Southwestern Asia: Along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey, Jordan, Israel, and Syria

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This ecoregion lies in the heart of the Middle East along the Mediterranean coasts of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine and in the neighboring coastal plains and lowlands. Major avian migratory routes pass through here, contributing to its status as an area of high bird diversity. The ecoregion is also home to a number of globally threatened wildlife species, including the critically endangered bald ibis and Mediterranean monk seal, the endangered loggerhead marine turtle and Euphrates softshell turtle, and the vulnerable imperial eagle. It’s territory overlaps with that of the Fertile Crescent, an area which supported some of the earliest known civilizations and offers an important record of the interactions between man and nature from early times to the present.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    55,500 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
This ecoregion is situated in the eastern and southeastern area of the Mediterranean. It starts in the western part of Turkey’s Mediterranean coastal region, extends east along the coast through southeastern Anatolia and then forks into two branches. The first branch continues largely eastward, encompassing most of the Turkish-Syrian border, and the second branch turns south along the Mediterranean coast into Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan. This ecoregion has three main components:

1.The southern Mediterranean coast of Anatolia starting from Kemer in the west and extending through Iskenderun Bay in the east: From north to south, this ecoregion extends from the southern skirts of the Taurus Mountains through the coastal belt. Because these mountains affect temperature and precipitation regimes, they delineate the inland boundaries of the ecoregion. The Aksu, Goksu, Seyhan and Ceyhan rivers and their associated plains constitute both the main river systems of the area and the lowlands that represent the ecoregion’s inland-most extensions.
2.South Eastern Anatolia and the Northern Syrian Basin: This is an inland region in the general area of the Turkish-Syrian border. Here, the northern boundary is delineated by the Anti-Taurus Mountains and the southern boundary is determined by the Syrian Desert. The Euphrates River and part of the Tigris River form the main valleys of the region, which is heavily influenced by the desert. Since this is the driest part of the ecoregion, these rivers are the main points of interest.
3.Syrian, Lebanese, Israeli and Jordanian plains excluding the Levantine Mountains: From southern Anatolia to southern Africa, this area represents one of the most diverse segments of rift valley habitat. The Palestinian coastal plains, the lowlands of Syria and Lebanon, and the northern parts of the Rift Valley are the main formations of the region. The Jordan River green belt is also noteworthy.
The climate is characterized by warm, rainy winters and dry, hot summers. Precipitation amounts decrease from west to east, ranging from 1,000-1,250 mm around Antalya, 600-800 mm in Mersin, Adana, and Iskenderun Bay, 400 mm around Mesopotamia, and lower amounts in the Syrian basin. In the coastal plains of the southern part of the ecoregion, precipitation reaches 600-850 mm around Beirut, Akko and Zefad, and decreases to about 400 mm in southern Israel and Palestine.

The relatively harsh climatic conditions and the long history of human settlement constitute two major factors affecting the flora and fauna in this ecoregion. Macrobotanical evidences indicates that deleterious effects of human activities became evident in the region as early as 3000 BC (Miller 1998). Since that time, high temperatures, low humidity, and poor soil conditions have impeded the vegetation from recovering after human disturbances.

The vegetation of this ecoregion can be organized into three main groups: broadleaf sclerophyllus vegetation (maquis); coniferous forests of Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) and Callabrian pine (Pinus brutia); and dry oak (Quercus spp.) woodlands and steppe formations. Here, although the Amanus Mountains and the Anti-Taurus Mountains in the north do not belong to this ecoregion, their presence is important because they serve as barriers between this region's western, eastern and southern parts. Since they affect the distribution of humid weather, these geographical barriers have an impact on species composition and the physiognomy of the vegetation.

Maquis is dominant especially in the northwestern part of the ecoregion and along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Olive (Olea europea), carob (Cerotonia siliqua), oak (Quercus coccifera), pistachio (Pistacia palestina), lentisk (P. lenticus), and Arbutus andrachne are the principal species of the maquis communities. In addition, however, more than 40 sclerophyllus species (Zohary 1973) also occur here, including: Philyrea latifolia, Pistacia terebinthus, Calicotome villosa, Genista acantha, Rhamnus oleoides, Myrtus communis, Laurus nobilis, Styrax officinalis, and Spartium junceum.

