Red List habitat classification > RLF - Heathland and scrub > RLF1.1 Shrub tundra

Shrub tundra

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLF1.1
Threat status
Europe Least Concern
EU -
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)

Summary

Tundra is a treeless habitat, dominated by mosses, lichens, herbs and low shrubs, characteristic for arctic and subarctic regions, where the subsoil is permanently frozen (permafrost). The term is also used for physiognomic similar habitats in alpine areas above the timberline, but here it only refers to arctic and subarctic habitats.

Shrub tundra is a tundra type of the southern arctic belt characterized by abundance of medium small and small shrubs, especially Ericaceous species. This in contrast to the colder tundra of the middle and northern arctic belts, where mosses and lichens dominate (type F1.2). Permafrost is sporadic within the southern arctic, with mean temperatures of about 0 °C, and average July temperatures below 10 °C . Shrub tundra is a circumpolar arctic type of the tundra’s of Russia, Canada, Alaska and Greenland. In Europe the arctic zone (above the climatic limit of woodland) is mainly found in Russia, but small areas occur on the northern edges of Iceland and Norway, as well as on the islands Jan Mayen, Bjørnøya and the Svalbard archipelago.

In Finnmark, the northern region of Norway, the arctic belt is restricted to the lower altitudes at sea level. Dominant dwarf shrubs here are Empetrum hermaphroditum, accompanied by Salix herbacea , Vaccinium myrtilus, Vaccinium uliginosum, Juncus trifidus, Festuca vivipara and high abundance of mosses (Racomitrium lanuginosum, Dicranum fuscescens) and lichens (Cetraria cucculata, C. ericetorum). The habitat forms a gradual transition towards heathlands of the lower alpine zone, with a similar species composition (habitat F 2.2a ‘Alpine and subalpine ericoid shrub’). Differences between tundra and alpine heathland are the shorter growth period and lower soil temperatures in the arctic. Due to grazing (reindeer, rodents) the heathland occurs in mosaic with grasslands. Overgrazing leads to disappearance of lichen cover and specific species, like Cladina stellaris.

On Island, the same shrubs are characteristic of the tundra belt and, like in Norway, the transition towards boreal subalpine heathlands (habitat type F2.2a) is gradual. On young lava fields of Island vascular plants occur only scattered, and such pioneer stages of the habitat, dominated by the moss Racomitrium langinosum, sometimes accompanied by R. ericoides, are considered part of the shrub tundra.

Also on Jan Mayen, situated in the middle arctic belt, Empetrum hermaphroditum is the dominant species, growing together with the mentioned Racomitrium species and lichens. Here the type is found in a low, oceanic part of the island and – in contrast to other areas – there is no grazing.

On Svalbard shrub tundra is restricted to the warmest part of the island Spitsbergen, the “Innerfjord zone”. This comprises the coastal regions of the central fjords of Spitsbergen, where no sea fog and relatively few clouds result in a slightly warmer climate. Here about 75% of all vascular plants of Svalbard is found. Locally, shrub dominates the tundra. Here, the habitat type is considered a relict vegetation of post-glacial warmer periods. Empetrum nigrum and Vaccinium uliginosum are the most important species, and here and there Betula nana and Rubus chamaemorus are found. In the same part of Svalbard low shrubland dominated by Cassiope tetragona forms a transition to Moss and Lichen Tundra (F1.2).

Indicators of quality:

In good conditions the habitat shows the following characteristics:

  • Dominance of dwarf shrubs,
  • No indication of overgrazing,
  • No erosion patterns,
  • No presence of non-native species (like Lupinus nootkatensis),
  • High cover and high diversity of lichens and mosses.

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

The habitat is assessed as Least Concern (LC) as no decline or negative change in area or quality is known since the last 50 years. In fact on Iceland a positive trend in area and quality is observed due to a reduction of grazing intensity.
EU
Red List Category Red List Criteria
- -
Europe
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -

Confidence in the assessment

medium
Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Intensive sheep grazing
  • Climate change
    • Temperature changes (e.g. rise of temperature & extremes)
    • Habitat shifting and alteration

Habitat restoration potential

The processes in the Arctic are extremely slow, so the recovery of the habitat will take a long time.

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

No occurrence Stable
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

No occurrence Stable
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

The only management needed is to have a representative part of the habitat legally protected. This is already done.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites
    • Establishing wilderness areas/allowing succession

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)
EU28 + Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Iceland Present 2000 Stable Stable
Norway Mainland Present 1800 Stable Stable
Svalbard Present 1800 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 - - - occurs only outside EU28
EU28+ 1733100 3800 Rough estimate of area
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.
Flowering Plants Betula nana
Flowering Plants Cassiope tetragona
Flowering Plants Empetrum hermaphroditum
Flowering Plants Empetrum nigrum
Flowering Plants Festuca vivipara
Flowering Plants Juncus trifidus
Flowering Plants Lupinus nootkatensis
Flowering Plants Rubus chamaemorus
Flowering Plants Salix herbacea
Flowering Plants Tofieldia pusilla
Flowering Plants Vaccinium uliginosum
Fungi Flavocetraria nivalis
Mosses & Liverworts Dicranum fuscescens
Mosses & Liverworts Racomitrium ericoides
Mosses & Liverworts Racomitrium lanuginosum
Species scientific name English common name Species group
Betula nana Flowering Plants
Cassiope tetragona Flowering Plants
Empetrum hermaphroditum Flowering Plants
Empetrum nigrum Flowering Plants
Festuca vivipara Flowering Plants
Juncus trifidus Flowering Plants
Lupinus nootkatensis Flowering Plants
Rubus chamaemorus Flowering Plants
Salix herbacea Flowering Plants
Tofieldia pusilla Flowering Plants
Vaccinium uliginosum Flowering Plants
Flavocetraria nivalis Fungi
Dicranum fuscescens Mosses & Liverworts
Racomitrium ericoides Mosses & Liverworts
Racomitrium lanuginosum 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 F1.1 Shrub tundra same
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100