Western Asia: Southern Turkey into Syria, Lebanon, Israel

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This ecoregion is one of the most biologically diverse in the Mediterranean Basin. Extremely mountainous, its high peaks and deep valleys create isolated ecological niches resulting in a high level of plant endemism, particularly among the bulbous species. The overlapping of the Mediterranean and Irano-Turanian floristic zones here has also contributed to the evolution of unique species. Brown bear, grey wolf, lynx and the critically endangered Anatolian leopard still roam the mountains. The world’s largest and most intact stand of Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) is found here, along with forests of endemic fir and oak species. Overgrazing and overharvesting of wild plants, inappropriate forest management practices, poaching, and increasing tourism pose growing threats.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    29,500 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
Situated primarily in Turkey, with small areas in Syria and Lebanon, this is an extremely mountainous ecoregion. It is delineated in Turkey by the high mountains of southern Anatolia and in Syria and Lebanon by the Levantine mountains. Small mountainous areas in the central Anatolian basin, such as Erenler, Kozlu, Hasan, Melendiz, also have an impact on the vegetation.

The high mountains can be classified into five groups: Western (Isaurian) Taurus (3,024 m), Central (Lycian) Taurus (3,585 m), Eastern (Cilician) Taurus (3,734 m), Amanos (2,262 m) and Levantine (3,083 m) mountains. Limestone is the most common parent rock, although serpentine and other ophiolithic formations also occur throughout.

Due in large part to the influence of the Irano-Turanian phytogeographic realm (Davis 1971), this ecoregion is rich in herbaceous plants and has a high proportion (>30 %) of endemic species, the most in any Mediterranean region. As elsewhere in the Mediterranean, summer drought and high winter precipitation are also characteristic of this ecoregion. The main influences on the climate, which in turn affects the vegetation, are: the high mountains rising steeply from the sea; the orientation of these mountains, particularly in relation to the wind; and the prevailing southwest winds, which carry most of the rain.

The annual precipitation regime is winter, autumn, spring, summer, with winter having the most and summer the least rainfall; precipitation ranges from 800–2,000 mm (Akman 1995).

Coniferous, deciduous and alpine forests are the main vegetation formations. Most of the forests are coniferous, comprised of Anatolian black pine (Pinus nigra), Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), Taurus fir (Abies cilicica), and juniper (Juniperus foettidissima and J. excelsa, which form the tree line - Davis 1965). Cedrus libani occurs in areas affected by the Mediterranean climate, while Pinus nigra prefers inland, continental sites (Atalay 1994). On the southern slopes of the mountains the forest line reaches an altitude of 2,000 m; further inland it can reach 2,200-2,400 m. Thus, generally speaking, the further east in the region one goes the higher the tree line, due to higher temperatures and lower precipitation.

Deciduous forests are concentrated in the Geyik and Amanos Mountains in the eastern part of the ecoregion. This is mainly due to the locally high precipitation rate (1,500-2,000 mm) which results from the fact that these mountains lie at right angles to the humid onshore winds. Dominant deciduous species include: hornbeam (Carpinus orientalis), hop hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia), oak (Quercus cerris, Q. libani, Q. trojana, Q. petrea ssp. pinnatiloba), and many maple species (Acer hyrcanum, A. platonoides, A. campestre, and A. monspessulanum). Another formation is the xeric alpine meadow dominated by chamaephytes, caespitose, and hemicryphytes. The principal associations and species in these meadows include Tanacetion praeteriti, Agropyron-Stochyon, Alyssum propinquum, and A. masmenaeum (Boulos et al 1994) and many Astragalus spp.

Although forest cover is most extensive in the Taurus and Amanos Mountains, it is also possible to find forest patches in the Levantine mountains in Syria and Lebanon. In Syria, the Jabal an Nusayriyah range is the principal site, with Cedrus libani on its humid eastern slopes, Abies cilicica in the north and west, and Juniper spp. on the slopes facing towards the steppe or the Syrian Desert. In Lebanon, small Cedrus libani forests can be seen in Bisharra, Cedres, Ehden, Haddet, and Jebel Quannuta. Unfortunately, these forests do not regenerate easily.

