Ireland - Flora and Fauna

Flora and Fauna

Main articles: Fauna of Ireland, Flora of Ireland, and Trees of Britain and Ireland

As Ireland was isolated from mainland Europe by rising sea levels after the ice age, it has less diverse animal and plant species than either Great Britain or mainland Europe. There are 55 mammal species in Ireland and of them only 26 land mammal species are considered native to Ireland. Some species, such as, the red fox, hedgehog and badger, are very common, whereas others, like the Irish hare, red deer and pine marten are less so. Aquatic wildlife, such as species of sea turtle, shark, seal, whale, and dolphin, are common off the coast. About 400 species of birds have been recorded in Ireland. Many of these are migratory, including the Barn Swallow. Most of Ireland's bird species come from Iceland, Greenland and Africa.

Several different habitat types are found in Ireland, including farmland, open woodland, temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, conifer plantations, peat bogs and a variety of coastal habitats. However, agriculture drives current land use patterns in Ireland, limiting natural habitat preserves, particularly for larger wild mammals with greater territorial needs. With no top predator in Ireland, populations of animals, such as semi-wild deer, that cannot be controlled by smaller predators, such as the fox, are controlled by annual culling.

There are no snakes in Ireland and only one reptile (the common lizard) is native to the island. Extinct species include the Irish elk, the great auk and the wolf. Some previously extinct birds, such as, the Golden Eagle, have recently been reintroduced after decades of extirpation.

Until medieval times Ireland was heavily forested with oak, pine and birch. Forests today cover about 12.6% of Ireland, of which 4,450 km² or one million acres is owned by Coillte, the Republic's forestry service. The Republic lies in 42nd place (out of 55) in a list of the most forested countries in Europe. Much of the land is now covered with pasture and there are many species of wild-flower. Gorse (Ulex europaeus), a wild furze, is commonly found growing in the uplands and ferns are plentiful in the more moist regions, especially in the western parts. It is home to hundreds of plant species, some of them unique to the island, and has been "invaded" by some grasses, such as Spartina anglica.

The algal and seaweed flora is that of the cold-temperate variety. The total number of species is 574 and is distributed as follows:

  • 264 Rhodophyta (red algae)
  • 152 Phaeophyceae (brown algae including kelps)
  • 114 Chloropyta (green algae)
  • 31 Cyanophyta (Blue-green algae)

Rarer species include:

  • Itonoa marginifera (J.Agardh) Masuda & Guiry
  • Schmitzia hiscockiana Maggs & Guiry
  • Gelidiella calcicola Maggs & Guiry
  • Gelidium maggsiae Rico & Guiry
  • Halymenia latifolia P.L.Crouan & H.M.Crouan ex Kützing.

The island has been invaded by some algae, some of which are now well established. For example:

  • Asparagopsis armara Harvey, which originated in Australia and was first recorded by M. De Valera in 1939
  • Colpomenia peregrina Sauvageau, which is now locally abundant and first recorded in the 1930s
  • Sargassum muticum (Yendo) Fensholt, now well established in a number of localities on the south, west, and north-east coasts
  • Codium fragile ssp. fragile (formerly reported as ssp. tomentosum), now well established.

Codium fragile ssp. atlanticum has recently been established to be native, although for many years it was regarded as an alien species.

Because of its mild climate, many species, including sub-tropical species such as palm trees, are grown in Ireland. Phytogeographically, Ireland belongs to the Atlantic European province of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. The island itself can be subdivided into two ecoregions: the Celtic broadleaf forests and North Atlantic moist mixed forests.

Read more about this topic:  Ireland

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