Red List habitat classification > RLE - Grasslands > RLE4.1 Vegetated snow patch

Vegetated snow patch

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLE4.1
Threat status
Europe Vulnerable
EU Vulnerable
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)

Summary

The habitat is represented by chionophile vegetation on places that retains late-lying snow (snowfield, snowbed and snow-patch), often on the drift from the melting snow-patches. They are well developed in boreal and arctic mountains and in sub-arctic lowlands. Dominants may be mosses, liverworts, lichens, short graminoids, ferns and small herbs. The species composition depends on the geographical range, the altitude, bedrock (calcareous or siliceous soils) and length of vegetation seasons. On the tops of high mountains in South-Europe snow patches are characterised by the presence of endemic taxa and syntaxa. Often the plant communities are disposed in the depressions of slopes and ridges amongst the dominant acidophilous or caciphilous alpine and sub-alpine grasslands. Soils are poorly developed: Lithosols (1–4 cm), strongly skeletal, often with small stones on the surface. Some of them are rich in fine, organic substances.

The most widespread in mountains throughout the Europe are acidophilous mixed herbaceous-dwarf shrub communities of the class Salicetea herbaceae. The dominant species are Salix herbacea, Ligusticum mutelina, Luzula alpinopilosa many mosses as Polytrichum sexangulare, P. juniperinum, Pohlia commutata, ect. Dwarf willow shrubs belong to shrub not to the snow-patch grasslands, but are included under habitat F2.1. The most widespread acidophilous snow-patch communities in the mountains are dominated from Omalotheca supina, Alopecurus gerardii, Carex spp., Alchemilla spp., etc. But the snow-patch vegetation of Iberian Peninsula is rich in endemics and belongs to the endemic alliance Sedion candollei. The endemic alliance Ranunculion crenatii represents the uncommon, isolated herbaceous snow-patch swards of the southern Dinarides and the Pelagonides. Another endemic alliance Hyalopoion ponticae represent the snow-bed vegetation on acidic soils in the Caucasus Mts.

In Northern Europe (Fennoscandia, the Scottish Highlands, Iceland, Greenland and arctic islands) snow-patch communities are dominated by mosses (Distichium capillaceum, Pohlia spp.), lichens or coarse tussock forming grasses, like Deschampsia cespitosa. On Svalbard some snow-beds over siliceous bedrock are dominated by Dicranoweissia crispula, with Andreaea blyttii, A. obovata and A. rupestris as characteristic species. The northern alliance Cassiopo--Salicion herbaceae is very similar to the alpine Salicion herbaceae, but diagnostic are typical arctic species like Carex bigelowii and Harrimanella hypnoides. Specific are some snowbed communities of Fennoscandian Mountains, Iceland and Scottish Highlands, which are dominated by ferns as Cryptogramma crispa, Athyrium distentifolium (Athyrium alpestre), Athyrium filix-femina, Dryopteris expansa (Dryopteris assimilis) or Dryopteris filix-mas.

Calciphilous boreo-alpine snow patch grasslands (Arabidetalia caeruleae) are rich in small herbs, grasses and mosses. Among the characteristic species are Arabis caerulea, Carex atrata, Saxifraga androsacea and Ranunculus alpestris. Open, herbaceous communities on wet (from melting snow), calcareous stones in Scandinavian mountains belong to the alliance Saxifrago oppositifoliae-Oxyrion digynae (=Ranunculo-Oxyrion digynae). Typical species here are Oxyria digyna, Cerastium cerastoides, Cetraria delisei and Saxifraga oppositifolia.

The vegetation communities mostly cover small areas above the forest belt (alpine and sub-alpine parts) in the high mountains of Central and Eastern Europe: Alps, Pyrenees, Carpathians and Caucasus, and in the Scottish Highlands and Sudeten. In South-European Mountains, they are spread very locally in the Paeonian Mountains, Sierra Nevada, Cordillera Central, Monti Sibillini, Abruzzi, Balkan Mountains as Pirin and Rila Mts. and some of the Dinarides.

