Southeastern Europe: Along the coastline of Greece and Turkey, stretching into Macedonia

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Situated in parts of Turkey, Greece, and the Aegean, this region enjoys a Mediterranean climate and encompasses islands, coastal areas and some inland plains. It still supports a few areas of pine forest, and hosts rare and endemic species such as oriental sweetgum and Datça palm. The endangered loggerhead turtle nests here, and fox, wolf and wild boar are included among its mammal populations. Many resident and migratory birds are found here, including threatened species such as the pygmy cormorant, Dalmatian pelican, white-headed duck, and the lesser kestrel. The dense human populations that have inhabited this ancient area of civilization have severely degraded most of the original habitat.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    51,500 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
This ecoregion is situated in the coastal lowlands and plains of western Turkey, much of mainland Greece, and many of the Aegean islands. In Turkey, its boundaries extend from the southwestern part of Thrace along the Aegean coast and south to Kumluca on the Mediterranean coast. There is also a small strip along the northeastern edge of the Marmara Sea. In Greece, the ecoregion extends from the Peloponnese Peninsula in the south through the central part of the country, excluding the Pindos Mountains, to the Halkidikya Peninsula and northeast across the border with Turkey into Thrace. Many small Aegean islands are also part of this ecoregion, which is surrounded by the Ionian, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.

While the eastern part of the ecoregion encompasses lowlands and plains, the western part is more mountainous, including the Taygetos, Pannon, Aroania and Killini Mountains in the Peloponnese Peninsula, and the Olimpos and Othris Mountains in central Greece. The northern areas, from Thessaloniki Bay to Canakkale, is characterized by a thin belt of plains bordered on the north by the Rodope Mountains.

The mountains of western Anatolia extend from east to west and form a horst-graben system with deep furrows created by rivers such as the Edremit, Bak?rçay, Gediz, Küçükmenderes and Büyük Menderes. This system, formed between the Tertiary and Lower Upper Quaternary, is the main geomorphologic feature of this region (Atalay et al 1998). Central Greece and the Peloponnese have a rugged and dissected topography with many promontories and islands (Akeroyd & Heywood 1994). The Meric, Mesta, Sruma, and Vardar rivers are the main water courses in the northern part of the ecoregion, and the Aliakmon and Pintos Rivers are found in the west. There are many plains along all of these rivers.

Metamorphic schist, limestone, ultrabasic rocks, and volcanic rocks are the main parent rock formations of the ecoregion (Atalay et al 1998). Although the Mediterranean climate prevails in the area, from north to south it shows considerable changes. In the northernmost parts, summers are wetter and winters have less rainfall than further south (Kantarc? 1984). The precipitation regime is winter, autumn, spring, summer, with winter having the most and summer the least rainfall, and annual precipitation ranges from 1,350-600 mm (Akman 1995).

The Aegean region is considered to lie at the center of the Eastern Mediterranean vegetation zone (Runemark 1971). However, during different geological periods a number of other phytogeographical elements have penetrated the area, such as Irano-Turanian, Central European, West European, West Mediterranean and South Mediterranean (Runemark 1971). Greece and western Turkey were connected during the Pliocene era, but later tectonic events separated them. Hence, their vegetation and flora are similar. Although the Aegean islands do not appear important in terms of floristic richness, study of their floristic composition would provide valuable data on the evolutionary patterns on both sides of the Aegean Sea.

The area has one of the most important populations of Callabrian pine (Pinus brutia). Communities of maquis, dominated by evergreen shrubs and Pinus brutia, are the most common formations in this ecoregion. However, there is considerable variation in the vegetation composition, and the species of the maquis change from south to north. The annual growth rate of Pinus brutia also decreases from south to north. In the south, the upper limit for this species is 300-400 m, while in the north it is 700-800 m (Atalay et al 1998).

Arbutus andrachne, A. unedo, Spartium junceum, and Laurus nobilis are the main species of maquis vegetation. In the areas where Pinus brutia has been removed, Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), Calicotome villosa, Palirus spina-cristii, and Erica arborea are the main species. Common associations in the maquis formation are: (1) Olea europea-Ceratonia siliqua – widespread from southern parts up to Izmir (Quezel et al 1978; Zohary 1973); (2) Arbutus andrachne-Acer sempervirens-Quercus ilex – one of the rarest Mediterranean formations and well represented on Samsun Dag (Akman et al. 1978/1979); and (3) Quercus infectoria forest – one of the most important coastal formations (Mayer & Aksoy 1986); it forms a mixture with other oak species. Quercus cerris, Q. frainetto, Q. pubescens and Q. ithaburensis once made up deciduous formations in the ecoregion, but these are now highly degraded (Akman 1995).

