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Geography of the Languedoc: Areas of Special Interest  

Ecosystems of the Languedoc Roussillon.

Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and shrub are part of a temperate ecosystem, related to the Mediterranean Climate, characterised by hot, dry summers and mild and rainy winters. Nearly all of the rainfall occurs in the winter and spring rainy season.

Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and shrub eco-regions occur not only around the Mediterranean Sea, but also in the world's other Mediterranean Climate zones - on the west coast of continents in the mid-latitudes: California, Central Chile, Southwest Australia, and the Cape Province of South Africa)

These regions are some of the most endangered on earth, and have suffered degradation and habitat loss through logging, overgrazing, conversion to agriculture, urbanization, and the introduction of alien species. Eco-regions around the Mediterranean basin have been particularly affected by degradation attributable to human activity, suffering extensive loss of forests and soil erosion, and many native plants and animals have already become extinct or are endangered. The Camargue is a spectacular example of problems caused by human abuse.

Vegetation types can range from forests to woodlands, savannas, shrublands, and grasslands; "mosaic" landscapes are common, where differing vegetation types neighbour one another in complex patterns created by variations in soil, topography, exposure to wind and sun, and fire history. The five main Mediterranean Climate regions of the world occupy less than 5% of the earth's surface but are home to about 50,000 known vascular plant species - almost 20% of the world total. They have exceptionally high numbers of rare and locally endemic plants. Much of the woody vegetation in mediterranean-climate regions is sclerophyll (hard-leaved). Sclerophyll vegetation generally has small, dark leaves covered with a waxy outer layer to retain moisture in the dry summer months.

Major plant communities include:

  • Forest: Mediterranean forests are generally composed of broadleaf evergreen trees, such as green oak Coniferous forests also occur, as do mixed forests.
  • Woodland: Oak woodlands are characteristic of the Mediterranean Basin along with pine woodlands.
  • Shrubland: Shrublands are dense thickets of evergreen sclerophyll shrubs and small trees, called maquis.
  • Scrubland: Scrublands are most common near the seacoast, and are often adapted to wind and salt air off the sea. Low, soft-leaved scrublands around the Mediterranean Sea are known as garrigue in the Languedoc (gariga in Italy, phrygana in Greece, tomillares in Spain)

Fire, both natural and human-caused, has played a large part in shaping the ecology of Mediterranean eco-regions. Hot, dry summers make much of the region prone to fires, and lightning frequently causes fires in the summer. Many of the plants are pyrophytes (fire-loving), adapted or even depending on fire for reproduction, recycling of nutrients, and the removal of dead or dying vegetation. European shrublands have been shaped by fire deliberately started by humans, historically associated with the transhumance (herding of sheep and goats, and moving them to high pastures in the summer, back to the lowlands in winter)

Areas of particular interest:


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