Iberian conifer forests

Content Cover Image

Central Spain. (Source: Photograph by Pedro Regato / WWF MedPo)

caption Cuenca Mts., Spain. (Source: Photograph by Pedro Regato / WWF MedPo)

The Iberian conifer forests ecoregion encompasses several mountain ranges of Spain. One of the richest places of floral endemism in Europe. This ecoregion is home to such species as Salzmann pine (Pinus nigra subsp. salzmannii), Scotch pine (P. sylvestris), Stone pine (P.umbellata) and Maritime pine (P. pinaster). Faunal richness is also high. Over one hundred and fifty bird species have been recorded including the endangered Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca adalberti) and Golden eagle (A. chrysaetos). There are a number of endemic subspecies found in this ecoregion including the Gredos ibex (Capra pyrenaica victoriae) and a number of herpetofauna species, Lacerta monticola cyreni, Salamandra salamandra almanzoris, and Bufo bufo gredosicola. Winter resorts, forest fires, overgrazing, and commercial logging are the primary threats to this unique ecoregion; however, agricultural expansion is the principal threat at lower and middle montane settings on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada range.

Location and General Description

The Iberian mountain conifer and broadleaf mixed forests ecoregion spreads geographically all along the main central (Gredos, 2592 meters (m); Guadarrama, 2430 m; Urbion, 2259 m) and eastern (Gúdar, 2019 m; Javalambre, 2020 m; Cazorla, 2107 m; Sierra Nevada, 3482; Baza, 2271 m) mountain ranges of Spain. Climatically, the ecoregion is characterized by an average annual rainfall of 1100 millimeters (mm), but in certain high altitudes levels can exceed 1,500 mm. Snow falls frequently during winter and minimum average temperatures are below freezing (-5 to 0ºC). From the geological point of view, the Iberian mountain ranges belong to the Alpine orogenic system, being composed of a very complex lithological composition. Mesozoic dolomite and calimestone predominate in the eastern massifs; other important substrates are sandstone, marl, and conglomerates. The Central mountain ranges have a predominance of crystalline metamorphic substrates, mainly granite, quartzite, and schist. The landform is distinguished by smooth elevations and also an abundance of deep canyons and other karstic landscapes in the calcareous massifs.

caption WWF













The wide altitudinal range of this ecoregion results in two major forest zones: a conifer zone, typical of higher elevations (average altitudinal range of 1200 to 2500 m), and a mixed broadleaf zone, which occurs at medium elevations and lowlands.

The dominant canopy tree species of the mountain conifer forests are the near-endemic Salzmann pine (Pinus nigra salzmannii), Scotch pine (P. sylvestris), stone pine (P. umbellicata) and maritime pine (P. pinaster). Note that the Salzmann pine has also been reported to occur in forests of this elevation range in parts of southern France, northern Italy and parts of western North Africa. Relict stands of an Alpine pine species (Pinus uncinata) occur in two small areas of the eastern calcareous mountain massifs (Gúdar Mountain and Urbión Mountain). Juniper woodlands (Juniperus thurifera) are widespread in the high plateaus that surround the central and eastern calcareous mountains.

Broadleaf mixed pine and oak forests dominate at medium and low altitudes in deep soil and humid slopes, valleys, and canyons. This mixed forest type is characterized by a rich association of tree, shrub, and herbaceous species including Quercus faginea, Q. pyrenaica, Ulmus glabra, Fraxinus angustifolia, Tilia spp., Sorbus spp., and Acer spp. Canyons host important relict species such as Taxus baccata, Tilia platyphyllos, and Populus tremula. Evergreen oaks, mainly Holm oak (Quercus ilex subsp. ballota) are abundant in dry and rocky south-facing slopes, from the broadleaf mixed forest zone to the mountain conifer altitudinal zone.

Biodiversity Features

The endemism rate of this ecoregion varies from about 15-20% in the central mountain ranges (Gredos, Guadarrama, Gúdar, Javalambre), to more than 40% in the summits of the south-eastern Baetic and Sub-Baetic mountains (Sierra Nevada, Baza, Cazorla). These southeastern mountains are home to more than 3000 vascular plant species, or about half of the flora of Spain, and including about half of the country’s endemic plants. Therefore, these mountain ranges constitute the richest center of endemic species in Europe.

The ecoregion hosts a very high faunal diversity, mainly in regard to birds. More than 150 species have been recorded for certain mountain ranges, including a good number of endangered large birds such as Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca adalberti) and golden eagle (A. chrysaetos), black vulture (Aegypius monachus), griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), black-shouldered kite (Elanus caeruleus), black stork (Ciconia nigra), and honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus).

Endangered large mammals are represented by the endemic Gredos ibex (Capra pyrenaica victoriae) and wolf (Canis lupus). Red deer (Cervus elaphus elaphus) and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) are widely distributed in the ecoregion. Small mammals also include a number of endemic subspecies such as Microtus nivalis abulensis.

An important number of endemic amphibian and reptile species appear in high mountain lakes, meadows, and rocky areas including Lacerta monticola cyreni, Salamandra salamandra almanzorensis, and Bufo bufo gredosicola.

Butterflies (Lepidoptera) are also a highly diverse taxonomic group in this ecoregion. Certain mountain massifs (i.e. Gredos and Guadarrama) host more than 130 species, which represents one forth of the total number of European species and half of the Spanish butterfly species.

