Forests in Andalusia (woodlands ecosystems)
The dominance of trees, our plant ‘sibblins’ – an invitation to connect with nature.
The forest is the ecosystem where trees predominate. It constitutes the end of the ecological succession and is the most complex habitat in terms of structure. The forest masses of Andalusia are located mainly in the mountains and along the coast, occupying less productive land which can hardly be used for agriculture. Two main factors can be cited which explain the appearance of Mediterranean terrestrial ecosystems: the presence of extensive livestock and fire.
Andalusian forests are very varied, often with a lax tree density, and incorporate abundant bushes and grasslands. The presence of junipers (Juniperus spp) is a prominent element of Mediterranean forests.
In Andalusia, woodlands turn out to be very attractive because of their biodiversity, although few of them have preserved a natural nature of mixed forest, such as the extraordinary forests of the Dehesa de Camarate in Sierra Nevada and those of the Genal Valley in the Serranía de Ronda. On the other hand, it is important to mention the wood pastures, a very humanized ecosystem of agro-silvo-pastoral type present especially in Sierra Morena.
The forest masses of Andalusia are dominated by oaks (Quercus spp) and by pines (Pinus spp) complemented by other tree species.
The Genal valley has a formidable diversity of woodland habitats.
Magic of the forests in Andalusia.
Natural forest of maritime pines (Pinus pinaster).
New foliage of the Portugese oak (Quercus faginea).
The cork oak (Quercus suber) is an extraordinary tree for its corky bark usually harvested over a 7-8 year cycle.
Wild olive trees (Olea europaea) offer fruiting of small olives in late autumn, abundant and very energetic, which benefits the many wintering passerines (warblers, etc.).
Poplars and willows form dense and tall forests on the banks of the largest rivers in Andalusia.
- Black pine (Pinus salzmanii), maritime pine (Pinus pinaster), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and pinsapo (Abies pinsapo) grow in the middle and high mountains and constitute natural relict forests.
- Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) is adapted to dry conditions and is widely distributed throughout the region.
- Stone pine (Pinus pinea). Thermophilic species of coastal and low mountain.
Deciduous oak forests
- Alpine oak (Quercus faginea alpestris = Quercus alpestris). It forms a curious high altitude pasture meadow in Sierra de Las Nieves above 1,850 m.
- Portugese oak (Quercus faginea). The species is marcescent (see note) and needs a mild and humid climate, especially present in the mountains, usually in mixed forests.
- Andalusian oak (Quercus canariensis). Endemismo ibero-magrebi, is the Quercus with the highest demand for humidity and mild climate, especially present in the Campo de Gibraltar.
- Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica). Scarce, usually in mixed forests. Marcescent species that preserves dead leaves during winter.
Perennial Oak Forests
- Holm or evergreen Oak (Quercus ilex = Quercus ballota = Quercus rotundifolia). The Iberian Quercus par excellence adapted to a wide spectrum of weather and soil conditions.
- Cork oak (Quercus suber). It needs acid soils and more moisture than the oak.
The wild olive (Olea sylvestris europaea) is a very thermophilic species and present in low-lying areas in Andalusia. It is nowadays restricted to the uncultivated stony slopes and to the edge of the fields.
These forests grow on the edge of permanent water bodies, mainly rivers, and are limited by soil moisture and not so much by the surrounding climate. Their trees tend to have rapid growth and are deciduous. The riverside forest is by nature a linear habitat on the banks of the rivers but is progressively threatened and reduces its size, especially in fertile lands invaded by agriculture. White poplars (Populus alba) and willow trees (Salix alba, Salix fragilis) are large trees that form dense and tall forests around the largest rivers. They are accompanied by black poplars (Populus nigra), ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior), elms (Ulmus minor) and other small trees such as tamarisks (Tamarix spp), alders (Alnus glutinosa), chasteberries (Vitex agnus castus), sallows (Salix spp), oleanders (Nerium oleander) and other shrubs. In these forests, the abundance and diversity of vines stands out, for example, the wild vine (Vitis vinifera) or the common smilax (Smilax aspera).
The black pines (P. salzmanii) – old and twisted – of the Sierra de Cazorla are part of my list of Zen landscapes in Andalusia that particularly touched me. All the more so since they are populated by bushcrickets that are excessively discreet because they are nocturnal and arboreal, but occasionally super-abundant. What memories!
The diversity of strictly forest birds is modest in Andalusia, although the presence of the Iberian green woodpecker (Picus sharpei) can be highlighted. However, large emblematic raptors such as black vulture (Aegypius monachus), Iberian imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti), booted eagle (Hieraetus pennatus), and European honeycomb (Pernis apivorus) nest mostly in forests. Woodlands are also the refuge of large mammals and forest bats. Among the invertebrates, insects that degrade dead wood (saproxylic) stand out, with numerous examples of very striking beetles from the Cerambycidae and Buprestidae families. To conclude, indicate that the diversity of fungi reaches its maximum values in the forests, especially at Los Alcornocales.
Marcescent: term used in botany to describe those leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs, which, after the end of the vegetative period and with the change of foliage color, remain in the tree mostly during the entire cold season (autumn and winter) until practically the exit of the new leaves in the following spring. Trees usually characteristic of this phenomenon are oaks.