Red List habitat classification > RLF - Heathland and scrub > RLF2.2a Alpine and subalpine ericoid heath

Alpine and subalpine ericoid heath

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLF2.2a
Threat status
Europe Least concern
EU Least concern
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)

Summary

Dwarf-shrub communities in arctic-boreal, alpine and subalpine regions dominated mostly by Ericaceous species such as Calluna vulgaris, Empetrum hermaphroditum, Loiseleuria procumbens, Vaccinium myrtillus, V. gaultherioides, V. vitis-idaea. Some chamaephytes, as well as hemicryptophytes occur constantly, usually with lower abundance values. The unit comprises mainly natural, partly semi-natural (or secondary distributed), acidophilous communities of dwarf-shrub heaths on siliceous bedrock. In some cases, the stands from calcareous bedrock are included as well, because of their distinctive physiognomy or/and soil characteristics that are different from those that are supposed to be on limestone bedrock because of the thick layer of undecomposed humus. These communities are nearly always mono-dominant and relatively species poor. Also here, species from the families Ericaceae and Empetraceae play an important role, as well as species from the genus Dryas. Rhododendron-heath in sheltered sites and Loiseleuria-heath on exposed ridges build close stands mainly in the southern part of the distributional range and only rarely in the arctic, due to ecological differences between arctic and high-alpine habitats, such as greater amounts of snow in alpine areas, and the relatively long, cold nights of the alpine summer compared to the continuous daylight of the arctic growing season. The vegetation of this habitat is mainly classified within the class Loiseleurio-Vaccinietea that comprises arctic-boreal tundra dwarf shrub and relict (sub)alpine acidophilous heathlands. Based on habitat variability, e.g. mass and length of snow cover and thickness and quality of soil, the communities can be divided into several subtypes: cryo- and xerophilous communities on shallow soils and mesophilous communities on deeper soils. Subalpine acidophilous, mesophilous communities of the Rhododendro-Vaccinion with a vicariate West Carpathian unit Vaccinion myrtilli (sometimes synonymised with the Genisto-Vaccinion), and the Balkan unit Bruckenthalion spiculifoliae represent another side of variability in comparison with the xero-, cryophilous communities of the Loiseleurio procumbentis-Vaccinion, which occur on windswept slopes and summits. All these vegetation types occupy mainly shallow and skeletal acidic soils and rarely basic bedrocks in places with a thick layer of litter and/or raw humus. In cold atlantic and subcontinental regions also heath communities of the alliance Genisto-Vaccinion (Calluno-Ulicetea) in montane to subalpine belts are included, heaths tolerating humid to hyperhumid climate. Further, communities belonging to the Ericion carneae (Rhododendro hirsuti-Ericetea carneae) from the subalpine and alpine zone, representing dwarf heath and short 'krummholz' on rocky calcareous soils, outcrops, lapies ('karren') and boulders are included into this habitat type. Finally, within this habitat type, plant communities of the order Kobresio-Dryadetalia (Carici rupestris-Kobresietea) may be found. These comprise chionophobous dwarf-shrub and cushion shaped wind-exposed fjell-field vegetation on the ridges and plateaus. The habitat is found almost in all mountains of Eurasia from the Balkan Peninsula to the Arctic (Pyrenees, Apennines, Alps, Carpathians, Dinarides, Scandinavia) and in montane regions of Eurasia and North America.

Indicators of quality:

This vegetation can be threatened by (over)grazing, burning, extirpation of shrub for cultivation, global warming and increased nutrient content. In the areas, where it presents secondary vegetation, it may be subject to afforestation or natural succession towards woodland.

The following characteristics are considered as indicators of good quality:

  • dense stands of diagnostic Ericaceous species
  • absence or low cover of tree species
  • absence of tall and dense scrubs
  • no indication of overgrazing
  • presence and high cover of lichens (Cladonia and Cetraria species)
  • absence of nutrient-demanding species

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

We consider this habitat least concerned. It is relatively widespread across Europe and a slight increase in area has been observed over the past 50 years. The calculated decrease in quality is below the thresholds to qualify this habitat as Near threatened. The geographic distribution is also not restricted.
EU
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least concern
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 grazing
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Skiing, off-piste
    • Skiing complex
    • Trampling, overuse
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Erosion
  • Climate change
    • Droughts and less precipitations

Habitat restoration potential

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

Many occurrences of this habitat type are in Natura 2000 sites and they are legally protected.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites
    • Legal protection of habitats and species

