Red List habitat classification > RLG - Forests > RLG3.2 Temperate subalpine Larix, Pinus cembra and Pinus uncinata woodland

Temperate subalpine Larix, Pinus cembra and Pinus uncinata woodland

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLG3.2
Threat status
Europe Near Threatened
EU Near Threatened
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


This habitat consist of coniferous woodlands of the mid sub-alpine belt in high mountains of the temperate zone, forming the tree-line at 1,500 m Asl and above in the Carpathians and reaching 2,400 m Asl in the Alps and the Pyrenees. At these altitudes, the growing season is becoming so short and cold that the limit for tree growth is approached. Snow is long-lasting but not deep enough to favour willow shrub and tall-herb vegetation. Pinus uncinata can also be found in lower mountain ranges (such as Jura) on clifs or rocks exposed to harsh weather conditions. In the Pyrenees Mountains, only Pinus uncinata woodlands can be found. Depending on the habitat variant, the main dominant trees can be Larch (Larix decidua), Arolla pine (P. Cembra) and/or Mountain Pine (Pinus uncinata). Larch and Arolla pine only occur in the Alps and the Carpathians. Larch is often dominant in pastured wood, and Arolla Pine in more mature stands. In the Southern Alps and the Carpathians, Mountain dwarf pine (P. mugo) is often in the understorey. Where this dwarf pine dominates towards the upper sub-alpine belt, the vegetation is included in F 2.4 subalpine shrub. Included are also perialpine river valleys with Pinus forests of Pinus mugo s.l. (erect forms including P. x rhaetica) and/ or Pinus uncinata as rare relict forests reaching lower altitudes in the alpine river valleys. Sorbus spp. are characteristic associates in the canopy with S. aucuparia, S. aria, S. mougeotii and S. chamaemespilus, often along with some Picea abies and Abies alba (never dominant). The woodland structure is often rather clustered, open and lightly shading but the part- or wholly-evergreen dwarf-shrubs typical beneath often grow so dense that herbs can be sparse. Among these dwarf-shrubs, Vaccinium myrtillus, V. vitis-idaea, V. uliginosum, Juniperus nana (= J. sibirica) occur throughout the range. Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and Cotoneaster integerrimus can be found on warmer slopes. Erica carnea occurs outside the higher Alps on northern slopes. Rhododendron spp. is more restricted: R. ferrugineum and R. hirsutum in various parts of the Alps and the former in the Pyrenees, R. myrtifolium in the Carpathians, together with Daphne oleoides. Where the cover of these dwarf-shrubs exceeds the trees and the tree cover becomes rather open, the vegetation is included in F2.2a Alpine and sub-alpine ericoid heath. These woodlands occur on a variety of rock types with different soils which, along with the contrasts in climate across the range, sustain a diversity of field layers, the distinctiveness of the flora increasing to the south. Graminoids are common and, in moist hollows and seepages, a contingent of montane tall-herbs is characteristic (Calamagrostis villosa, Luzula albida, L. sieberi, Festuca flavescens, F. drymaeia...). Subalpine and alpine plants such as Homogyne alpina or Dryas octopetala are also characteristic.

Indicators of quality:

  • Tree-line at its natural limit with intact woodland structure.
  • Sufficient structural diversity/ complexity (semi)natural age structure or completeness of layers.
  • Presence of old trees and a variety of dead wood (lying and standing) and the associated flora, fauna and fungi.
  • Typical flora and fauna composition of the region.
  • Sufficient proportion of historically old (ancient) woodland with high species diversity.
  • Survival of larger stands of forest without fragmentation and isolation.
  • Absence of non-native tree species and absence of invasive aliens in all layers (fauna, flora).
  • No signs of impacts of alpine pasturing.
  • Absence of damage from trampling, skiing lanes and avalanches around winter sports centre.

