Red List habitat classification > RLH - Sparsely vegetated habitats > RLH5.1c Subarctic volcanic field

Subarctic volcanic field

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLH5.1c
Threat status
Europe Least Concern
EU -
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


The habitat covers sparsely vegetated volcanic areas in subarctic and arctic regions of Europe. It includes active volcanos, recently formed lava streams, and older lava fields and rocks, as well as volcanic slopes and plains with sparse vegetation. It is a relatively broad defined type, but in its distribution it is rather limited to a small part of Northern Europe. The habitat is found on large parts of the central highland of Iceland, almost everywhere where the volcanos and rocks are not covered by glaciers, and also in lowlands. Besides it covers small parts of the Norwegian arctic island Jan Mayen, in places where lava fields have been only sparsely colonized.

The central Icelandic highland has a naturally sparse vegetation cover, due to erosion by wind and rain. Here, on old lava soils, sparsely vegetated fields dominate with stony, gravelly, coarse-sandy, sometimes slightly loamy black soil, with spread pebbles and rocks. These gravel fields are called melar in Icelandic. They are well-drained, nutrient-poor and desiccate quickly due to wind and strong heat on sunny days. The dry conditions in these ‘edaphic deserts’ cause erosion of soil by wind, which prevents development of higher vegetation cover. Only few vascular plants are resistant to the harsh environment, mainly hemicryptophytic species. Examples are Silene acaulis, Armeria maritima, Agrostis vinealis, Cerastium alpinum, Thymus arcticus, Festuca pruinosa (= F. rubra s.l.), Poa glauca and Cardaminopsis petraea. Cryptogams are relatively rare and occur with low cover. Snow cover on wind-exposed fields is low, but in sheltered depressions transitions to snow beds occur, with higher vegetation cover and species of the alliance Salicion herbacea. Where soils are more stabilised lichens and mosses have higher cover and transitions towards heathlands occur. The typical plant community on these gravel fields is the association Armerio-Silenetum acaulis, which is classified in the alliance Veronico-Poion glaucae. This alliance is sometimes placed in the grassland class Koelerio-Corynephoretea, sometimes under the Sedo-Scleranthetea.

Relatively recent lava fields are colonized by lichens only, including species of Stereocaulon (S. denudatum), Pletigera malacea, Cladonia spp (C. mitis, C. rangiformis, C. uncialis, C. coccifera) and Alectoria ochroleuca. Further succession leads to Racomitrium dominated habitats, included under Moss and lichen tundra (F1.2).

Habitat H5.1c is also related to Fjell fields (H5.1a), which is also a sparsely vegetated habitat. This however is a (sub)alpine temperate and boreal mountain habitat, found in most cases on siliceous bedrock (acidic soil). In most Fjell fields lichens and mosses play an important role.

Indicators of good quality:

  • Long-term stability of patches with extreme low vegetation cover
  • No dominance of mosses
  • Low cover of pioneer lichens

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

No data on trends in the habitat are available, but there are also no indoications of negative trends or severe threats. For the future climate change may cause changes in quality of the habitat, but presently the habitat is assessed as Least Concern, with data gaps (Data Deficient) for relatively many criteria.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
- -
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Climate change
    • Changes in abiotic conditions
  • No threats or pressures
    • No threats or pressures

Habitat restoration potential

Yes, but only natural. As ecological processes occur very slow in the arctic, recovery will take a long time.

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

No occurrence Stable
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

No occurrence Unknown
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

This is natural vegetation occurring in remote areas for which no management is needed.

List of conservation and management needs

  • No measures
    • No measures needed for the conservation of the habitat/species


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)
EU28 + Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Iceland Present unknown Stable Stable
Jan Mayen Present unknown 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 - - -
EU28+ 213 unknown
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
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