Pinus brutia forest supports a limited range of typical European woodland bird species, including: wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), blackbird (Turdus merula), chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), coal tit (Parus ater), blue tit (P. caeruleus), great tit (P. major), short-toed treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla), jay (Garrulus glandarius), and chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). Krüper's nuthatch (Sitta krueperi) is common in this habitat and is probably the habitat's most important bird species (Welch & Welch 2000). It occurs only in southeast Europe and the vast majority of its population is found in Turkey.

Characteristic bird species of maquis communities include assemblages of Sylvia warblers (subalpine warbler (S. cantillans) and Rüppell's warbler (S. rueppelli)), buntings (Cirl bunting (Emberiza cirlus), rock bunting (E. cia), black-headed bunting (E. melanocephala)), and partridges (red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa), rock partridge (A. graeca) and chukar (A. chukar)) (Tucker & Evans 1997). Those species with an important part of their global populations in this ecoregion are listed below with their European Threat Status and criteria as determined by Birdlife International (Tucker & Heath 1994).

  Species Scientific name European Threat Status Criteria
Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais pallida SPEC 3 (Vulnerable) Large decline 1970-1990
Olive-tree Warbler Hippolais olivetorum SPEC 2 (Rare) <10,000 pairs
Rüppell's Warbler Sylvia rueppelli SPEC 4 (Secure)  
Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus SPEC 2 (Vulnerable) Large decline 1970-1990
Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea SPEC 2 (Vulnerable) <2,500 pairs
Cretzschmar's Bunting Emberiza caesia SPEC 4 (Secure) Little known

Biodiversity Features
Although this region is not as rich as the steppe formations or the Taurus Mountains in terms of plant species diversity, it does have some interesting and unique components. In the southern part of the Aegean region in Turkey, the Ayd?n and Samsun Mountains have rich and varied maquis communities. Quercus aucheri, Cupressus sempervirens, and Juniperus phoneica are important species and, although maquis communities are extremely disturbed throughout the ecoregion, these mountains contain one of the few remaining intact and well-protected examples of this habitat. Additionally, the Samsun Mountains contain many Euro-Siberian elements.

Southwestern Turkey also has several endemic taxa. For example, oriental sweet gum (Liquidambar orientalis), considered vulnerable by IUCN, is endemic to this area and has a highly restricted distribution. It occurs in scattered patches from the Çine Stream in the northwest to Fethiye in the southeast. The trees are cut for firewood and the resin is collected to produce a fixative in the perfume industry (IUCN 2001). In 1949, Liquidambar orientalis forests covered 6,312 ha (Hu? 1949; Örter 1988), but there are now only 1,215 ha remaining. Its main stronghold is around Köyce?iz, where at least 50% of all Liquidambar orientalis occurs (Güner et al 1993). A distinct bird community is associated with the Liquidambar orientalis forests, with the principal species being nightingale (Luscinia megarhyncos), olivaceous warbler (Hippolais pallida) and Cettis warbler (Cettia cetti). The Levant sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes), a rare breeding bird of prey in Europe whose favored habitat is broad-leaved woodland lying along river valleys, occurs in the larger and more mature patches of habitat (Welch & Welch 2000).

The Datça palm (Phoenix theophrastii) is another highly localized endemic species in this ecoregion (Boydak & Yaka 1983; Boydak 1985). It is restricted to the deep, isolated coastal valleys of Datça and Kumluca-Karaöz, with additional populations in Bodrum-Gölköy and Crete (Greuter 1967, Mayer & Aksoy 1986). These are the only known populations of this species. One of the largest populations is on the Datça peninsula, where it grows in two valleys: Hurmal?bük Valley, facing south, which has the larger population and Eksere Valley, facing north. Although this species has a very restricted range and a small population, it is less endangered than Liquidambar orientalis. The largest population in Crete is protected under Greek law (IUCN 2001). Finally, Q. aucheri is the other endemic tree species whose occurrence is restricted to southwestern Anatolia. Its main distribution lies within the boundaries of Mu?la district (Datça, Köyce?iz) and Dilek Peninsula National Park. In Datça it can be found on Emecik Da?? and Kocada?, and in Köyce?iz it forms good communities around Çand?r and Yang? villages (Vural et al 1994).

Species such as wild boar (Sus scrofa), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), porcupine (Hystrix cristata), jackal (Canis aureus), wolf (C. lupus), badger (Meles meles), hare (Lepus spp.), hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), squirrel (Sciurus spp.) and pine marten (Martes martes) can be found in parts of this ecoregion, particularly in some of the national parks and protected areas. There are also occasional reports of lynx (Lynx lynx), wild cat (Felis sylvestris), and bear (Ursus arctos) (UNEP-WCMC 1998).

There are 17 important nesting sites for the globally endangered loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) in Turkey, and six of the sites are found in this ecoregion (Yerli & Demirayak 1996). Bat colonies have been reported in Oluk gorge, in the Dilek peninsula (UNEP-WCMC 1998).

