Red List habitat classification > RLH - Sparsely vegetated habitats > RLH3.2g Mediterranean ultramafic inland cliff

Mediterranean ultramafic inland cliff

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLH3.2g
Threat status
Europe Data Deficient
EU Data Deficient
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


Ultramafic (igneous and mostly igneous-metamorphic rock with high magnesium and iron content) rocks and cliffs in the Mediterranean with few vascular plant species and cryptogams growing in rock fissures and crevices. The cliffs may be textured as ophiolite or like a breccia. Many ophiolites are built of ultramafic rocks such as peridotite and, after transformation, serpentinite. The high magnesium and iron content, and the frequently elevated amounts of chromium and nickel are toxic to most plants. Due to this unmitigated toxic effect only few adapted plants are able to grow on ultramafic cliffs.

The vegetation is mainly composed of small ferns of the genera Allosorus and Asplenium, together with Paragymnopteris marantae and others. The plant composition is unique. It consists of highly specialised species and rare ecotypes of more common and widespread species. Plant cover is low.

Mediterranean ultramafic cliffs, though widely distributed, are local phenomena and occur in restricted hilly and mountainous areas of the Iberian Peninsula, southern France, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Italian Peninsula, western and southern Balkans, Aegean, Cyprus, Mediterranean Turkey (Anatolia) and northern Africa (Cyrenaica, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco).

Indicators of quality:

The vegetation of Mediterranean ultramafic cliffs consists chiefly of highly specialised ferns and other plants (serpentinophytes). Any of these, and sometimes their hybrids, indicate favourable habitat quality. Although cliff habitats generally enjoy protection through inaccessibility, quarrying destroys the habitat and its populations of specialised plants. While most serpentinophytes are restricted largely to primary cliff habitats, some, such as Paragymnopteris marantae and a few bryophytes, occur occasionally on abandoned gravel heaps. The following characteristics may be used as indicators of favourable quality:

  • Occurrence of rare species, in particular serpentinophytes,
  • Presence of different aspects of rock walls, different exposure, moisture and rock structures such as rock shelters and ledges
  • Contact with natural habitats such as serpentine screes and dry metal-rich grasslands
  • Absence of mining and quarrying
  • Absence of rock control structures and garbage dumping

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

Both quantity and quality (past, historical and future) cannot be estimated due to the lacking of territorial data and other information, as well as inconsistencies and uncertainties in data provided by countries. Therefore, this habitat type is classified as Data Deficient (DD). Improved knowledge and information (both qualitative and quantitative) is extremely needed, since this habitat type is very rare in Europe.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Data Deficient -
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Data Deficient -

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Mining, extraction of materials and energy production
    • Mining and quarrying
  • Transportation and service corridors
    • Roads, motorways
    • Railway lines, TGV

Habitat restoration potential

Unless physically destroyed, recover of ultramafic cliff is possible provided that it is potentially connected with similar environments. But, given the very small area occupied and very scattered distribution, this sounds very unlikely without human intervention (e.g. species reintroduction).

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Unknown Unknown
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Unknown Unknown
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

The best management for this highly natural habitat is to leave it simply untouched, just avoiding any human interference with its natural processes. Increase public awareness about the biological relevance of such apparently inhospitable environments is important in order to make more effective conservation efforts. Some very peculiar taxa exclusively linked to this habitat type should be protected, through specific actions aiming at their preservation.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites
    • 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)
Cyprus Present unknown Unknown Unknown
Greece (mainland and other islands) Present 4 Unknown Unknown
Italy mainland Present unknown Decreasing Decreasing
Portugal mainland Present 24 Unknown Increasing
Portugal Azores Uncertain 24 Unknown Increasing
Madeira Uncertain 24 Unknown Increasing
Savage Islands Uncertain 24 Unknown Increasing
Spain mainland Present 7 Decreasing Stable
Balearic Islands Uncertain 7 Decreasing Stable
Canary Islands Uncertain 7 Decreasing Stable
East Aegean Uncertain 4 Unknown Unknown
EU28 + Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Albania Uncertain unknown Unknown Unknown

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 1490250 96 34 Data have many gaps and inconsistencies among countries
EU28+ 96 34 Data have many gaps and inconsistencies among countries
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.
Ferns Asplenium balearicum
Ferns Asplenium foreziense
Ferns Asplenium obovatum
Ferns Cosentinia vellea
Ferns Pellaea calomelanos
Mosses & Liverworts Coscinodon cribrosus
Mosses & Liverworts Mielichhoferia mielichhoferiana
Species scientific name English common name Species group
Asplenium balearicum Ferns
Asplenium foreziense Ferns
Asplenium obovatum Ferns
Cosentinia vellea Ferns
Pellaea calomelanos Ferns
Coscinodon cribrosus Mosses & Liverworts
Mielichhoferia mielichhoferiana Mosses & Liverworts

Vegetation types

Relation to vegetation types (syntaxa)

Not available

Other classifications

Not available
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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