The Distribution of Plants & Animals in Europe

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  • 0:02 Regions of Europe
  • 0:48 Native Animals
  • 2:01 Native Plants
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you should be able to describe in general terms the plants and animals of Europe, how they are distributed, and why they are so varied. A short quiz will follow.

Regions of Europe

Europe is a large area - a total of about 3.9 million square miles, which is even bigger than the United States. Because of its size, it's hugely varied in climate, with a total of eight distinct climate regions. These include semiarid, Mediterranean, humid subtropical, marine, humid continental, subarctic, tundra, and highland climates.

Since plant and animal life varies by climate, it should also not be surprising that the native plants and animals that call Europe home are equally varied, though many have been pushed aside or wiped out by human activities (often named the Holocene extinction). Today we're going to talk about some of the native plants and animals that live in Europe's many climate regions.

Native Animals

The seas of Europe contain many species of fish, including lots of cod and haddock. There are also lobster, prawns, and shrimp. The continent is home to billions of birds, with around 500 distinct species. There are around 230 species of mammals as of 2007, including insectivores (shrews, moles, and hedgehogs), bats, and rodents, such as the Eurasian beaver, rabbit, hare, and mountain hare. There are several species of boar, moose, and deer. You can even find wolves, brown bears, wolverines, and polar bears, though most species are endangered. Not to mention lynx, foxes, jackals, stoats, otters, badgers, and martens.

Southern Europe is particularly rich in amphibian life, though wetlands can be found all over Europe - in fact there are more wetlands in the Northwest, even if those wetlands have less amphibians. There are many species of frogs and toads in Europe.

Despite all this animal life, it is astonishing to think that this biodiversity is only a fraction of what once existed, prior to human activities.

Native Plants

While animals can find ways to spread over large areas, climate is the most important factor in determining the location of plants. Frost has huge impacts on which plants can survive and at what times of year they grow. Soil is also another factor, since the soil in Mediterranean areas is more sandy, causing rainfall to leave the soil quickly. And in contrast, where there's rock not far below the soil, water can be trapped creating marshes. Put these together and the plants of Europe vary a lot by area.

The Mediterranean climate region alone contains approximately 22,500 plant species found nowhere else, including the Aleppo Pine, Stone Pine, Mediterranean Cypress, Strawberry tree, several species of oak, and many more. The far North of Europe, as well as more Southern mountain regions, contain areas of tundra with sparse vegetation. A little further south (and a little lower in altitude in the case of mountains) you'll find coniferous forests, both in the form of Boreal forest in the Northeast (especially Scandinavia), and more temperate coniferous forests in places like Scotland.

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