Sierra Nevada

Image: CMA de la Junta de Andalucia

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The Sierra Nevada is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in Europe. All five of Spain’s bioclimatic zones are present here from Mediterranean up to crioromediterraneo, supporting up to 2,100 plant species of the total of 7,000 recorded for Spain. The fact that the whole of the British Isles only support some 1,900 plants will give you some idea of why botanists get so excited about the place. 10% of the total are Spanish endemics and 78 species are only found here. On the high slopes, the temperature range is surely one of the highest in Europe (in excess of 25ºC in July and probably as low as -35ºC in January). This is the continent’s most southerly glacial landscape, and although the last remnants of the glaciers finally melted away at the end of the 20th century, snow is still the dominant form of precipitation (95%) on the high peaks and this stays on the ground for most of the year. Some 50 glacial tarns are scattered across the range and the higher areas are dotted with marshy grasslands and peatbogs known locally as borreguiles.

One of the great success stories of the range is the recovery of the Spanish ibex (cabra montés) population which mange and overhunting had reduced to 500 in the early 1960’s. It is now home to by far the largest ibex population in Spain with 15,000 individuals.

Until 1805 no one was sure whether Veleta (3,396 m.) or Mulhacen (3,479 m) was the highest peak in Iberia. Locals, possibly ironically, know the gently sloping but immense Mulhacen as a ‘cerro’ or hill, while the more spectacular Veleta is accorded the status of a mountain.

Information adapted from UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Directory

General Description The Sierra Nevada is the highest mountain chain in the Iberian Peninsula with higher elevations found only in the Alps. It includes the peak ‘Mulhacen’ (3,482 meters above sea level) and fourteen other peaks (above 3000m). The relief of the Sierra is unique. The center of the chain forms an elongated and depressed arch, constituting a series of rounded slopes and gentle hillsides on southern slopes and show a clear glacial geomorphology with cirques and headwalls on the northern slopes. The peripheral zones of the Sierra, although of lower altitudes, present a radically different aspect with abrupt drops, steep slopes and deep canyons such as the ‘Alayos de Dilar’, ‘Cerro del Trevenque’ and ‘Cahorros de Monachil’. The vegetation of the reserve corresponds to cold deserts, tundra and habitats below the tundra vegetation with species such as Festuca indigesta, and Genista versicolor Fauna species such as Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica), beech marten (Martes foina), weasel (Mustela nivalis) and fox (Vulpes vulpes) are found. The avifauna is diverse and includes golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and peregrine (F. peregrinus) that are nesting in the area. The Apollo butterfly (Parnassius apollo nevadensis) is also found here. The biosphere reserve encompasses a rich cultural heritage expressed in ancient Roman and Arab remnants and monuments, local arquitecture of Alpujarra’s style, and traditional religious and popular celebrations. Almost 1,400,000 tourists (1998) visit the reserve annually. More than 19,500 (1999) inhabitants live in the biosphere reserve engaged in cereal crops, industries, forestry and animal husbandry practices.

Major habitats & land cover types Cold montane deserts dominated by lichens and with Festuca clementei, Agrostis nevadensis and Erigeron frigidus; tundra with Carex fusca, Veronica repens, Leontodon microcephala, etc.; habitats below the tundra vegetation with species such as Festuca indigesta, Genista versicolor, Arenaria pungens, A. tetraquetra, Sideritis glacialis, etc.

Documentary by Spanish TVE about the Sierra Nevada.

  • By Forestman: Sierra Nevada. La respuesta del paisaje
  • Around the web

    Sierra Nevada (Wikipedia – Spanish)

    Good in-depth article from Wildside holidays on Sierra Nevada. “Sierra Nevada constitutes an exceptional refuge for flora and fauna in the European continent due to its strategic location in the west of the Mediterranean, its isolation, the abruptness of the gradients and the variety of ecological microclimates spanning from Mediterranean. ” Read

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