In a good condition the habitat is represented by communities in patches with different sizes, within a matrix of the dominant alpine, subalpine and tundra grasslands. The development of these communities depends on the duration of snow cover, amount of snowfall in winter and water supply from melting snow-patches. Moss and lichen communities are very sensitive to any disturbance. Alpine and subalpine communities are threatened by overgrazing and development for tourism (ski tracks, trampling on tourist routes, etc). Global warming is another serious threat, because it reduces the snow-patch size, decreases the duration of snow cover and increases the duration of the vegetation growing season.

Indicators of good quality:

  • High amount of snowfall and long-term snow cover
  • High species richness
  • Presence of rare and/or threatened species (on high mountains also endemic species)
  • High cover of lichens and mosses (in some varieties

Characteristic species
For full habitat description, please download the habitat factsheet.

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

Despite missing data from important countries in terms of area, like Sweden and Iceland, the available data seem to reflect well the pan-European situation. The calculated decreases in quantity and quality are well below the thresholds to qualify for Near Threatened category. The geographic distribution is also not restricted (EOO ≥ 50000 km², AOO ≥ 50). However, some concern exists about future trends, as the habitat is vulnerable to climate change, and it is likely that the abiotic conditions will be (at least slightly) negatively affected over the whole range, leading to the category Vulnerable (VU) for future changes in quality.
EU
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable C/D2, C2
Europe
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable C/D2, C2

Confidence in the assessment

medium
Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Grazing
    • Intensive grazing
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Sport and leisure structures
    • Skiing complex
  • Pollution
    • Air pollution, air-borne pollutants
    • Nitrogen-input
  • Climate change
    • Changes in abiotic conditions
    • Temperature changes (e.g. rise of temperature & extremes)
    • Changes in biotic conditions
    • Habitat shifting and alteration

Habitat restoration potential

Vegetated snow patches are natural habitats. Once completely destroyed (e. g. due to construction of skiing complexes), the recovery of the habitat type by natural succession processes will take a very long time. Disturbed habitats with modified species composition due to overgrazing have the capacity for natural recovery in a shorter period of time, if they are not isolated from similar habitats.

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

The development and condition of this habitat type depends on snow depth, duration of snow cover and water supply from melting snow-patches and hence the habitats are heavily affected by global warming. Furthermore, the habitat is also affected by nitrogen input due to air pollution. For this reason the habitats will benefit most from enhanced environmental protection and pollution control measures. As overgrazing and trampling have also negative effects on the species composition of the habitats, provident management strategies are necessary to delimit local overgrazing. This can be realised best in protected areas.

List of conservation and management needs

  • No measures
    • Measures needed, but not implemented
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites
    • Legal protection of habitats and species
    • Manage landscape features

Distribution

For each habitat a distribution map was produced from a wide variety of sources indicating known and potential occurrences of the habitat in 10x10 km grids within Europe. Occurrences in grid cells were given in two classes: actual distribution from relatively reliable sources (surveys, expert knowledge), and potential distribution based on models or less reliable indicators. Please download the fact sheet to see the map.

Geographic occurrence and trends

EU28 Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Austria Present 285 Decreasing Decreasing
Bulgaria Present Unknown Decreasing Decreasing
Finland mainland Present 35 Stable Stable
France mainland Present 688 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present 1 Decreasing Decreasing
Italy mainland Present 91 Decreasing Decreasing
Poland Present 3.5 Stable Stable
Romania Present 780 Decreasing Decreasing
Slovakia Present 2 Decreasing Stable
Slovenia Uncertain - -
Spain mainland Present 21 Unknown Decreasing
Sweden Uncertain - -
United Kingdom Present 360 Unknown Stable
EU28 + Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Switzerland Present 150 Decreasing Decreasing
Albania Uncertain - -
Bosnia and Herzegovina Present 5 Decreasing Decreasing
Iceland Uncertain - -
Kaliningrad Uncertain - -
Kosovo Present Unknown Decreasing Decreasing
Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Present Unknown Decreasing Unknown
Norway Mainland Present 3736 Stable Stable
Serbia Uncertain - -
Svalbard Present 3736 Stable Stable
Jan Mayen Present 3736 Stable Stable

