Flora and fauna of Spain - Characteristics and species

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Spain is the European country that harbors the most biodiversity. This is thanks to its varied ecosystems, its geographical location and its geological peculiarities. In fact, it is the country with the most areas declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. In this Green Ecologist article we will explain to you what are the characteristics of theto Spanish flora and fauna, as well as the different species that inhabit its rich ecosystems.

Characteristics of the flora and fauna of Spain

The flora and fauna of Spain is adapted to the position of the country, located in Western Europe and North Africa. Being between two continents and two seas, it has a great variety of ecosystems due to the difference in climates. Some of these climates are the oceanic, the tundra, the Mediterranean of hot summer (also hot summer), as well as semi-arid climates both cold and hot.

Next, we are going to mention the main characteristics of the flora and fauna of Spain:

  • Due to the variety of climates it is not uniform and, therefore, it is very varied.
  • The Spanish flora and fauna is important for the biological heritage.
  • It has a great biodiversity, since more than 50% of the animals in Europe occur in Spain, in terms of the total number of species that inhabit. The total of species is greater than 85,000.
  • 35% of its territory, marine and terrestrial, is under protection.
  • The largest space is the Iberian Peninsula, a site that throughout history has had a minimal population and industrialization, contrasting with other sites in Europe, for which it has managed to host multiple species that have already disappeared in other European points.
  • Many organizations in Spain have suffered the "peninsula effect" that has isolated them. During the quaternary glaciers this peninsula was a refuge for plant communities that found shelter from the aridity and cold. After this time, they were locked up.
  • The vegetation is relictic, that is, they are survivors.
  • Being close to Africa and containing steep reliefs, the Canary archipelago presents a great variety of endemisms and of enormous wealth. Therefore, certain flora and fauna of Spain is unique in the world. This characteristic can also be given in places outside the archipelago, propitiated by particular geological dispositions.
  • There is also marine flora and fauna in the Strait of Gibraltar, which functions as an ecotone that makes the transition between two ecological frontiers: the Alboran Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. This sea harbors African biodiversity but that it belongs to Spain through the transfretanos territories of Ceuta, Melilla and nearby islands. This flora and fauna is varied by having species from both limits and specialized for organisms that have adapted to the particular conditions of the ecotone.

If you want to know more about What is an ecotone: definition and examples, do not hesitate to visit this other article that we recommend.

Flora of Spain

The vegetation of Spain can be grouped into three different groups that we are going to detail below.

The Iberian Atlantic vegetation

We locate it to the north and northwest of the Peninsula, where there is no lack of water. The Iberian Atlantic flora has different floors with a particular flora.

  • The alpine floor: it houses the forests of the Pyrenees, with species such as fir Abies alba and the pine Pinus nigra salzmannii endemic to Spain.
  • The subalpine floor transitional: there are mainly small shrubs such as dwarf junipers, coniferous forests and grasslands such as Fescue.
  • The montane floor: consists of flat deciduous forests with oaks like Quercus petraea or Quercus pyrenaica.
  • The hill floor: at a height of 0 to 400 meters high, it contains mixed forests, deciduous flat with oaks and holm oaks with laurels.

Mediterranean vegetation

It is present in 80% of the Peninsula and in the Balearic Islands, with dry summers and water stress. Mediterranean vegetation contains sclerophyllous forests, which occur in very few parts of the world. In Spain they are made up of Quercetea ilicis which occupies the majority of the Mediterranean territory. The trees in these forests have very hard leaves that withstand strong heat. Another type of Mediterranean forest is the Euro-Siberian or sub-Mediterranean deciduous flat forests, with associations Querco-Fagetea and quejigaresQuercus faginea faginea). It also has trees such as the cork oak (Quercus suber).

Macaronesian vegetation

It has a tropical and humid climate. The Macaronesian vegetation has special plants from Spain, which arrived by sea or by air to the islands, which also created various endemisms. There are temperate forests with white heather (Erica arborea), endemic genus tajinastes Echium, Canarian pines (Pinus canariensis) and the dragonDracaena draco), symbol of Tenerife. Much of this vegetation is relictic from the Tertiary era.

The vegetation of Spain has different types of forests, as has been commented. From sclerophyllous forests to temperate forests. If you want to know more about the Types of forests, do not hesitate to visit this article that we recommend.

Fauna of Spain

The fauna of Spain is so diverse that we can group it into domesticated autochthonous species and endemic species of the area. In this way, we can see them in more detail below.

Native domesticated species

In Spain domesticated autochthonous species abound, such as:

  • The Lucena breed donkey.
  • The Castilian hen.
  • The wild bull.
  • The Segureño lamb.
  • The Iberian pig.

Apart from these species of fauna, there are also unique breeds of goats, camels, pigeons and Spanish horses. These are the most common animals in Spain, not so much because they are the most abundant but because they are the ones with which man lives the most.

Endemic species

The Iberian Peninsula has a rich biodiversity with the most emblematic animals of Spain. The peninsula has many endemic species such as:

  • The iconic Iberian lynx (Linx pardinus): Find out here why the Iberian lynx is in danger of extinction.
  • Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus cuniculus): it has been introduced to other ecosystems around the world and is now a great plague.
  • The Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus): you can read about Why is the Iberian wolf in danger of extinction, here.
  • The grizzly (Ursus arctos): You can also find out about Why the brown bear is in danger of extinction.
  • The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
  • The Iberian eagle (Aquila adalberti).
  • The pouty (Cyanopica cooki).

Despite having this large number of endemic species, the fauna of Spain also contains multiple African migratory birds that arrive to hibernate and nest.

Mediterranean fauna

The Mediterranean fauna of xerophytic areas is mainly home to arthropod animals, as the high temperatures are not so suitable for mammals, although rodents can also be seen. Here you can find more information about What are arthropods: characteristics, classification and examples.

In addition, the Mediterranean is home to the 4.6% of marine species described, with 10,300 multicellular organisms. This area is special because you can find warm water species from the African coasts and cold water species from the European coasts. Most of the biodiversity is concentrated in the Alboran Sea, where the following stand out:

  • The red corals (Corallium rubrum).
  • The sea date (Lithofaga lithofaga).
  • The common dolphinDelphinus delphis).
  • Different turtles such as the mask turtle (Caretta turtle) or the green turtle (Chelonya midas).

Macaronesian fauna

From Macaronesia is the common canary (Serinus canaria), which has been brought around the world as a pet for its song. In these islands there are many endemic animals of Spain, such as the Canary shrew (Crocidura canariensis), and the iron giant lizard (Gallotia simonyi), which is in danger of extinction.

If you want to read more articles similar to Flora and fauna of Spain, we recommend that you enter our Biodiversity category.

  • Government of Spain and Fundación Biodiversidad. (2022). Biodiversity in Spain. Available at: https://fundacion-biodiversidad.es/es/que-hacemos/biodiversidad-en-espana
  • Viejo, J. (2011). Biodiversity: approach to the botanical and zoological diversity of Spain. Memoirs of the Royal Spanish Society of Natural History, Second epoch, Volume IX. Available at http://www.rsehn.es/cont/publis/boletines/136.pdf
  • Rivas-Martínez. (1983). Bioclimatic floors of Spain. Lazaroa, 5: 33-43
  • Alcántara, A., Simard, F. (2009). Alboran, a unique and diverse sea. Available at: https://www.juntadeandalucia.es/medioambiente/web/Bloques_Tematicos/Publicaciones_Divulgacion_Y_Noticias/Publicaciones_Periodicas/revista_medio_ambiente/revista_ma_62/mediterraneo.pdf
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