Biodiversity Features
One of the main features of this ecoregion is its high level of endemism, due in large part to the high rocky mountains with deep carstic valleys and the influence of the Irano-Turanion phytogeographic realm in the northern areas (Davis 1971). The region is especially rich in bulbous plants (Ekim 1987), and species of the Labitae and Boroginaceae (Boulos et al. 1994) families account for most of these endemics. The Taurus Mountains and southwestern Anatolia support approximately 950 plant species (Davis et al. 1988) with the main centres of endemism found in the Bolkar, Sandras, and Amanos Mountains and the Elmal? environs (Davis 1971). The Sandras Mountains support 670 species (Özhatay 1981), 76 of which are Anatolian endemics, and of these 11 are known only from this mountain (Özhatay 1986). They are Gypsophila davisii, Minuartia umbellifera ssp. fimbriata, Rosularia serpentinica, Viola sandrasicus, Ferulago sandrasica, Lamium sandrasicum, Teucrium sandrasicum, Centaurea ensiformis, Senecio sandrasicus, Allium sandrasicum, and A. decidium ssp. decidium (Özhatay 1986). Geyik Mountain and Ak Mountain support some interesting endemic taxa such as the monotypic genus Sartoria hedysaroides and the following other species: Areneria isauirica, Gypsophila serpylloides, Dorycnium sanguineum, Doromicum cacaliifolium, Verbascum flavipannosum, Origanum bilgeri, Euphorbia davisii, and Poa pseudobulbosa (Boulos et al. 1994). In the Bolkar mountains and the Cilician Gates (the passes of the eastern Taurus mountains), Helianthemum strickeri, Dianthus lactiflorus, Linum empetrifolium, Heracleum pastinaca, Valerianella bolkarica, Achillea monocephala, Verbascum cilicicum, Aristolochia cilicica, Allium alpinarii, Asplenium reuteri and Kitaibela balansae are among the locally occurring endemics (Boulos et al. 1994).

In addition to the Mediterranean vegetation, it is possible to find relicts of the Euro-Siberian phytogeographic realm on the south slopes of Dedegol and the western slopes of the Amanos Mountains (Atalay 1987). Because of their orientation, these areas receive high rainfall even in summer, an extremely rare event in the Mediterranean region. Thus, it is possible to find oriental beech (Fagus orientalis) forests with Euxinic lime (Tilia argentea), service tree (Sorbus graeca), maple (Acer spp.), Rhododendron ponticum, and Ilex colchica. It is also possible to find small Euro-Siberian enclaves around Silinfah and Nabi Matta on the Jabal an Nusayriyah (Nahal 1962). It is thought that these enclaves are relicts of vegetation that spread southward during cool pluvial periods of the Pleistocene (Boulos et al. 1994) and survived there because of the microclimate with high rainfall (Akman 1973). In addition, the Amanos Mountains are considered to mark the southern end of the Anatolian Diagonal that facilitates the penetration of northern flora as far south as Lebanon and Syria. These mountains provide a bridge linking the Taurus Mountains, Lebanon Mountains, and North Syrian Desert, and make it possible for species to migrate between these areas (Boulos et al. 1994).

In the Cilician and Isaurian regions there are roughly 2,500 plant species, including 128 widespread endemics and 139 restricted range endemics; these include: Alkanna amana, Allium karamoglui, Crocus adanensis, Erodium amanum, Fritillaria haradjianri, Gypsophila arsusianum, Hypericum mondedenum, Origanum brevidens, Ornithogalum sorgerae, numerous Thlaspi species, several Isatis species, and 7 Verbascum species. Coastal community endemics include Aegilops sharonensis, Anthemis tripolitana, Ballota philistaea, Convolvulus secundus, Ornithogalum densum, Rumex occultans, and Silene modesta (Boulos et al. 1994).

