Within Europe, due to its orography and variety of climates, the Iberian Peninsula features a whole multiplicity of ecosystems and a wide variety of endemic animal and plant species.
A good number of them are found in national parks located both on the Peninsula and in the archipelagos of the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, the Azores and Madeira.
In this region we can distinguish three biogeographic zones: the Mediterranean coastal and continental zone, Green Iberia, and Macaronesia.
Mediterranean coastal and continental zone
With dry summers and wet winters, the vegetation that best adapts to the climate of the Mediterranean coastal and continental zones is comprised of trees of the genus quercus, such as the Holm Oak, Cork Oak and Portuguese (Valencian) Oak.
Cork is commonly extracted from the Cork Oak.
In the region’s dehesas, or wooded pasturelands, Iberian pigs feed on the acorns of the Holm Oak.
Different species of pines are also characteristic, in addition to rockrose, mastic, wild olive trees and aromatic plants such as thyme, lavender and rosemary.
The transformation of these forests yields plains sown with cereals, areas harbouring birds like the bustard, curlew, and Montagu’s harrier, and granivores like the red partridge and the quail.
Characteristic of the Mediterranean forest are the Iberian lynx, deer, wild boar, roe deer, fox, rabbit and hare, while in the high mountains we find the Iberian ibex, or wild goat.
Some typical birds of prey are the imperial eagle, black vulture, owlet and the European eagle owl.
In this ecosystem wetlands serve as oases for cranes, black storks, herons and ducks.
As for amphibians, the Mediterranean tree frog and the common midwife toad stand out, as well as reptiles like the leprous terrapin, the ladder snake and the Montpellier snake.
In this area we find the National Parks of Doñana, Cabañeros, Sierra de Guadarrama, Sierra Nevada, Tablas de Daimiel, Monfragüe and the Archipelago of Cabrera.
Green Iberia, which encompasses all of northern Spain and Portugal, has a climate characterized by humid summers and cold winters.
Deciduous forests predominate, with beech, oak, birch, hazelnut and maple trees.
In mountain areas we find conifers such as the fir and Scots pine.
The animal species characteristic of this ecosystem are the brown bear, the Iberian wolf and the chamois. As for birds, the grouse, the golden eagle, the bearded vulture and the woodcock stand out.
In this area we also find reptiles like the Pyrenean brook salamander, the green whip snake and the western green lizard.
The national parks of Green Iberia are located in the Picos de Europa, Ordesa and Monte Perdido, and Peneda-Gerês in Portugal.
The name Macaronesia is of Greek origin, and means “islands of the fortunate”. These isles include the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands.
With a subtropical climate, the main flora found in this area is the laurel forest, a type of relict woodland from the Tertiary era. In the driest parts there is an abundance of Canary Islands pines and dragon trees, while in the higher areas there is the unique Tenerife bugloss.
Endemic birds, such as the canary, the Canary Islands stonechat, the Barbary falcon and the trumpeter finch stand out. One can also find Lizards on the island of El Hierro, and Canary Island geckos.
In these archipelagos, the most prominent national parks are Teide, Garajonay and Timanfaya, as well as the Madeira Natural Park.