Red List habitat classification > RLF - Heathland and scrub > RLF2.1 Subarctic and alpine dwarf Salix scrub

Subarctic and alpine dwarf Salix scrub

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLF2.1
Threat status
Europe Least Concern
EU Near Threatened
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


Subarctic and alpine snowbed and snow-patch communities dominated by dwarf willows. The habitat type occurs north of or above the climatic tree limit, but outside the permafrost zone. Salix species characteristic to this habitat type are usually under 10 cm in height, and rarely exceed 1,5 m. Dwarf scrub is well developed in boreal and arctic mountains and subarctic lowlands.

The habitat type occurs in boreal and arcto-alpine mountains of Fennoscandia, in the Alps, Pyrenees, Carpathians and Caucasus. Occurrences of the habitat type exist locally also in southern mountains in Europe. In mountains of the nemoral and warm-temperate zones, stands of dwarf willow scrub are of much smaller extent and are characteristic of late-lying snow patches.

The habitat type is found on both siliceous and calcareous bedrock, being more species-rich in the latter. There is no single characteristic species describing all the occurrences, but the vegetation varies in different geographic areas and according to the substrate. Communities vary from acidophile–acidocline vegetation with typical species like Salix herbacea, Carex firma, Salix retusa, Aster alpinus and Carex sempervirens (alliances Salicion herbaceae, Cassiopo-Salicion herbaceae, Salici herbaceae-Caricion lachenalii)  to calciphile–calcicline vegetation (alliances Arabidion caeruleae). Typical species of the latter are e.g. Salix polaris, Salix reticulata, Salix retusa, (incl. Salix kitaibeliana), Poa alpina, Selaginella selaginoides and Bistorta vivipara.

The communities are adapted to short growing season and late-lying snow, which lasts up to 8–10 months. The humus layer is thin and the soil is gravel or sand. After melting, the habitat can be rather dry in summer. Dwarf willows dominate the vegetation, but mosses and lichens are also abundant.

Snowbed communities dominated by grasses, forbs or mosses do not belong to this habitat type, but are included in type E4.1.

Indicators of good quality:

The following characteristics are indicators of good quality:

  • Dominance of dwarf willows
  • Late-lying snow cover

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

The habitat seems to be stable in area and quality over the last 50 years, but with large natural fluctuations due to yearly snow cover and other (micro)climatic factors. It has a rather fast turn over, and can disappear or get established in a few decades. The quality of the habtat is decreasing a bit, but not so much to meet any red list criterion. Most of the decline in Europe is inside the EU28, outside Scandinavia and the arctic region. However, as climate change is considered a serious threat, it is expected that for the future a decline in area and quality may occur, resulting at least in a Near Threatened situation in the EU28. For the EU28+ the overall status is assessed as Least Concern (LC).
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Near Threatened A2a, C/D2
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Intensive grazing
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Outdoor sports and leisure activities, recreational activities
    • Skiing complex
    • Trampling, overuse
  • Climate change
    • Temperature changes (e.g. rise of temperature & extremes)
    • Droughts and less precipitations
    • Habitat shifting and alteration

Habitat restoration potential

The habitat can probably recover relatively fast if it is affected. It is depending on the (micro)climate, including snowcover time and depth. As this habitat is extremely climate dependent no possible management to make the habitat recover faster is known.

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Stable Stable
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

No possible managament is known to address negative effects of climate change, the dominating threat, except international reduction of CO2 output. To prevent different local threats from human activities, a representative number of protected areas is needed, large enough to take into account distribution changes due to climate change.

List of conservation and management needs

  • No measures
    • No measure known / impossible to carry out specific measures
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites
    • Legal protection of habitats and species


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)
Spain mainland Present 23 Unknown Stable
Bulgaria Present unknown Decreasing Decreasing
Romania Present 0.2 Decreasing Stable
Slovenia Present 1 Decreasing Stable
Finland mainland Present 12 Stable Stable
France mainland Present 172 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present 1 Decreasing Decreasing
Italy mainland Present 150 Decreasing Decreasing
Poland Present 3.5 Stable Stable
Slovakia Present 0.2 Stable Stable
Austria Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Sweden Present 565 Stable Decreasing
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 600 Stable Stable
Bosnia and Herzegovina Present 2 Stable Stable
Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Present unknown Decreasing Decreasing
Iceland Present 380 Unknown Unknown
Liechtestein Present unknown Unknown Unknown
Norway Mainland Present 3417 Stable Stable
Svalbard Present 3417 Stable Stable
Jan Mayen Present 3417 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 4964700 231 928 Lacking data mainly from Austria
EU28+ 280 5327 Main area of this habitat is in Norway (incl. Svalbard).
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

Not available

Vegetation types

Relation to vegetation types (syntaxa)

Not available

Other classifications

Not available
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100