Another important feature of this ecoregion is the world's largest and most intact Cedrus libani forest. Located in Turkey, the forest covers 89,810 ha on Akda, particularly at Elmal?. Small patches of Cedrus libani forest can also be found in Lebanon and Syria; these remnants are important for conserving genetic diversity, as they represent the last remaining populations at the southern edge of the species’ range. Southwestern Turkey also contains endemic forest types, such as Abies cilicica ssp. isaurica and Quercus vulcanica. The latter is particularly important due to its restricted distribution and its value as a timber tree.

The Amanos mountains are designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) due to their presence along a migration route for birds rounding the northeast corner of the Mediterranean on their journey between wintering grounds in Africa and breeding grounds in eastern Europe. Species and numbers recorded include: white stork (Ciconia ciconia), 82,287; black stork (Ciconia nigra), 3,303; white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus), 6,203; and a total of 26,756 birds of prey (Magnin & Yarar 1997).

This mountainous region is also rich in wildlife, largely because the difficult terrain has reduced opportunities for human impact. Brown bear (Ursus arctos), grey wolf (Canis lupus), lynx (Lynx lynx) and caracal (Caracal caracal) are the main carnivores of interest (Can 2001a, Can 2000). In the 1950s, the Caspian tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) was the rarest carnivore species in the ecoregion, but the last one was killed in 1960. The critically endangered Anatolian leopard (Panthera pardus ssp. tulliana) is now the rarest large carnivore species in this area (Can 2001b). Wild goat (Capra aegagrus) and fallow deer (Dama dama) are important herbivorous species found here (Can 2001b); Turkey’s last Dama dama population survives at Duzlercami "Fallow Deer Breeding Station". Although these deer were introduced to Europe in the 15th century from southern Anatolia, the local native population is now reduced to only around 50 individuals.

Current Status
Natural habitat destruction and degradation resulting from human activity is a very old phenomenon in the Anatolian and Mesopotamian Basins, dating back to roughly 2,000 BC when the human population increased rapidly following the successful establishment of agro-pastoral systems (Miller 1998). Despite this area’s long history of human habitation and exploitation, however, the natural qualities of this particular ecoregion are more intact than those of neighboring regions because the rugged terrain here has deterred human interference.

Protected areas and their main points of interest are included in the following table.

  Name District Status IUCN Cat.
 Area (ha.)
 Main points of Interest Comments
Kizildag Isparta National Park II
 Carstic formations; northernmost cedar forests; the lake is an IBA (see Beysehir Lake below) A large part of the NP is Lake Beysehir; the lake is considerably disturbed by recreation, fishing and illegal hunting.
Termessos-Gulluk Mountain Antalya National Park II
 Wildlife - this area is important for Dama dama, Cervus elaphus, Panthera pardus tuliana, Capra aegagrus; well protected maquis communities; archeology. NP is extremely rich for wildlife, but to provide effective protection it needs to increase in size. Controls on tourism are needed to protect the large fauna species.
Kovada Lake Isparta National Park II
 Carstic formations, relatively intact forest cover. Seems to have been created principally for recreation
Beysehir Lake Konya National Park II
 Well-protected forest cover; third largest lake in Turkey; Important Bird Area (IBA) for wintering wildfowl (max 213,824) Like most of Turkey's lakes, the diversity of fish species has greatly reduced following the introduction of Pike-Perch in 1978.
Altinbesik Antalya National Park II
 Carstic cave This NP falls within the Ibrad? forests and Giden Gelmez Mountains, a centre of endemism containing important carstic formations rich in wildlife. The area of the NP needs extending to include this biodiversity feature.
Aladaglar Nigde National Park II
 Lies in the centre of endemism known as Cilican Taurus; rich in large mammals - brown bear (Ursus arctos), chamois (Capra aegagrus), grey wolf (Canis lupus), lynx (Lynx lynx); good forest cover; carstic formations On of the most important areas in the ecoregion for endemism, forest cover and wildlife
Saklikent Mugla National Park II
 Canyon and tourism Mostly dedicated to tourism activities
Tekkoz-Kengerliduz Hatay Nature Reserve Ia
 Dedicated to the conservation of Euro-Siberian relict species of the Amanos Mountains. Although this is potentially an important site for biodiversity, its area is too small for effective ecosystem conservation.
Kasnak Isparta Nature Reserve Ia
 Contains one of the most important populations of Quercus vulcanica, a restricted range endemic. Provides effective protection for Quercus vulcanica, with the whole population occurring within the reserve boundaries.
Alacadag Antalya Nature Reserve Ia
 Unique forest type – the only mixed conifer and deciduous forest in the Akdag and Beydag region. The reserve needs to be enlarged to include rare forest-type Macchie (Arbutus andrachne, Quercus infectoria) and Cedar of Lebanon
Ciglikara Antalya Nature Reserve Ia
 Optimum growth region for Cedar of Lebanon in the world; contains pure Cedar of Lebanon forests. A representative example of Cedar of Lebanon forests in south Anatolia; area includes quite a large strict nature reserve
Korcoban K.Maras Nature Reserve Ia
 Euro-Siberian relict forest with Fagus orientalis, Tilia rubra, Ilex colchica, Buxus balearica Area lies in the Amanos Mountains, one of the most important centres of endemism in the ecoregion; contains relict forest types belonging to the "Northern Anatolia Conifer and Deciduous Forest Ecoregion". A larger protected area is needed for the Amanos Mountains.
Dibek Antalya Nature Reserve Ia
 Pure cedar forest; includes one of the oldest surviving cedar trees. Considering its small area and the existence of protected areas such as Ciglikara, Alacadag contributes little to the conservation of cedar forests. 'Nature monument' status would seem more appropriate for the old individual trees.

