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Due to their volcanic history and isolated position in the Atlantic Ocean the Canary Islands became home of an enormous diversity of plants and therefore earned the byname "the Galapagos of botany". El Hierro is the youngest, smallest and southwesternmost Canary Island. Its unique geological history, the remarkable mountain relief and the climatic contrasts create proper conditions for an extraordinarily diverse vegetation and hence offers ideal prerequisites for geobotanical investigations.
This study is a detailed inventory of the vegetation in the forest belt of El Hierro, based on 750 phytosociological sample plots. Additionally, the flora was recorded by grid mapping (1 x 1 km2 UTM). Since the same approach was made in the lower regions (v. GAISBERG 2005), El Hierro is the first Canary Island with a fairly complete floristic and phytosociological database. The abundant information of these data allows us to address many questions about the development and life conditions of the various vegetation types.
After an exhaustive introduction with information on geology, soils, climate and the human influence, all vegetation types of the study area are presented. Beginning with the most natural forest communities, the study also reports on the substitute communities such as the various scrubs, pastures and finally the ruderal vegetation. A portrait of every single community is drawn, with information on the altitudinal and horizontal distribution, the habitat, successional stage, and anthropogenic influences. All these data may serve as a valuable base for conservation efforts. El Hierro indeed deserves its status as a Biosphere Reserve of the UNESCO, which it was awarded in 2000. Hopefully, this study will encourage conservationists to continue their endeavours to preserve the remains of natural vegetation and the endangered endemic plants of El Hierro.
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