Current Status

According to historical data, the ecoregion mountain ranges had a very low human population, and tall forests prevailed widely throughout until the arrival of Arabs in the eighth century. Rapid landscape changes happened during medieval times mainly due to livestock grazing and, in the case of Sierra Nevada, due to agriculture. Huge mountain slopes were completely transformed into terrace cropland during this time. By the end of the nineteenth century, large mountain areas were covered completely by grassland and secondary scrub vegetation. In other cases, barren slopes showed an irreversible desertification process. Nevertheless, in 1860 pristine pine forests still remained in the central mountain ranges (Cuenca Mountain). Overly intense logging operations for railway construction and ship-building provoked the degradation of extensive forest stands and the disappearance of the last pristine stands.

Types and Severity of Threats

Current human impact is still high in this ecoregion. Mountain tourism, ski facilities and road construction are strongly degrading large mountain forest ecosystems. Due to the soil instability of the steep mountain slopes, road construction, and clear-cutting operations have provoked serious landslides. Other primary threats include forest fires, overly intense and inadequately managed logging operations, and overgrazing and unsustainable plant-collecting.

Table 1. Degree of Protection
Country Area Name & Creation Date PA size (Ha) % Ecor. Prot. Designation & IUCN Cat. Major Forest Types
Spain Sierra Nevada 140,200   National Park Biosphere reserve  
Spain Sierra de Baza (1989) 52,337   Natural Park  
Spain Sierra de Castril (1989) 12,265   Natural Park  
Spain Sierra Mágina (1989) 19,900   Natural Park  
Spain Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas (1989) 214,000   Natural Park Biosphere Reserve  
Spain Moncayo (1978) 1,389   Natural Park  

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation

It includes the eastern units of Iberian supra- and meso-Mediterranean Quercus pyrenaica as well as the southeastern units of the supra-Mediterranean and relict types of Mediterranean sclerophyllous forests and scrub (with small inclusions of subalpine and oro-Mediterranean vegetation and Iberian supra- and meso-Mediterranean thermophilous mixed deciduous broad-leaved forests) from Bohn et al. 2000.

Additional Information on this Ecoregion

Further Reading

  • Bacaria, J. et al. 1999. Environmental Atlas of the Mediterranean. Fundaciò Territori i Paisatge Eds. ISBN: 8473065921
  • Bohn, U., G. Gollub, and C. Hettwer. 2000. Reduced general map of the natural vegetation of Europe. 1:10 million. Bonn-Bad Godesberg 2000.
  • Casado, S. and C. Montes. 1995. Guía de los Lagos y Humedales de España. Reyero Ed., Madrid. ISBN: 8460531090
  • Davis, S.D., V.H. Heywood and A.C. Hamilton, editors. 1994. Centres of Plant Diversity. A Guide and Strategy for their Conservation. Volume 1. Europe, Africa, South West Asia and the Middle East. IUCN Publications Unit, Cambridge, U.K. 354 pp.
  • Costa, Morla and Sainz, Editors. 1997. Los bosques Ibéricos. Una interpretación geobotánica. Planeta Ed. ISBN: 8408019244
  • Elena-Rosselló, R. 1997. Clasificación Biogeclimática de España Peninsular y Balear. Ministerio de Agricultura, Pesca y Alimentación, Madrid.
  • Folch i Guillèn.1981. La Vegetació dels Paisos Catalans. Ketres Ed., Barcelona. ISBN: 8485256204
  • Gomez Campo, C. 1985. Plant Conservation in the Mediterranean Ecosystems. Junk Ed., Geobotanica 7.
  • Heath, M.F. and M.I. Evans, Editors. 2000. Important Bird Areas in Europe: Priority sites for conservation. Vol 2: Southern Europe. BirdLife International, BirdLife Conservation Series No: 8. ISBN: 0946888361
  • Luceño, M and P. Vargas. 1991. Guía Botánica del Sistema Central Español. Piramide Ed., Madrid. ISBN: 8436805585
  • Medail, F. and P. Quezel. 1997. Hotspots Analysis for Conservation of Plant Biodiversity in the Mediterranean Basin. Ann. Missouri Gard. 84
  • Morillo C., Editor. 1986. Lista Roja de los Vertebrados de España. ICONA, Madrid.
  • Pajarón S. and A. Escudero. 1993. Guía Botánica de las Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Alcaraz. Piramide Ed., Madrid. ISBN: 8436807707
  • Regato, P. et al. 1991. "Estudio autoecológico comparativo de Pinus nigra subsp. salzmannii de la Península Ibérica y otras subespecies de la región Circunmediterránea". Investivagión Agraria. Sistemas y Recursos Forestales Vol.0
  • Regato, P. and R. Elena-Rossellò. 1995. "Natural Black Pine forests of the Iberian Eastern Mountains: Development of the phytoecological basis for their site evaluation". Ann. des Sciences Forestières 52.
  • Regato, P., J. Gamisans, and M. Gruber. 1995. "A syntaxonomical study of Pinus nigra subsp. salzmannii forests in the Iberian Peninsula. Phytocoenologia 25:4.
  • Shackleton, D.M., Editor. and the IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group. 1997. Wild Sheep and their Relatives. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Caprinae. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. ISBN: 2831703530
  • Sainz Ollero, H. and J.E. Hernández-Bermejo. 1981. Síntesis corológica de las dicotiledoneas endémicas de la Pen´nsula Ibérica e Islas Baleares. INIA, Madrid.
  • Water, K.S., and H.J. Gillett, Editors. 1998. 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. Compiled by WCMC. IUCN, Publication Service Unit, Cambridge.
  • WWF. 2001. The Mediterranean forests. A new conservation strategy. WWF, MedPO, Rome
  • Jiménez-Caballero, S. 2000. El estado de conservaciòn y la protecciòn de los bosques españoles. Panda N. 68. WWF, España.


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). Iberian conifer forests. Retrieved from


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