Although the Olea-Ceratonia alliance in the coastal belt is greatly degraded, it still represents the climax community (Akman 1995). The Ceratonia siliqua tree layer in particular is so degraded that it is only represented by a few individuals. Olea europea forms good communities around Antalya-Köprülü Kanyon and Adana-Feke.

One of the most widespread and important communities of this ecoregion is the Kermes oak (Quercus coccifera) community. Its high ecological tolerance and capacity to recover in degraded Pinus brutia forests make it one of the most dominant vegetation types. Another oak worthy of mention is the community of the endemic species Quercus aucheri located around Antalya-Kemer-Faselis.

The maquis formation in the southern part of the ecoregion has quite different features from the more common Mediterranean maquis formation. Due to a drier climate and higher temperatures, and since it is highly affected by the Irano-Turanian phytogeographic realm, the southern maquis formation has many deciduous species (Zohary 1973).

Pinus brutia and P. halepensis are the main species in the forests of this ecoregion. P. brutia predominates in the northern parts of the ecoregion and P. halepensis is dominant further south. The two species have very similar ecological features, and both are known for their high ecological tolerance. Although they can be found from sea level up to 1,800 m (Schwarz 1936), neither grows naturally in the Mesopotamian part of the region. A few remnants of stone pine (Pinus pinea) accompany the southernmost distribution of Rhododendron ponticum (Feinburn 1959), which is a characteristic species of Euxinic vegetation.

There are good examples of Pinus brutia forest around Mersin, Silifke, Tarsus, Anamur, Gazipa?a, Pos, Adana, and Sar?çam. Usually, elements of maquis vegetation are common in the understory. Also, as these forests are influenced by the sea, they are irregular in shape and their biomass accumulation is slower than elsewhere (Zech & Çepel 1972). Pinus halepensis, in the southern part of the ecoregion, is highly degraded due to the harsh environmental conditions and human impacts.

The coastal plains of Palestine and the upper Jordan Valley are dominated by Hyparrhenia birta grasslands, with scattered thorny shrubs and small trees such as Paliurus spina-christii, Rhamnus palaestinus, Rhus tripartita, and Anagyris foetida (Zohary 1973).

The eastern part of the ecoregion is poorer in terms of woody vegetation since it receives only 400-500 mm of annual rainfall. A line running through Viran?ehir delineates the boundary between the desert and the Mediterranean formation. One of the main factors linking this xeric eastern area to the Mediterranean part of the ecoregion is the existence of Olea europea and other shrub communities that incorporate Mediterranean elements. This part of the ecoregion runs in a west-east direction and ends around Cizre, near the Turkish-Syrian-Iraqi border, extending about 500-600 km in length.

This eastern area, which primarily covers the Anatolian and Syrian parts of the ecoregion, supports xeric vegetation dominated mostly by chamaephytic and hemicrophytic plants such as Artemisia herba-alba, Phlomis bruguieri, Cousinia stenocephala, Capparis ovata, Teucrium polium, Scrophularia xanthoglosa, Phlomis kurdica, Onosma echinatum, Astragalus platyraphis, and Centaurea myriocephala (Handel-Mazetti 1914). At higher altitudes (around 700 m, Atalay 1994) Quercus ithaburensis, Q. cerris, Q. brantii and Q. infectoria ssp. boissieri form deciduous woodland communities. Except for the shrub formations, these woodlands constitute the only woody community in this part of the ecoregion. Populus euphratica and Salix triandra make up another tree community that forms gallery forests along the segments of the Euphrates, Tigris, and Jordan rivers. Amygdalus arabica, Cerasus microcarpa, C. mahalep, Cercis siliquastrum, Ficus carica, Acer monspessulanum, Crateagus aronica, Pyrus syriaca, Celtis tournefortii, Pistacia kinjuk, and P. vera are the main species forming shrub communities in the area (Ekim 1994).

Biodiversity Features
This ecoregion is not home to as many endemic species as the adjacent Taurus and Amanos Mountains. However one of its most important features is the nature-based component of Mediterranean culture. Olea europea, Cerotonia siliqua, Pistacia palestina, Ficus, and Laurel are all very important species in the local human culture. They are significant not only for their edible fruits but also for their ornamental, pharmaceutical, and medicinal uses. They provide fodder for livestock, shade during the hot Mediterranean summers, and fuelwood. In addition, their strong regenerative capacity enables them to recover more easily after repeated human use.