Types and Severity of Threats
In the high mountainous areas, the main threat to the vegetation is over-grazing by feral goats. These animals are particularly destructive because they prefer young seedlings and shoots, and areas where they have grazed cannot easily regenerate. Inappropriate forest management practices that favor timber production pose another major threat. In addition, the collection and over-harvesting of bulbous plants threaten the wild populations of these species, despite the existence of many regulations and controls designed to protect them. Finally, tourism, which is one of the most destructive activities in the lowlands and coastal areas of Turkey, has now also started to affect mountainous areas. As people become more mobile and look for new recreational activities, these more remote areas with their scenic landscapes and forests are becoming more accessible and vulnerable.

Poaching is seriously impacting the already shrunken populations of Capra aegagrus and roe deer (Capreolus capreolous). Even though the rocky slopes and ridges of the Taurus Mountains offer suitable habitat for Capra aegagrus, over-hunting has greatly reduced their numbers. There are many wildlife reserves and national parks in the region, but they do not provide adequate protection for these animals.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
This ecoregion boundary was developed based on Guidotti et al. 1986. The region is primarily composed of the southern Anatolian cedar, fir, and pine forests, as well as oak and mixed sub-humid forests in southeastern Anatolia and the Middle East. Two small areas of juniper woodlands in southern Anatolia and the Middle East were also included to maintain connectivity within the ecoregion.

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Atalay, I. 1987. General ecological properties of natural occurence areas of cedar (Cedrus libani A. Rich) forests and regioning of seed transfer of cedar in Turkey. Orman Genel Mudurlugu Basimevi, Ankara,Turkey.

Atalay, I. 1994. Türkiye Vejetasyon Co_rafyas?. Ege Üniversitesi Bas?mevi. ?zmir, Turkey.

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Davis, P.H. 1971. Distribution patterns in Anatolia with particular reference to endemism. Pages 15-27 in P.H. Davis, P.C. Harper, and I.C. Hedge, editors. Plant Life of South-West Asia. Botanical Society of Edinburgh.

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Nahal, I. 1962. Contribution à l’étude de la végétation dans la Baer-Bassit et de Djebel Alouite de Strie. Webbia 16(2): 641.

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Prepared by: Ugur Zeydanl?
Reviewed by: In process