özellikleri ve Tohum Nakli Aç?s?ndan Bölgelere Ayr?lmas?. Ege Üniversitesi Bas?mevi. ?zmir, Turkey.
  • Atalay, ?. 1993. Ecological conditions and natural occurrence areas of Pinus brutia Ten in Turkey. Pages 57-66 in International symposium on Pinus brutia Ten, 18-23 October, 1993. Ministry of Papers. Marmaris Türkiye.
  • Bohn, U., G. Gollub and C. Hettwer. 2000. Reduced general map of the natural vegetation of Europe. 1:10 million. Bonn-Bad Godesberg.
  • Boydak, M. and M. Yaka. 1983. Phoenix theophrasti Greuter and its natural distribution in Datça Peninsula of Turkey. ?.Ü. Orman Fakültesi Dergisi. A 33/1.
  • Boydak, M. 1985. The distribution of Phoenix theophrasti in the Datça Peninsula. Biological Conservation 32.
  • Greuter, W. 1967. Beitrage zur Flora der Sudagais 8-9. Bauhinia 3/2.
  • Guidotti, G., P. Regato and S. Jimenez-Caballero. 1986. The major forest types in the Mediterranean. World Wildlife Fund, Rome, Italy.
  • Güner, A., M. Vural, H. Duman, A.A. Dönmez, and H. Sa?ban. 1993. Günlüka?ac? (Liquidambar orientalis Miller) – Köyce?iz’deki durum. The Karaca Arboretum Magazine, Vol. II Part 1: 33-42. Ankara, Turkey.
  • Hu?, S., 1949. S??laa?ac?n?n (Liquidambar orientalis Miller) ormanc?l?k bak?m?ndan önemi ve s??laya??n?n kimyasal ara?t?r?lmas?. OGM Yay?nlar?, özel say?: 83.
  • IUCN. 2001. The 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, United Kingdom. ISBN: 2831705657
  • Kantarc?, M.D. 1984. Türiye’nin Bat? Akdeniz bölümündeki K?z?lçam a?açland?rmalar?nda ekolojik de?erlendirmeler. Orman Fak. Derg. Seri A Cilt 2. S. 81-110.
  • K?rsal Çevre ve Ormanc?l?k Sorunlar? Ara?t?rma Derne?i (KÇOSAD). 2000. Türkiye’nin Tabiat? Koruma Alanlar?. Dönmez Ofset. Ankara, Turkey.
  • Magnin, G., and M. Yarar. 1997. Important bird areas in turkey. Do?al Hayat? Koruma Derne?i, ?stanbul, Turkey. ISBN: 9759608170
  • Mayer H., and H. Aksoy. 1986. Walder der Türkei, Gustav Fischer Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany.
  • Örter, E. 1988. S??la Ormanlar?m?z?n Durmu. Ormanc?l?k Ara?t?rma Enstitüsü Dergisi, Cilt 34: 93-96
  • Quezel, P., and A. Pamukçuo?lu. 1973. Contribution a l’étude phytosociologique et bioclimatique de quelques groupements forestiers du Taurus. Feddes Rep. 84.
  • Quezel, P., M. Barbero and Y. Akman. 1978. L’interprétation phytosociologique des groupements forestiers dans le basin Mediterranéen orientale: Documents phytosociologiques 3:329-352.
  • Runemark, H. 1971. The phytogeographical foundations of the Middle East. In Davis, P.H., P.C. Harper and I.C. Hedge, editors. Plant life of southwest Asia. The Bot. Soc. of Edinburgh.
  • Tucker, G.M., and M. I. Evans. 1997. Habitats for birds in Europe: a conservation strategy for the wider environment. BirdLife Conservation Series no. 6. BirdLife International, Cambridge, England.
  • Tucker, G.M. and M. F. Heath. 1994. Birds in Europe: their conservation status. BirdLife Conservation Series no. 3. BirdLife International, Cambridge, England.
  • UNEP-WCMC. 1988a. Protected Areas Programme: Dilek Yarimadisi NP (Dilek peninsula), Turkey.
  • UNEP-WCMC. 1988b. Protected Areas Programme: Gelibolu Yarimadasi HNP (Gallipoli Peninsula Historic National Park), Turkey.
  • Vural, M., H. Duman, Al. Güner, A.A. Dönmez, and H. ?a?ban. 1994. The vegetation of Köyce?iz-Dalyan (Mu?la) specially protected area. Turkish Journal of Botany 19: 431-476.
  • Welch, G.R. and H.J. Welch. 2000. Important forest areas of Turkey: bird surveys. Report to DHKD.
  • Yerli, S., and F. Demirayak. 1996. Turkiye’de Deniz Kaplumbagalari ve Ureme Kumsallari Uzerine bir Degerlendirme’ 95. Dogal Hayati Koruma Dernegi. Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Zohary, M. 1973 Geobotanical foundations of the Middle East: Vol.2, Gustav Fischer Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany.



Disclaimer: This article contains 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 personnel, or for any editing of the original content.












Fund, W. (2014). Aegean and Western Turkey sclerophyllous and mixed forests. Retrieved from


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