Red List habitat classification > RLF - Heathland and scrub > RLF2.2b Alpine and subalpine Juniperus scrub

Alpine and subalpine Juniperus scrub

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLF2.2b
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)


Juniperus heaths are found on carbonate as well as on non-carbonate bedrock, from the upper montane to the upper subalpine belt. Rarely we can find these communities in the lower alpine belt of all European mountains, especially those where traditional management such as grazing still continues. It occurs as a primary community on rocks and large boulders or as a secondary vegetation on sites where subalpine forests (dominated by beech or spruce) or dwarf pine krummholz communities are the climax. Sometimes it can even be found in moorland. Dominant species in the habitat are Juniperus communis subsp. alpine (= J. nana, J.sibirica), Juniperus communis subsp. hemispherica and Juniperus sabina.

These shrubs or dwarf shrubs form communities that tolerate extremely low temperatures in areas where deep and long snow cover during the winter serves as a shelter against freezing, desiccation and high solar radiation. If environmental conditions are suitable, communities may also develop on dry and sunny south exposed sites. Juniperus shrubs are able to grow as a procumbent dwarf shrub of only a few centimeters high, which can survive strong winds in the alpine vegetation belt. This plasticity allows these shrubs to form diverse and sometimes also floristically rich stands. The stands in the subalpine vegetation belt are a result of deforestation, subsequent soil erosion and grazing activities. Animals avoid eating the prickly Juniperus heaths and the shrubs are considered as undesired elements on pastures. They often are removed by cutting or burning. As a result of former or recent grazing, Juniperus heathlands form mosaics with related vegetation types such as dwarf shrub dominated by Vaccinium species or/and krummholz communities dominated by Pinus mugo.

Depending on the geological bedrock plant communities are either species poor (siliceous bedrock) or richer (calcareous bedrock). The vegetation 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, as well as geographical pattern of distribution, the communities may be divided into more types, like acidophilous, mesophilous communities on deeper soils or dry communities on more shallow, drier soils mostly southward orientated.

Indicators of quality:

Due to the collapse of traditional farming systems, many areas in European mountains have been abandoned and processes of shrub and tree encroachment are going on. Juniperus shrubs play an important role in these processes as a succession stage of formerly deforested zone towards subalpine forests and krummholz. These processes may last long, however, due to severe mountain conditions. Controversially, developing of these Juniperus stands in the past was caused by intensive grazing in montane areas.

The following characteristics may be considered as indicators of good quality:

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

We consider this habitat least concerned. The habitat is widely spread in the territory of the EU. In the past 50 years, an increase in area of about 10% has been observed and only 5% are slightly degraded. Though the estimated future trend indicates a relatively good prospect, we have to take some threats into consideration, like global warming, afforestation and tourism. Appropriate monitoring of this habitat type is recommended.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least concern A1, B1, B2, C/D1
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least concern A1, B1, B2, C/D1

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Non intensive grazing
  • Urbanisation, residential and commercial development
    • Agricultural structures, buildings in the landscape
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Species composition change (succession)
  • Climate change
    • Changes in abiotic conditions
    • Temperature changes (e.g. rise of temperature & extremes)

Habitat restoration potential

The process of recovery is rather slow in high mountain regions. We estimate that the stands can recover within 10 years through intervention and within 20-30 years naturally (assuming that appropriate sources of propagules are in the landscape).

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Increasing Increasing
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Stable Stable
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

Though these habitats don't require special treatment, conservation problems derive from the abandonment of grazing and afforestation. As Juniperus heaths are successional stages in montane and subalpine vegetation belts, those will disappear in the further stages of reforestation. Minor conservation issues are the cutting of the scrub, construction of paths, roads (also for motorcycles), ski resorts and building in the mountain areas. The most propitious treatment is extensive grazing.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Maintaining grasslands and other open habitats
  • Measures related to forests and wooded habitats
    • Adapt forest management
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Legal protection of habitats and species
    • Manage landscape features


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 50 Stable Stable
Bulgaria Present 460 Increasing Increasing
Croatia Present 25 Stable Stable
Ireland Present 1 Increasing Unknown
Romania Present 10 Decreasing Decreasing
Slovenia Present 46 Stable Stable
Spain mainland Present 188 Stable Stable
Czech Republic Present marginal Unknown Unknown
Finland mainland Present marginal Stable Stable
France mainland Present 415 Stable Stable
Germany Present 1 Stable Stable
Sardinia Present 893 Decreasing Increasing
Portugal mainland Present 2.3 Unknown Increasing
United Kingdom Present 8 Stable Stable
Italy mainland Present 893 Decreasing Increasing
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 40 Increasing Increasing
Switzerland Present 200 Stable Stable
Kosovo Present unknown Increasing Increasing
Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Present unknown Increasing Increasing

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 7066250 826 2099
EU28+ 928 2339
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)
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1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100