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

The present trend in quantity is now slightly increasing or close to stability, but the present-past reduction in quality leads to the Near Threatened category because of the slight to moderate (40% in severity) recent decrease in quality on 47% of the area in EU 28 (42 % in EU 28+).
An assessment based on more precise data could have possibly led to the VU category, because even if the situation is probably close to stability in France, the quality is also decreasing in Austria. Even if a future trend is not possible to determine, studies about climate change impact on vegetation already show a shift in altitude for subalpine species and climate change is probably going to affect more subalpine habitats than lower altitudes one, both in quality and quantity (replacement of larch and Pine by Spruce and Fir at lower altitudes). Finally, some subtypes can be more endangered than others (Larch subtypes).
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Near Threatened C/D1
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Near Threatened C/D1

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Intensive sheep grazing
  • Sylviculture, forestry
    • Forest replanting
    • Forestry clearance
  • Transportation and service corridors
    • Roads, paths and railroads
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Skiing complex
  • Pollution
    • Air pollution, air-borne pollutants
  • Climate change
    • Changes in abiotic conditions

Habitat restoration potential

Larch and Pines are some of the oldest living trees in Europe, and their growth is very slow in subalpine forest. Studies show that biodiversity linked to dead wood or veteran trees can increase 30 years after the cessation of forest management (Paillet et al. 2010), but it is certainly slower at such high altitudes. A minimum of 50 years seams required in case of small degradation, and 200+ years of effort if severely damaged. More extensive degradation such as removal of all deadwood, large trees, or even clearing followed by agriculture would take more than 200 years, according to the short growing season in subalpine forests and the time required to have large enough trees and deadwood. Most of the recovery would come from the recolonization of typical species but the plantation of pines or larch can speed up the process.

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

Both integrative and segregative approaches are needed for temperate subalpine Larix , Pinus cembra or Pinus uncinata woodlands. In most areas, the development of sustainable forest management measures can help conserve most structures, functions and characteristic species of this habitat. No exotic tree planting, small cuts instead of large clear cutting, the conservation of deadwood, veteran trees and trees with microhabitats (broken tops, cracks or scars, hollow chambers, stem cavities, bark bowls and pockets, burls...) play a key role in maintaining not only forest biodiversity but also social and economical functions (forest productivity especially concerning deadwood, protection against erosion or avalanches if no large clear cuts are made, etc...).
Sustainable forest management can be promoted through forest certification, in the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, public forests, and category V and VI of IUCN Protected Areas. Unlike most forest habitats, the management of some particular types of subalpine Larix woodlands (pastured Larix woods) includes moderate grazing. Grazing fosters Larch and rich undergrowth. Grazing should not occur too early, in order to avoid disturbance to birds (especially Black grouse -Tetrao tetrix- and western capercaillie -Tetrao urogallus), and is only appropriated in certain subtypes.
Even in the most sustainably managed forests, logging cuts the end of the forests cycle (the mature and veteran stands are rare, deadwood volumes can never be the same as in unmanaged forest). It stresses the need of a network of vast (more than 100 ha each) unmanaged forests, where the whole forest cycle can be fully accomplished. Those strictly protected areas should be located in categories I and II IUCN Protected Areas, and the most remarkable forests should also be protected.
To face global warming, the ability of those subalpine forests to colonize new areas on higher ground is very important, especially on present open land.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Other agriculture-related measures
  • Measures related to forests and wooded habitats
    • Restoring/Improving forest habitats
    • Adapt forest management
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites
    • Establishing wilderness areas/allowing succession
    • Legal protection of habitats and species
  • Measures related to hunting, taking and fishing and species management
    • Regulation/Management of hunting and taking


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 920 Decreasing Stable
France mainland Present 814 Unknown Increasing
Italy mainland Present 3,193 Decreasing Stable
Poland Present Unknown Unknown
Romania Present 40 Decreasing Decreasing
Slovakia Present 6.1 Unknown Decreasing
Slovenia Present 31 Stable Stable
Spain mainland Present 194 Increasing Stable
Germany Present 16 Decreasing 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)
Andorra Uncertain - -
Liechtestein Uncertain - -
Switzerland Present 540 Decreasing 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 853100 1569 5285 Current area is 5,209 km² (reported for Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain) + 76 km² for Poland according to 76 km² according to art17 report.
EU28+ 1648 5825 Current area is 5,749 km² (reported for Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland) + 76 km² for Poland according to 76 km² according to art17 report.
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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