Location and General Description
This ecoregion is located at the western coast of the Eurasian continent. The eastern limits are determined by the progressive disappearance of oceanic species and the appearance of continental species. Long-term human activities have wiped out most evident signs of natural forests, so it is difficult to establish a definitive biogeographic boundary. The area is composed of flat lowlands except for the hills of Brittany. Sand dune systems occur along the southwestern coast of France, the region known as Les Landes. These are covered by both natural and planted forests of maritime pine (Pinus pinaster). Rich in plant life, they are home to a number of endemics.
Temperature variation and precipitation levels are not limiting factors to biodiversity (Ozenda 1994). Mean annual temperatures are between 9° and 12° C from north to south, and annual precipitation ranges from 700 to 1,000 mm. Soils are generally acidic in sedimentary basins, and on hercynian crystalline bedrock in Brittany. The Loire River, the only remaining European lowland river without major riverbed regulations is found here, as are the Gironde, Seine, Rhine, Ems, Weser and Elbe rivers at lower elevations.
Several mixed oak forests are also found in the ecoregion, dominated by Quercus robur and Betula pendula, or Q. robur and Fagus sylvatica. On the coastline, heathlands with Ulex gallii occur, adapted to local ecological conditions of wind and sea spray. In general, heathlands with Ericaceae (Calluna, Erica, and Ulex spp.) have replaced natural forests. Further south, different oaks appear, including Q. petraea and Q. pubescens, but many forests are planted with Pinus sylvestris (Pinus maritimus further south) mainly on poor sandy soils.
The Netherlands alone has recorded over four hundred and forty species of avifauna, including the threatened Ortolan bunting (Emberiza hortulana), Garganey (Anas querquedula), Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Corn bunting (Miliaria calandra), and Spotted crake (Porzana porzana). Other notable species of birds in this ecoregion include Wryneck (Jynx torquilla), Red backed shrike (Lanius collurio), Black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix), Savi's warbler (Locustella luscinioides), and Great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) (Wheatley, 2000).
The mammal fauna of the ecoregion is mostly composed of species widespread throughout Europe: red deer (Cervus elaphus), fallow deer (Dama dama), Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), badger (Meles meles), stone marten (Martes foina), and pine marten (Martes martes). Several of the mammals found in the ecoregion are listed on the IUCN Red List, including otter (Lutra lutra), European mink (Mustela lutreola), and several species of bat (Rhinolophus euryale, R. hipposideros, Barbastella barbastellus, Myotis bechsteini, M. dasycneme, and M. emarginatus) (IUCN 2000).
Only fragments of natural vegetation remain in this ecoregion, as most of the area was converted long ago into intensive agriculture (barley, wheat, sugar beets, and corn) or pasture. These agricultural lands include some of the most productive soils of western Europe. There are several Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the ecoregion: the Wadden Sea and Voordelta of the Netherlands, Baie de Quiberon and Archipel de Molène of France, Nissum Fjord and Ringkobing Fjord of Denmark, and the Lower Rhine area in Germany. Basses Vallées du Cotentin et Baie des Veys in France serves as an important Biogenetic Reserve as does the Waddenzee Biogenetic Reserve in The Netherlands.
Types and Severity of Threats
Agricultural expansion and intensification are the most serious threat affecting IBAs across Europe. Additionally, urbanization accompanied by the pollution of air, water, and soil brings increased problems. Recreation and tourism, unsustainable exploitation, development and fragmentation, agricultural abandonment, and disturbance of wildlife are other major threats (Heath & Evans 2000).
Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
This ecoregion comprises two DMEER units: the Southern Temperate Atlantic and Northern Temperate Atlantic. These units include several vegetation units from Bohn et al. (2000). These include areas of lowland to submontane beech and mixed beech forests, lowland to submontane acidophilous oak and mixed oak forests, sub-Mediterranean and meso-supra-Mediterranean downy oak forests, fen and swamp forests, as well as flood-plain, estuarine, and freshwater polder vegetation in the Aquitanian Plain, Armorican Massif, Paris Basin, and Netherlands.
Bohn, Udo, Gisela Gollub, and Christoph Hettwer. 2000. Reduced general map of the natural
vegetation of Europe. 1:10 million. Bonn-Bad Godesberg
Davis, S.D., V.H. Heywood, and A.C. Hamilton. 1994. Centres of plant diversity. Vol. 1: Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia and Middle East. WWF and IUCN, Washington DC.
Heath, M.F., and M.I. Evans, editors. 2000. Important bird areas in Europe: Priority sites for conservation. 2 vols. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
IUCN 2000: The Global Redlist of Species, of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. URL: <http://www.redlist.org>
Ozenda, P. 1994. Végétation du Continent Européen. Delachaux et Niestlé, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Wheatley, N. 2000. Where to watch birds in Europe and Russia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
Prepared by: Ole P. Ostermann, Michael McCauley, Meghan McMeghan