The Mediterranean Basin is an important area for agro-pastoral systems. Recently, such systems have attracted special interest since the mosaic of habitats they can create is believed to enhance biodiversity. However, from the perspective of natural succession, ecosystem maturity and ecological processes, the impact of agropastoral systems is still being debated in the development of conservation strategies.

The Mesopotamian part of this ecoregion falls within what is referred to as the Fertile Crescent, an area of valuable agricultural land that supported some of the earliest human civilizations. Human settlement and agriculture here date back to the early Holocene (Atalay 1994), a key factor underlaying the enormous genetic diversity among the area's crop species. Some of the wild relatives of agricultural plants that occur here include species in such genera as Triticum, Lens, Lathyrus, Pisum, Onobrychis, and Trifolium. For example, four species of Triticum (T. baeoticum, T. dicoccoioes, T. durum, and T. aestivum) can be found in this area. These species constitute a critical resource since artificial selection processes have narrowed the gene pool of this valuable crop.

This ecoregion hosts a number of noteworthy floristic features and endemic species. Quercus aucheri is an endemic tree species with a narrow and scattered distribution limited to southwestern Anatolia. A very large and well preserved dune system lies between Anamur and Mersin; it supports enclaves of Euro-Siberian elements such as Pterocarya fraxinifolia, Taxus baccata, Cornus mas, C. sanguinea ssp. australis, Lapsana communis, Dorycnium graecum, and Rubus canascens (Uslu 1977). Part of the region between Gülnar, Gilindere, Ermenek and Karaman is rich in narrow endemics of Verbascum spp. (Davis 1971). The Çukurova plain hosts endemics that are threatened largely due to intensive agricultural activities; these include Beta adanensis, Resedea balansae, Linum anisocalyx, Trigonella halophila, Bellevalia nodesta, and Bromus psammophilus.

This ecoregion is an important area of bird diversity because it is situated on one of the world’s major avian migratory routes. The Upper Rift Valley extends into the ecoregion around Palestine, Israel and Jordan, reaching from the Levantine Mountains in Lebanon and the Syrian plains to the Belen Pass. This area thus supports the continuation of a key migratory route from Africa on to the north.

In addition, there are six Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the western part of this ecoregion (Magnin & Yarar 1997). From west to east they are: the Goksu Delta, the Aydincik Islands, Tuzla Lake, Akyatan Lake, Agyatan Lake, and Yumurtalik Lagoon. The Goksu Delta supports globally threatened species such as pygmy cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus), dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), marbled teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris, also classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List), ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca), greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga), and imperial eagle (A. heliaca)(both eagles are also classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List) (Magnin & Yarar 1997). Akyatan Lake, Agyatan Lake and Yumurtalik Lagoon all belong to the same system and support important species such as Marmaronetta angustirostris, black francolin (Francolinus francolinus), purple gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio), stone curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus), kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), spur-winged plover (Hoplopterus spinosus), little tern (Sterna albifrons) and a high number of waterfowl.

A population of the critically endangered bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) occurs in this ecoregion. The only population in Turkey, with 61 pairs, it cannot survive completely in the wild, however (Akcakaya 1990); it lives in a breeding station in Birecik, and flies free during the breeding season. The other remaining population of this species, in Morocco, is wild and in good condition with 250 pairs.

A number of large mammal species inhabit this ecoregion. Gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa), which once enjoyed a wider distribution, are now mainly confined to southeastern Turkey. Their population has been greatly reduced during the last 50 years, and the wild population is believed to number less than 500. There is a captive population in Urfa-Ceylanp?nar. The caracal (Caracal caracal) inhabits the arid hilly steppe desert and mountain terrain to which it is adapted, and wild boar (Sus scrofa) are found in wooded hills and forests. Hyaena (Hyaena hyaena) are distributed from Turkey to Iraq; however, the population in Turkey is fragmented and believed to include fewer than 250 individuals (Can 2000). The wolf (Canis lupus) has been virtually exterminated from many parts of the ecoregion, although there are rare reports of sitings in areas near the mountains. Golden jackal (Canis aureus) is distributed throughout the ecoregion; it may have expanded into the areas that were once occupied by wolves. The jackal is the most widely distributed top predator in the ecoregion.

Small carnivores such as badger (Meles meles), stone marten (Martes foina), and red fox (Vulpes vulpes) can be found in favorable habitats. Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon), which prefers areas with water and dense plant cover, can be found in scrubs bordering the cultivated plains.

