European Deciduous Forest Biome

Very little of the deciduous forest biome of Europe is left. Long ago most of the forests were turned into agriculture and pastures. At one time Europe was covered with closed deciduous forests of oaks, elms, birch, lime, and alders from as far north as Scotland, Ireland, down to France, most of Germany, and eastward to the Urals. During the times of the Romans, small groups of Germanic tribes cut clearings in the forests to grow crops and raise livestock. In the Middle Ages people began to cut down more of the forest for fuel, agriculture, and fortifications for castles and towns. Huge expanses of the old forests were cut to build cities and ships during the Age of Exploration, when Columbus and Cortez discovered the new world. Today the only natural forests that survive are in royal hunting preserves, like the Bialowieza Forest. The Bialowieza Forest, located on the border of Poland and Belarus, is one of the largest and best preserved forests in Europe, and still contains much old-growth forest stands. Here trees join to form a continuous canopy, and animals like the European brown bear, foxes, wild cats, wolves and the last remaining herds of European bison can still be found.

The deciduous forest biome of Europe has four seasons. It experiences mild weather, with warm to cool summers, and moderately cold winters. This is due largely to the moderating effects of the Atlantic Ocean. The clockwise current of the Atlantic sweeps warm water from the Gulf Stream past its coastline, and westerly winds, warmed by the water, flow over the land. The climate is therefore moderate and mostly humid.

The Atlantic Mixed Forest, with its dunes and heathlands, is located on the western coast of the continent. Mean annual temperatures are between 9° and 12° C from north to south. Its annual precipitation ranges from 70 to 100 cm. Natural and planted forests of maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) grow here as well as mixed forests of oak. Heathlands have replaced many of the original forests. Many of the animals here are widespread throughout Europe, like the red, fallow and Roe deer, badgers, and martens. Only fragments of the natural vegetation remains here. Most of the land has been converted into intensive agriculture, and include some of the most fertile lands in Europe.

Central Europe is dominated by mixed broadleaf and conifer forests. It consists of large plains in the middle, hilly lake regions in the north, and upland areas in the south. Most of the area lies between 100 to 300 m above sea level. Average annual temperatures are steady throughout the region, ranging between 7° and 9° C, with milder climates in the west, and continental climates in the east. Annual precipitation is between 50 and 70 cm, with most of it falling during the spring and summer. It snows for about three months in the winter, but the snow cover isn't very high. Winters are usually overcast with rain. There are some cold days in January and February with occasional snow.

Europe has been populated and developed for such a long time that it is rare to see wild life species in their natural environments. Much of the region has been cleared for agriculture and urban areas, but meadows and pastures support many of the original plant and animal communities, although none of the larger carnivores and grazers from days past are to be found here. Mixed oak and hornbeam forests,and pine forests to the north can be found here. The forests cover about 30% of the region, most of it being secondary forests or plantation forests It also is the most densely populated and altered part of Europe. This area had many large wetland habitats of wet forests, peat bogs, and fens. They have mostly disappeared when the marshes and river valleys were drained to provide land for people and agriculture.

Between 20-25% of mammals and 15-40% of forest birds are listed as threatened in central Europe. The European bison (Bison bonasus) was down to 12 animals when it was rescued from extinction, but today its population is still too small to sustain itself. The lynx (Lynx lynx) is also endangered because it needs a large home range in a remote habitat. Some of the other threatened mammals are the wolf (Canis lupus), steppe polecat (Mustela eversmannii), and spotted souslik (Spermophilus suslicus). Two eagles of the region, the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), and the greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga) both need large tracts of undisturbed forests, lakes or rivers, and wetlands. They are threatened by the loss of their habitats, and poaching along their migration routes in the southeastern part of Europe. Other threatened birds include the corncrake (Crex crex), lesser kestral (Falco naumanni), and aquatic warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola).

About 75% of the original mixed forests of Central Europe have been lost, with only 6.3% of the remaining forests under protection. Ninety five percent of these forests are smaller than 10 sq. km. Although more trees are being planted today, they tend to be fast growing Scots pine plantations. These forest can only sustain a small number of plant and animal species, and endemic species are forced out.

Although there is legal protection in many areas, logging is a common practice in many European national parks. Clear cutting large tracts of land, which are then reforested with one type of fast growing conifer, is another a threat to plant and animal life. Forests habitats are often split by highways and railroads, which create barriers for the movement of wildlife. Hunting also takes place within protected areas. Air, soil and water pollution are other threats to the European deciduous forest biome.


Created by SLW, October 13, 1996, (2001).

Wiek, Jessie. "European Deciduous Forest Biome". (2/2/03).

"Community Ecology & Conservation:", (7/15/03).