Environment

Ecological Regions Of Portugal

The Cantabrian Mixed Forests in Portugal is a transitional zone possessing a mix of both Mediterranean and Eurosiberian climates and biodiversity. The lush, green landscapes of the Azores hold the remnants of a type of laurel forests. The Northwest Iberian Montane Forests boasts of the last pristine forest in an already overpopulated Europe while Madeira Evergreen Forests provide an ecosystem established in deep gorges and canyons.Portugal, in general, has two types of biomes the first one is the Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests and the second one is the Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrubs. These biomes support a range of ecosystems some of which are discussed below.

Azores Temperate Mixed Forests

These island forest zones are isolated in the Atlantic Ocean where temperatures are invariably mild. Famous for their thermal springs, caverns, crater lakes, and grottoes, the Azores is a lush and vibrant island. The zone functions as the natural evolutionary laboratory with native plants species having fossils in the region. The archipelago rises steeply from the rocky coastlines to about 2,381 meters in Pico, a volcano cone. The island lies over a tectonically unstable ground and experiences earthquakes and volcanic activities. The Gulf Stream influences the climate of Azores. There is no frost below 500 meters and temperatures average 21º Celsius in summer and 14.5o Celsius in the winter.The archipelago is home to endemic species of Pyrrhula Murina an endangered species maintains a population of about 250 birds on the island, breeding seabirds such as the Procellariiformes, one species of pelecaniform, and four Charadriiformes. Mammals in the island include the Azores noctule, which is an endemic bat, as well as the mouse-eared bat, Norwegian rat, and European hedgehog. The native flora and fauna have suffered severely through degradation from the settlers living in the Azores in the form of deforestation, agriculture and the introduction of novel species. The ecosystem falls under National Forest Reserve for conservation. Also, a European Union-funded Program protects it. The University of Azores carries out research on the native and endemic flora of this ecosystem.

Cantabrian Mixed Forests

The Cantabric Mountain System is a transitional zone between the Mediterranean and Eurosiberian regions. The ecosystem has a rich and diverse biodiversity. The ecosystem is characterized by steep rocky slopes, canyons, high summits, and high karstic plains. The ecoregion has a warm Atlantic climate. The temperatures average at 8o to 14º Celsius, and rainfall totals 900 to 1,800 millimeters. The winters are mild with high rainfall, and summers are warmer and dry. The higher elevations have cold winters with abundant snow. Fauna includes the brown bear, wolves, and such birds as the griffon vulture, capercaillie, and black woodpecker live in the mixed forests of Cantabrian. The last herds of wild horses have found a home here. There are also wild boars, red deer, roe deer, and the seldom Pyrenean desman. The system supports a broad range of forests. Lower elevation have mixed deciduous broadleaf forests, and there are Mediterranean evergreen oak forests along the coasts and in the CantabrianMountains. Fern species include woodland radicans, Stennograma pozoi, and Culcita macrocarpa. The Pinus pinaster has managed to dominate the Portuguese coastal sand dunes and the dry rock slopes of the system. Issues involving road construction and forest fragmentation threaten the remaining parts of the forests and the animal populations living here.

Madeira Evergreen Forests

The Madeira archipelago extends in the Atlantic Ocean from off the coast of Morocco to approach Lisbon on the Portuguese mainland. Madeira and Porto Santo are inhabited while the Desertas and Selvagens islands are not. The landform is a complex of deep gorges and ravines. There are inaccessible high cliffs and caves along the coastline. With a north to south climatic gradient, the temperatures average between 15o and 20º Celsius and rainfall totals of 250 to 750 millimeters. The ecosystem flora includes trees of the Lauraceae family forming the high canopies. There are herb and shrub species some of which are endemic to the ecosystem. The system has 11 important bird areas with 295 bird species and subspecies and 42 of them breed here.There are more than 500 native invertebrates of mollusks, spiders, and insects.The canopies also provide refuge to birds of prey and passerines that live in the archipelago. Shortly after colonization in the 15th Century, the settlers started logging and clearing the forests. The need to clear land for agriculture, urbanization, and road buildings is a constant threat to these forests that resemble the remnants of laurel forests.Where erosion destroys the steep topography, logging and overgrazing destroy the vegetation covers. Invasive species such as Acacia also constitute a significant threat. Conservation of the ecosystem falls in the Madeira National Park. The ecosystem also comprises the Special Zone for Protection of the European Birds Directive. Also in the Habitats Directive, the forests form a Site of Community Interest.

Northwest Iberian Montane Forests

The Northwestern Iberian Mountains have among them the last remaining exceptionally beautiful and virgin forests in Europe. The mountain is the Hercynian System and consists of medium elevations with smooth reliefs. The mountains have the Mediterranean-Atlantic climatic conditions with an average temperature of 7o to 3º Celsius and rainfall totals of 500 to 1,000 millimeters annually. The winters are cold whereas summers are hot and dry. The ecosystem supports the largest population of wolves (Canis lupus) on the planet. Cantabrian species that crossover to these mountains includes the endangered capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and Cantabrian brown bear (Ursus arctos). Prominent birds include the griffon vulture, short-toe- eagle and the golden eagle. The major fauna groups in the region are conifers, junipers, and oak trees. For years now these forests have been cleared to create space for agriculture and overgrazing is a constant issue. Forests fires and poorly regulated hunting threatens this last population of wolves.

Maintaining the Integrity of Portugal's Ecosystems

These green ecosystems, with their diverse terrains, their biodiversity, and their climates, give Portugal a vibrant array of landforms. The green in Portugal is breathtaking because all these ecosystems and biomes lie within one country. However, these natural eco-regions are on the verge of alternation caused by human activities such as deforestation, overgrazing, urbanization, and road construction. Stopping any form of human encroachment to these sites maybe one of the best conservation measures if these biomes are to survive this century.

Ecological Regions Of Portugal (as per World Wide Fund for Nature)Biome
Azores Temperate Mixed Forests
Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests
Cantabrian Mixed Forests
Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests
Iberian Sclerophyllous and Semi-Deciduous Forests
Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub
Madeira Evergreen Forests
Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests
Northwest Iberian Montane Forests
Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub
Southwest Iberian Mediterranean Sclerophyllous and Mixed Forests
Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub

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