Red List habitat classification > RLG - Forests > RLG2.3 Macaronesian laurophyllous woodland

Macaronesian laurophyllous woodland

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLG2.3
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)


Evergreen lauriphyllous forests with a very rich and luxuriant associated flora and fauna typical of the humid to hyper-humid, frost-free, mist-bound cloud belt of the Macaronesian islands.  So-called ‘Atlantic rain forest’, this habitat forms the most complex and remarkable relict of the humid sub-tropical vegetation of the Miocene-Pliocene period in southern Europe.  Occurring at 500-1500m, it is typical of slopes with deep soils kept permanently moist by rain and fog-drip. Humidity tends to decline from north to south among these archipelagos but, particularly on Madeira and the more westerly Canary Islands, more dramatic topography has a strong influence on the local climatic conditions. 

In contrast to the G2.7 Macaronesian heathy woodlands which are dominated by shrubby ericaceous plants, the canopy here is composed of laurel-leaved trees and shrubs, many of them ancient endemics to the islands.  The canopy of these highly productive woodlands can reach over 30m with some of the tree species suckering over and again to produce dense multi-stemmed individuals.  There can be up to 20 different tree species in a few hectares, prominent among them Laurus azorica, L. novocanariensis, Myrica faya, Ocotea foetens, Persea indica, Apollonias barbujana, Clethra arborea, Erica arborea, E. azorica, Ilex canariensis, I. perado ssp. azorica, I. perado ssp. perado, Isoplexis canariensis, Ixanthus viscosus, Picconia azorica and P. excelsa.  In general, these laurel forests also have more climbing plants, ferns and epiphytic mosses than the Macaronesian heaths. The lush bryophyte cover, including some liverworts, is important in intercepting and retaining atmospheric moisture.   

The woodlands show variation according to the local climatic conditions, sub-humid forms favouring southern slopes within areas of 500mm annual precipitation and little influence of the cloud-belt (eg. the Visneo-Apollonion and Canarian Ixantho-Laurion); humid types with precipitation of up to 1200mm, sunshine and temperature lessened by fogs (eg. Azorean Dryopterido-Laurion); and the hyper-humid with precipitation over 1500mm and permanent fogs, conditions typical of mountains of Madeira and the Azores (eg. the Sibthorpio-Clethrion).  Local endemism also means that particular islands can have a highly distinctive character and, in some places, degradation and invasion of introduced taxa like Pittosporum undulatum affects the floristic composition (as in the Myrico-Pittosporion of coastal slopes on the Azores).

Indicators of quality:

Particularly at lower altitudes and on less difficult terrain, areas of intact laurel forests have been drastically reduced by forest exploitation in clear-cutting for charcoal, tool-making and compost production, by planting of replacement forests of commercial timber trees; or by dairy-cattle grazing which hinders regeneration and causes eutrophication.  Road construction through forests also allows the spread of invading species. Signs of high quality in remaining stands are:

  • the continuance of structural and floristic integrity of the forest vegetation without secondary regeneration after interventions or the dense growth that develops with abandonment of operations
  • survival of larger stands of forest without fragmentation and isolation
  • absence of damage from fires, particularly threatening in the sub-humid Canarian forests, with death of older hollow trees, consumption of deadwood and litter and development of combustible pioneer vegetation afterwards
  • absence of introduced invaders such as Pittosporum undulatum, Hedychium gardnerianum, Clethra arborea (an endemic but cultivated as an ornamental), particularly threatening on the Azores and Madeira.

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

There is historical evidence, from a time span dating back to the XVI century that the habitat's area has been much reduced. Historical descriptions of fire, cutting for timber and clearing land for agriculture are inequivocal for all the three archipelagos. Comparison with Natural Potential Vegetation Maps supports the idea of a large reduction. Thus, in spite of a recent and present favourable status (an area increase of about 40%), the strong historical reduction (criterion A3) leads to the category Vulnerable (VU). Besides, parts of the habitat have undergone a reduction in abiotic and biotic quality in the last 50 years due to cutting for timber and replacement by afforestations, but quantitative values are uncertain and not expected to lead to a Red List category.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A3
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A3

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Cultivation
  • Sylviculture, forestry
    • Forest and Plantation management & use
    • Forest replanting
    • Forest replanting (non native trees)
  • Urbanisation, residential and commercial development
    • Urbanised areas, human habitation
    • Discontinuous urbanisation
    • Dispersed habitation
    • Agricultural structures, buildings in the landscape
  • Invasive, other problematic species and genes
    • Introduction or spread of non-indigenous species
  • Geological events, natural catastrophes
    • Fire (natural)
  • Climate change
    • Changes in abiotic conditions
    • Temperature changes (e.g. rise of temperature & extremes)
    • Droughts and less precipitations
    • Habitat shifting and alteration
    • Desynchronisation of processes
    • Decline or extinction of species
    • Migration of species (natural newcomers)

Habitat restoration potential

As a mature forest, depending on the extent of damage, it will count on ecological sucession to establish a comparable state in terms of structure, composition and function (mature closed forest). It is expected that, if the soil was not severely eroded and disturbance regimes causing disruption will cease, that forest species will be able to establish and be ecologically dominant again in a time span of several decades to a century. Silvucultural practices of elimination of dominated individual trees might accelerate tree sucession towards mature laurel forests. Otherwise, sucession through self-thinning will take longer although the risk of deriving to an somewhat artificial habitat (the former option) is much reduced.

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Increasing Increasing
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Increasing No occurrence
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

Keeping local, regional, national and UE conservation status aswell as keeping the actual protected areas and management practices will guarantee habitat persistence.
In addition, elimination of alien plants that are frequent in secondary laurel forest should be sought.
Protection against wildfires and urbanization preassures should be the most strict as possible.

List of conservation and management needs

  • No measures
    • Measures needed, but not implemented
  • Measures related to forests and wooded habitats
    • Restoring/Improving forest habitats
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites
    • Establishing wilderness areas/allowing succession


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)
Portugal Azores Present 267 Unknown Increasing
Madeira Present 267 Unknown Increasing
Canary Islands Present 60 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)

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 581650 66 327
EU28+ 66 327
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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