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 5162350 219 2266 no data from Sweden, Slovenia
EU28+ 255 6157 no data from Sweden, Slovenia, Albania, Iceland, Russia (Kaliningrad), Serbia
AOO = the area occupied by a habitat measured in number of 10x10 km grid cells.
EOO = the area (km2) of the envelope around all occurrences of a habitat (calculated by a minimum convex polygon).

Characteristic species

The full list of characteristic species and genus are available above from the Summary. The species available in the EUNIS database are shown here.
Ferns Athyrium alpestre
Ferns Athyrium distentifolium
Ferns Athyrium filix-femina
Ferns Cryptogramma crispa
Ferns Dryopteris assimilis
Ferns Dryopteris expansa
Ferns Dryopteris filix-mas
Ferns Selaginella selaginoides
Flowering Plants Achillea clusiana
Flowering Plants Alchemilla pentaphyllea
Flowering Plants Alopecurus gerardii
Flowering Plants Arabis alpina
Flowering Plants Arabis caerulea
Flowering Plants Bartsia alpina
Flowering Plants Calamagrostis purpurea
Flowering Plants Cardamine alpina
Flowering Plants Carex atrata
Flowering Plants Carex bigelowii
Flowering Plants Cerastium alpinum
Flowering Plants Cerastium cerastoides
Flowering Plants Crocus veluchensis
Flowering Plants Deschampsia alpina
Flowering Plants Deschampsia cespitosa
Flowering Plants Dianthus microlepis
Flowering Plants Draba crassifolia
Flowering Plants Galium saxatile
Flowering Plants Gentiana alpina
Flowering Plants Gentiana verna
Flowering Plants Geum montanum
Flowering Plants Harrimanella hypnoides
Flowering Plants Homogyne alpina
Flowering Plants Hutchinsia alpina
Flowering Plants Juncus biglumis
Flowering Plants Lepidium stylatum
Flowering Plants Ligusticum mutellina
Flowering Plants Luzula alpinopilosa
Flowering Plants Minuartia biflora
Flowering Plants Nardus stricta
Flowering Plants Omalotheca hoppeana
Flowering Plants Omalotheca supina
Flowering Plants Oxyria digyna
Flowering Plants Phippsia algida
Flowering Plants Plantago alpina
Flowering Plants Poa alpina
Flowering Plants Poa pirinica
Flowering Plants Polygonum viviparum
Flowering Plants Potentilla brauniana
Flowering Plants Primula integrifolia
Flowering Plants Ranunculus alpestris
Flowering Plants Sagina saginoides
Flowering Plants Salix herbacea
Flowering Plants Saussurea alpina
Flowering Plants Saxifraga androsacea
Flowering Plants Saxifraga oppositifolia
Flowering Plants Sedum alpestre
Flowering Plants Sesleria coerulans
Flowering Plants Sibbaldia procumbens
Flowering Plants Silene acaulis
Flowering Plants Soldanella alpina
Flowering Plants Soldanella minima
Flowering Plants Taraxacum apenninum
Flowering Plants Taraxacum croceum
Flowering Plants Thalictrum alpinum
Flowering Plants Trifolium thalii
Flowering Plants Trisetum spicatum
Flowering Plants Veronica alpina
Flowering Plants Viola biflora
Fungi Cetraria islandica
Mosses & Liverworts Andreaea blyttii
Mosses & Liverworts Bryum elegans
Mosses & Liverworts Distichium capillaceum
Mosses & Liverworts Hylocomium splendens
Mosses & Liverworts Kiaeria falcata
Mosses & Liverworts Pogonatum alpinum
Mosses & Liverworts Polytrichum sexangulare
Mosses & Liverworts Racomitrium sudeticum
Mosses & Liverworts Tayloria froelichiana
Mosses & Liverworts Timmia austriaca