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 2950 Stable Stable
Bulgaria Present Unknown Decreasing Increasing
Croatia Present 3 Decreasing Stable
Czech Republic Present 6 Stable Stable
Denmark Present - -
Estonia Uncertain - -
Finland mainland Present 6700 Decreasing Stable
France mainland Present 1300 Unknown Increasing
Greece (mainland and other islands) Present 165 Stable Stable
Italy mainland Present 1562 Decreasing Stable
Latvia Uncertain - -
Lithuania Uncertain - -
Romania Present 601 Stable Stable
Slovakia Present 15 Stable Stable
Slovenia Present 70 Stable Decreasing
Spain mainland Present 3.5 Stable Stable
Sweden Present - -
United Kingdom Present 415 Stable Stable
Northern Island Present 415 Stable 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)
Bosnia and Herzegovina Present 30 Increasing Increasing
Norway Mainland Present - -
Svalbard Present - -
Switzerland Present 1100 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 5153500 1195 13959
EU28+ 3098 15089
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.
Conifers Juniperus sibirica
Ferns Huperzia selago
Ferns Pteridium aquilinum
Flowering Plants Agrostis rupestris
Flowering Plants Antennaria dioica
Flowering Plants Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Flowering Plants Avenella flexuosa
Flowering Plants Avenula versicolor
Flowering Plants Brachypodium genuense
Flowering Plants Calluna vulgaris
Flowering Plants Carex curvula
Flowering Plants Daphne striata
Flowering Plants Dryas octopetala
Flowering Plants Empetrum hermaphroditum
Flowering Plants Erica carnea
Flowering Plants Festuca supina
Flowering Plants Genista germanica
Flowering Plants Hieracium alpinum
Flowering Plants Juncus trifidus
Flowering Plants Loiseleuria procumbens
Flowering Plants Luzula luzuloides
Flowering Plants Molinia arundinacea
Flowering Plants Nardus stricta
Flowering Plants Oreochloa disticha
Flowering Plants Pedicularis lanata
Flowering Plants Polygonum viviparum
Flowering Plants Potentilla erecta
Flowering Plants Rhododendron ferrugineum
Flowering Plants Rhododendron hirsutum
Flowering Plants Rhododendron myrtifolium
Flowering Plants Rhodothamnus chamaecistus
Flowering Plants Salix glauca
Flowering Plants Sesleria comosa
Flowering Plants Solidago virgaurea
Flowering Plants Vaccinium gaultherioides
Flowering Plants Vaccinium myrtillus
Fungi Cetraria islandica
Fungi Cladonia arbuscula
Mosses & Liverworts Dicranum scoparium
Mosses & Liverworts Fissidens osmundoides
Mosses & Liverworts Hylocomium splendens
Mosses & Liverworts Pleurozium schreberi
Mosses & Liverworts Polytrichum strictum
Mosses & Liverworts Tortella fragilis
Species scientific name English common name Species group
Juniperus sibirica Conifers
Huperzia selago Ferns
Pteridium aquilinum Ferns
Agrostis rupestris Flowering Plants
Antennaria dioica Flowering Plants
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Flowering Plants
Avenella flexuosa Flowering Plants
Avenula versicolor Flowering Plants
Brachypodium genuense Flowering Plants
Calluna vulgaris Flowering Plants
Carex curvula Flowering Plants
Daphne striata Flowering Plants
Dryas octopetala Flowering Plants
Empetrum hermaphroditum Flowering Plants
Erica carnea Flowering Plants
Festuca supina Flowering Plants
Genista germanica Flowering Plants
Hieracium alpinum Flowering Plants
Juncus trifidus Flowering Plants
Loiseleuria procumbens Flowering Plants
Luzula luzuloides Flowering Plants
Molinia arundinacea Flowering Plants
Nardus stricta Flowering Plants
Oreochloa disticha Flowering Plants
Pedicularis lanata Flowering Plants
Polygonum viviparum Flowering Plants
Potentilla erecta Flowering Plants
Rhododendron ferrugineum Flowering Plants
Rhododendron hirsutum Flowering Plants
Rhododendron myrtifolium Flowering Plants
Rhodothamnus chamaecistus Flowering Plants
Salix glauca Flowering Plants
Sesleria comosa Flowering Plants
Solidago virgaurea Flowering Plants
Vaccinium gaultherioides Flowering Plants
Vaccinium myrtillus Flowering Plants
Cetraria islandica Fungi
Cladonia arbuscula Fungi
Dicranum scoparium Mosses & Liverworts
Fissidens osmundoides Mosses & Liverworts
Hylocomium splendens Mosses & Liverworts
Pleurozium schreberi Mosses & Liverworts
Polytrichum strictum Mosses & Liverworts
Tortella fragilis 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 F2.2 Evergreen alpine and subalpine heath and scrub narrower
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100