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Mountains are characterised by very specific environmental factors such as steep slopes, poor and shallow soils, and extreme climatic conditions. The large local variation in these conditions explains why the diversity of habitats and species in mountain areas is generally higher than in the surrounding lowlands.
Of the 233 habitat types protected in the EU, 42 (nearly 20 percent) occur exclusively or almost exclusively in mountain areas, with a further 91 habitats existing in both mountain and lowland areas.
While almost half of our mountains are covered by forests, they are also home to a rich variety of shrubs and grasslands, including alpine heaths and grasslands as well as rocky habitats on cliffs, vertical walls and screes. Mountains also harbour unique freshwater habitats such as alpine lakes, mires and springs, as well as glaciers in higher altitudes.
Europe’s mountains are home to many mammals, including Ibex, Chamois and Mountain hares. Mountains also provide large carnivores with refuges and corridors, allowing them to move from region to region. In Europe, we have five large carnivore species: the wolf (Canis lupus), wolverine (Gulo gulo), lynx (Lynx lynx), Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) and brown bear (Ursus arctos). These species have coexisted with humans throughout history, but their present-day management and conservation require measures for addressing conflicts with humans, in particular to prevent attacks on livestock.