Southern Europe

On this page I want to impart to you only a very short overview over the special conditions which differ from the Central European habitat types. From a geographical point of view, Southern Europe is restricted to the Iberian Peninsula, Southern France, Italy, the coastal or more southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula and the Mediterranean islands.


The climate is characterized by mild and humid winters (mean temperature values often between 7 and 15 degrees Centigrade) and hot, dry summers with frequent diurnal maxima of 30-40 degrees Centigrade. There can be sometimes snowfall in winter, but snow normally melts quickly and cold temperatures rarely last longer than a few days. In the mountains the summer drought is decreasing a bit especially due to thunderstorms. Altogether, the mountain climate differs from that of the Central European mountains especially by the higher sunshine rates and more drought.


Coastal areas and dunes
Sand dunes and natural coasts are two of the most endangered habitat types of Europe. Almost anywhere (for example at the French Côte d'Azur) these habitats have already been destroyed because of urbanization, hotel construction, tourism (bathing) and other factors. Typical coastal species are the Noctuidae-species Brithys crini or the arctiid Utetheisa pulchella.
Frequently there are or were quite endangered wetlands such as river deltas (Camargue) or marshy lagunes. These wetlands - even if they are protected today - are still threatened by water extraction e.g. for agricultural purposes as it is the case with many Spanish wetlands due to the high water consumption of the platnations which have been constructed in semi arid areas.

Evergreen hard-leaf oak woodlands
The vegetation of lower parts of South Europe would naturally mainly consist of evergreen, in the undergrowth more or less darkish woodlands where evergeen and hard-leafed oak species (e.g. Quercus ilex, Quercus suber, Quercus coccifera) domitate. Many of these woodlands have already been clearcutted in former centuries or degraded to macchia etc. due to heavy grazing, have been afforestated with pine, overbuilt or included in agricultural fields. Because of that such woodlands are often only conserved in less accessible areas such as steeper slopes or ravines. In the northern Mediterranean region these woodlands ascend only to about 500-600m above sea level, but further south (e.g. Sardinia) they can be observed higher as 1200m above sea level. Typical are many oak species such as Dryobotodes or red and yellow Catocala.
On very poor or dry soils (e.g.sand) there are also natural pine woodlands (e.g. Pinus pinea or Pinus halepensis.

These vegation units locally also occur naturally, but in most cases they originated from a degradation of Mediterranean or Submediterranean oak woodlands (clearcutting, firewood, grazing, fires) and thus often cover large areas. The macchia consists of higher growing bushes such as Erica arborea, Arbutus sp. and still some trees (Quercus ilex), whereas the garigue mainly consists of lower shrub like Lamiaceae (Thymus, Lavandula, Rosmarinus), Cistus, Quercus coccifera and brooms etc. Between macchia and garigue there are flowing transitions and theay are often interlocked with each other. In the macchia there are species such as Charaxes jasius or Gonepteryx sp. In the garigues you can often observe many butterflies (e.g. Scolitantides baton) as long as they are not grazez too heavily.

Dry grasslands, steppe vegetation, pastures
At places where it is too dry even for garigues or secondarily through grazing there are grassy steppe-like habitats where you can find many extreme xerothermic species (e.g. some Satyrinae). In medium altitudes (e.g. in the Greek Askio-mountains) grazing with sheep and goats can result in very large, precious and extreme diverse landscapes which are intermixed there with remnants of oak woodland (Quercus pubescens) and dry shrub (Prunus, Pyrus, Paliurus spina-christi). Such large-scale habitats offer habitats to a unbelievable rich fauna (as well locusts as Lepidoptera such as Arctia festiva or Pyrgus cinarae).
But these habitats deteriorate quickly when they are grazed too heavily and more slowly when they are abandoned. Thus an appropriate grazing intensity is essential.

Submediterranean (Supra-Mediterranean) oak woodlands
Above the evergreen hard-leaf oak woodlands there are mostly bright woodlands with summergreen oaks (Quercus pubescens, locally also other species such as Quercus frainetto or Quercus cerris) and other trees (Ostrya carpinifolia, Acer sp.). These woodlands are especially diverse in transitions to macchia/garigue or at rocky places because there meet arboricolic species with those of more open dry grasslands or borderlines under mostly convenient climatic conditions.

