When you hear the terms “Alps”, you may think towering peaks or perhaps lush meadows. But, those are just two factors of a wealth of biodiversity. The Alps are the biggest mountain range in Europe. It has many peaks above 4000 meters. The extensive mountain range spreads through eight countries: France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia. It doesn’t take great efforts to come up with an endless amount of reasons why the Alps are so special. However, the biggest reason why I fell in love with this fantastic mountain range is its unimaginable biological wealth. The Alps boast an incredibly rich flora and fauna, but why is it that there are so many plant and animal species in these mountains? Here is a short list of some important reasons:
The alpine environment is a demanding living environment that requires a high degree of specialization. Each species has adapted to those special circumstances in its own unique way. The presence of microclimates in the mountains enhances this effect and overall biodiversity. Consider, for example, the differences on north and south-facing slopes. Or the microclimate in hollows and bumps in the landscape. In small bowl-shaped hollows where it takes a long time for the snow to melt, you might find cold-loving vegetation such as the delicate alpine snowbells (Soldanella alpina), whilst directly next to it, you might see a rocky outcrop with a hot desert microclimate with succulents like mountain houseleek (Sempervivum montanum).
Compressed Climate Zones
From the valley through the montane and alpine zone to the eternal snow: a single mountain can contain a whole range of climatically different life zones in a very short distance. During a ride in a cable car like the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix, we traverse all life zones in just a few moments. Each zone displays its own characteristic species. If we were to travel north through the same zones on flat terrain, this would mean a journey of about 3000 km!
Remote & Quiet
The Alps provide habitats far away from settlements and industrialized regions where species can (and could in the past) avoid humans. Ravens and the wolves, for example, are both opportunistic species that can survive in many different types of landscapes. However, in the past, when humans tried to exterminate them, they have found a peaceful and quiet refuge in the mountains. (Thankfully both species are now protected by law and repopulating the whole of the Alps, not only hiding in remote areas.)
The extreme nature of the Alps fuels its immense, yet understated, biodiversity. Come see for yourself on one of Alpenwild’s hiking tours!