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Biodiversity: Europe

Numbers of threatened vertebrates: Europe

Note: critically endangered (extremely high risk of extinction in immediate future); endangered (very high risk of extinction in near future); vulnerable (high risk of extinction in medium-term future)

The data include all globally threatened vertebrate species with country records in the UNEP-WCMC database (UNEPWCMC 2001a). Marine species recorded by ocean area are not included

Europe is home to a wide variety of ecosystems, ranging from the Atlantic coast to the Russian steppes, and from the boreal forest and tundra of Scandinavia to Mediterranean forests and shrubland (EEA 2001). Europe is also an important crossroads for large populations of migratory species shared with Africa, West Asia and North America.

Agricultural land covers some 45 per cent of Europe and most natural habitats are therefore restricted in extent. The impact of agriculture on biodiversity is thus a key issue (Hoffmann 2000). The genetic modification of organisms for agriculture has also emerged as an important issue relating to biodiversity.

The landscape has been significantly modified by human activities, including deforestation, agriculture, drainage of wetlands, modifications to coastlines and river courses, mining, road construction and urban development (EEA 2001). As a result, natural habitats have been reduced in size and fragmented, and are therefore less able to support wildlife. Habitats such as lowland forests and wetlands have undergone particularly large declines. Relatively pristine areas remain in some Nordic and Eastern European countries (EEA 2001).

Many large mammals such as the polar bear (Ursus arctos), wolf (Canis lupus), lynx (Lynx lynx) and bison (Bison bison bonasus) are now restricted to small remnants of their original habitat while others such as the tarpan (Equus caballus) and the saiga (Saiga tatarica) have become extinct (EEA 2001). Some 260 vertebrate species are now considered to be threatened with extinction in Europe (see bar chart). Other species, such as the lark (Alauda arvensis) and the hare (Lepus europaeus) are directly associated with agricultural landscapes, and have therefore benefited from human activities. Similarly, species such as the seagull (Larus spp.) and black kite (Milvus migrans) have increased in abundance due to growth in urban waste sites (EEA 2001).