In the higher mountains above the Submediterranean level you can find according to the local climatic conditions on the one hand beech woodland (Fagion, e.g. on the Balkan Peninsula at the eastern part of Olympus), which remembers to Central European conditions (in lower altitudes), and on the other hand different coniferous woodlands which consist of Abies sp., Cedrus or Pinus (e.g. Pinus nigra ans Pinus heldreichii on Olympus). At many places these mountain forests have been transferred into large pastures for grazing. Additionally, there are naturally open high mountain meadows above 2300m above sea level, rocky slopes and other habitats which also occur in Central European mountains. Because of the greater drought and sunshine in Southern European mountains there are many more so-called xeromontane species (e.g. some Hadena species such as Hadena vulcanica).


As already mentioned, especially the lower altitudes like the coastal areas are very endangered by overbuilding, tourism and the more and more intense agriculture (EU support!) which includes more and more even garigue areas. A very horrible example for too intense agriculture are parts of Spain (e.g. Andalusia: huge olive plantations, fruit and vegetable). Further points are the locally massive overgrazing (e.g. on Crete by goats) and an increasing frequency of at least partial intentional started fires (e.g. for gaining land for settlements and thus increase its economic value) which still afflict the rests of Mediterranean hard-leafed woodlands and also the macchia/garigue.
A new danger is the area consumption because of solar parks etc. which increase more and more and where there are undoubtedly endeavors to build them in economic worthless (but ecological high valuable) areas rather than on agricultural land.

In higher altitudes the threats are as usual lesser and mainly consist in factors as overgrazing, but also abandonment of grazing on the other hand and ski tourism with its infrastructure (e.g. Mount Parnass or Phalakro in Greece). In future a major threat in Southern Europe (in opposite to e.g. North Africa) will be the abandonment of pastures (e.g. in Southern France) due to economic and social problems.
But it must be stated, that away from the coasts there is still much more nature in Southern Europe than it is the case in the even more densely settled Central European region!

Some photos...

Coastal sand dunes on Sardinia Sandy coastal area on the olympic coast in Greece in Mai 2010 Wetland on Samos near the eastern coast, May 2009 Flowering, still extensively used agricultural land on Samos in May 2009 Quercus ilex woodland in over 1000m above sea level on Sardinia (Montiferru, May 2012) Quercus ilex woodland in the southern Cevennes In dense Quercus ilex woodlands it is quite dark near the ground (Sardinia, May 2012) Dense garigue near the coast with flowering Cistus (Sinis, May 2012) Species-rich garigue on Sardinia (Buggeru, May 2012) Grassy, gappy garigue on Sardinia at the foothills of the central mountains garigue in the French Provence (Montagne Ste. Victoire, April 2011) Burned garigue on Sardinien (Buggeru, May 2012) Species-rich mosaik with much garigue, Supramediterranean, summergreen oak woodland and evergreen hard-leaf woodland Mosaik  of woodland and large areas with garigue at the slopes of a narrow river valley Species-rich, typical landscape in the mountains of Andalusia (Spain) Steppe-like pasture in the southern Cevennes. Large-scale, intense olive plantations in the lower mountains of Andalusia (Spain) Construction of solar parks in the so far intact, large and extreme species-rich pasture landscape (mix of steppe-like meadows and dry shrub) in the Askio mountains in northern Greece Mixture of Submediterranean and Mediterranean oak woodland in the Montagne Ste. Victoire Bright summergreen oak forest (Quercus pubescens) with dry shrub and pastures in the Askio mountains Species-rich Submediterranean summergreen oak forest (especially Quercus frainetto) in the lower foothills of the Pindos range near Grevena Light woodlands with Pinus heldreichii at the Greek Olympus in about 2200m above sea level Xeromontane habitat types in the Veluchi mountains (mount Tymfristos) in middle Greece

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