A number of important bird species nest in or migrate through this ecoregion, primarily in the coastal habitats and wetlands. Examples include the pygmy cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus), dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala), and the lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni). All of these have a European threat status of vulnerable except the white-headed duck, whose conservation status is endangered, according to Birdlife International (Magnin & Yarar 1997; Tucker & Heath 1994).

Current Status
The original community types of the area, Pinus brutia forests and maquis, are highly degraded in most of this region. There are very few patches of undisturbed habitat remaining; the Mente?e region, Bozda?lar, the foothills of the Ayd?n mountains, and the Marmara coast of the Gelibolu Peninsula hold the main intact remnants of Pinus brutia forests. The Datça peninsula in the south, with its low population density, is still relatively undisturbed. The Samsun and Ayd?n Mountains and the Karada? peak are the other main areas that still support blocks of original habitat. Patara beach is another important site with its dune vegetation and loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) nesting sites (Yerli & Demirayak, 1996).

There are three national parks, three specially protected areas (SPAs), one strict nature reserve, and twelve Important Bird Areas (IBAs) (Magnin & Yarar 1997) in the Turkish part of this ecoregion. Turkey’s Gelibolu National Park (33,000 ha.) is a site of historical significance, dedicated to the memory of the Çanakkale War. It is home to such species as Sus scrofa, Vulpes vulpes and possibly Canis lupus, and also to bird species that are common to dry eastern Mediterranean coastal areas (UNEP-WCMC 1988). Marmaris National Park (12,390 ha.) contains intact Pinus brutia formations and several small patches of Liquidambar orientalis along its streams. Dilek Peninsula and Büyük Menderes Delta National Park (27,675 ha.) are important for their intact habitat, maquis communities, and high ratio of Euro-Siberian elements and wildlife; this area is also an IBA.

Specially Protected Areas (SPAs) include: the Datça Peninsula; Köyce?iz-Dalyan, important for its Liquidambar orientalis habitats and Caretta caretta nesting beaches, and also an IBA; and the area of Dalaman.

Eleven IBAs have been identified within the Turkish part of this ecoregion, all of them wetlands and most of them in coastal habitats. Important species with an unfavorable conservation status in Europe and with significant populations using these IBAs are shown in the table below (Magnin & Yarar 1997; Tucker & Heath 1994).

  Species Scientific name European Threat Status Criteria
Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus SPEC 2 Vulnerable Moderate decline, <10,000 pairs
Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus SPEC 1 Vulnerable <2,500 pairs
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus SPEC 3 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax SPEC 3 Declining Moderate decline 1970-1990
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides SPEC 3 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea SPEC 3 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus SPEC 3 Declining Moderate decline 1970-1990
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia SPEC 2 Endangered Large decline 1970-1990, <10,000 pairs
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber SPEC 3 Localized Localised
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea SPEC 3 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca SPEC 1 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala SPEC 1 Endangered <250 pairs
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni SPEC 1 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus SPEC 3 Vulnerable Large decline 1970-1990
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola SPEC 3 Endangered Large decline 1970-1990, <10,000 pairs
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus SPEC 3 Declining Moderate decline 1970-1990
Spur-winged Plover Vanellus spinosus SPEC 3 Endangered Large decline 1970-1990, <2,500 pairs
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia SPEC 3 Endangered Large decline 1970-1990, <10,000 pairs
Little Tern Sterna albifrons SPEC 3 Declining Moderate decline 1970-1990
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus SPEC 3 Declining Moderate decline 1970-1990

Types and Severity of Threats
As in all Mediterranean coastal areas, dense human population, extensive settlements, and agricultural activities have largely destroyed the natural habitat. Urbanization, conversion to agriculture, over-grazing and illegal logging are the principal causes of destruction.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
This ecoregion was delinated by combining two bioregional systems defined by Guidotti et al. (1986) and Bohn et al. (2000). In the Aegean area of Turkey, the ecoregion is based on Guidotti et al. (1986) and consists of the Anatolian lowland dry conifer forests and the Eastern Mediterranean evergreen oak forests and woodlands. The Greek portions of the ecoregion were delineated using the meso-Mediterranean Holm oak forests, wild olive-locust tree formations, sub-Mediterranean and meso-supra-Mediterranean downy oak forests, and small areas of floodplain vegetation and lowland moist forests as delineated by Bohn et al. (2000). Upland inclusions in the ecoregion are areas of meso- and supra-Mediterranean fir forests on the Peloponnesus Island as well as the Mediterranean pine forests and montane to altimontane beech and mixed beech forests of the Pindus Mountains that are part of Pindus Mountains mixed forests ecoregion.

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Prepared by: Ugur Zeydanl?, with additions on birds by Hilary and Geoff Welch
Reviewed by: In process