Mosses & Liverworts Tortella tortuosa
Species scientific name English common name Species group
Athyrium alpestre Ferns
Athyrium distentifolium Ferns
Athyrium filix-femina Ferns
Cryptogramma crispa Ferns
Dryopteris assimilis Ferns
Dryopteris expansa Ferns
Dryopteris filix-mas Ferns
Selaginella selaginoides Ferns
Achillea clusiana Flowering Plants
Alchemilla pentaphyllea Flowering Plants
Alopecurus gerardii Flowering Plants
Arabis alpina Flowering Plants
Arabis caerulea Flowering Plants
Bartsia alpina Flowering Plants
Calamagrostis purpurea Flowering Plants
Cardamine alpina Flowering Plants
Carex atrata Flowering Plants
Carex bigelowii Flowering Plants
Cerastium alpinum Flowering Plants
Cerastium cerastoides Flowering Plants
Crocus veluchensis Flowering Plants
Deschampsia alpina Flowering Plants
Deschampsia cespitosa Flowering Plants
Dianthus microlepis Flowering Plants
Draba crassifolia Flowering Plants
Galium saxatile Flowering Plants
Gentiana alpina Flowering Plants
Gentiana verna Flowering Plants
Geum montanum Flowering Plants
Harrimanella hypnoides Flowering Plants
Homogyne alpina Flowering Plants
Hutchinsia alpina Flowering Plants
Juncus biglumis Flowering Plants
Lepidium stylatum Flowering Plants
Ligusticum mutellina Flowering Plants
Luzula alpinopilosa Flowering Plants
Minuartia biflora Flowering Plants
Nardus stricta Flowering Plants
Omalotheca hoppeana Flowering Plants
Omalotheca supina Flowering Plants
Oxyria digyna Flowering Plants
Phippsia algida Flowering Plants
Plantago alpina Flowering Plants
Poa alpina Flowering Plants
Poa pirinica Flowering Plants
Polygonum viviparum Flowering Plants
Potentilla brauniana Flowering Plants
Primula integrifolia Flowering Plants
Ranunculus alpestris Flowering Plants
Sagina saginoides Flowering Plants
Salix herbacea Flowering Plants
Saussurea alpina Flowering Plants
Saxifraga androsacea Flowering Plants
Saxifraga oppositifolia Flowering Plants
Sedum alpestre Flowering Plants
Sesleria coerulans Flowering Plants
Sibbaldia procumbens Flowering Plants
Silene acaulis Flowering Plants
Soldanella alpina Flowering Plants
Soldanella minima Flowering Plants
Taraxacum apenninum Flowering Plants
Taraxacum croceum Flowering Plants
Thalictrum alpinum Flowering Plants
Trifolium thalii Flowering Plants
Trisetum spicatum Flowering Plants
Veronica alpina Flowering Plants
Viola biflora Flowering Plants
Cetraria islandica Fungi
Andreaea blyttii Mosses & Liverworts
Bryum elegans Mosses & Liverworts
Distichium capillaceum Mosses & Liverworts
Hylocomium splendens Mosses & Liverworts
Kiaeria falcata Mosses & Liverworts
Pogonatum alpinum Mosses & Liverworts
Polytrichum sexangulare Mosses & Liverworts
Racomitrium sudeticum Mosses & Liverworts
Tayloria froelichiana Mosses & Liverworts
Timmia austriaca Mosses & Liverworts
Tortella tortuosa Mosses & Liverworts

Vegetation types

Relation to vegetation types (syntaxa)

Not available

Other classifications

This habitat may be equivalent to, or broather than, or narrower than the habitats or ecosystems in the following typologies.
Classification Code Habitat type name Relationship type
EUNIS Habitat Classification 200711 E4.1 Vegetated snow-patch same
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