The endangered Euphrates softshell turtle (Rafetus euphraticus) is another characteristic species of this area and is distributed throughout the streams of the ecoregion. Southeastern Anatolia, Syria and Iraq constitute important areas of distribution for this species (Baran & Atatür 1998).

The endangered loggerhead marine turtle (Caretta caretta) and the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) are flagship species for conservation activities in Turkey. The country’s Mediterranean coasts provide some of their most important nesting sites, and nine of the country’s seventeen Caretta caretta nesting sites lie within the boundaries of this ecoregion (Yerli & Demirayak 1996). Habitat destruction poses the main threat to both species, since the nesting sites are located in areas of high tourism. Another important threat for Monachus monachus is destruction and accidental capture by fisherman.

Current Status
There are three national parks within the Turkish areas of this ecoregion: Köprülü Canyon (36,614 ha.) and Olimpos-Beyda?lar? in Antalya (34,425 ha), and Karatepe Aslanta? in Adana (7,715 ha.). Karatepe Aslanta? National Park is an archeological park dedicated to the protection of ruins from the Hittite Civilization. Köprülü Canyon is important in terms of plant biodiversity, sheltering high numbers of endemic species as well as a 500 hectare stand (Aya?l?gil 1987) of natural Italian cyprus (Cupressus sempervirens var. horizantalis). Although this tree is not classified as a rare species, this forest type is extremely rare and the stand in Köprülü Canyon is the only known example in Turkey. Olimpos-Beyda?lar? National Park is an extension of the Beyda?lar? range and includes Taurus fir (Abies cilicica), Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), and Callabrian pine (Pinus brutia) forests and maquis communities. It is also possible to find one of two natural populations of the narrow endemic species Datça palm (Phoenix theophrasti).

There are two nature reserves in the Turkish areas of this ecoregion. The Sütçüler S??la Orman? Nature Reserve is dedicated to the conservation of the oriental sweet gum (Liquidambar orientalis), a narrow endemic tree species which occurs as a riverine community along the Karacaören stream. The second reserve is the Akyata?an Lagoon, which protects a complex system of terrestrial and lacustrine communities (KCOSD 2000).

The Authority for Specially Protected Areas in Turkey (ASPA) has declared two Specially Protected Areas (SPAs) in the area under consideration: Belek (Antalya) and Goksu Delta (Mersin). These sites are mainly intended to address the impacts of construction activities in the coastal belt, but they also engage in the conservation and monitoring of Caretta caretta nesting sites.

Types and Severity of Threats
The Mediterranean region and the Middle East are among the most degraded areas in the world due to their long history of heavy human settlement. Most coastal sites are heavily impacted by both tourism and agriculture. While agricultural activities destroy natural habitats in the lowland plains, tourism destroys coastal dunes, one of the most fragile and rare habitat types. Maquis is another important natural formation that suffers from human activities, but its biodiversity is usually underappreciated as it is structurally quite different from the forest. Human-caused fire is another important cause of forest destruction, and intensive grazing prevents the development of seedlings into mature plants. Although in most cases ecosystems have the capability to recover on their own, continual human pressures in these areas impede the normal regeneration processes. In the eastern part of the ecoregion agriculture is so extensive that, except in the hilly areas, all the natural vegetation has been converted to fields. Even in the hilly areas, natural communities are highly degraded due to overgrazing.

Extensive agricultural activities also threaten bird communities. Overuse of insecticides and fertilizers kills many birds every year. One of the best examples of this is offered by the Geronticus eremita population in Birecik-Urfa. As noted above, this is the only Turkish population of this species, and one of two populations in the world. Its breeding site is located along the Euphrates River, and each year new hatchlings die from insecticide poisoning.

Dams constructed on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers also pose threats to the natural habitats of this ecoregion. The dams have destroyed the integrity of these rivers and isolated many species to areas between the dams. One notable species that has suffered from the dams is the endangered Rafetus euphraticus.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
This ecoregion was developed to include the following formations as identified by Guidotti et al.(1986): the eastern Mediterranean evergreen oak forests and woodlands, Middle East evergreen tree steppes, the eastern Mediterranean evergreen scrub ‘maquis’, and the southeastern Anatolia & Middle East lowland dry conifer forests.

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Prepared by: Ugur Zeydanl?
Reviewed by: In process