Tuvalu and Southern Gilbert Islands

South of the equator and at the 180th meridian are coral atolls and reef islands in the Pacific Ocean. Atolls have sandy barrier islands surrounding a shallow lagoon. They are the tops of volcanoes that do not quite make it above water level, and over geologic time corals have built up enough to make them rise above sea level. All are in the Western Polynesian tropical moist forest ecoregion.

The islands were visited by ships of the U.S. Exploring Expedition in 1841, after they had discovered land in Antarctica and were heading to Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest. The islands were noted as being well-covered with coconut and other trees. One island was mapped as 13 miles long and another as 8 miles long (Wilkes, 1844).

Islands such as those that make up the entire countries of Tuvalu and Kiribati are considered vulnerable to rising seas related to global warming (Nicholls and Cazenave, 2010). However, geologists think it is possible that sandy islands are capable of growing and rising as the sea level also rises. This assumes that sea level rise is gradual as predicted. During periods of high seas such as during storms, waves will wash over these islands. But instead of eroding the land away, the waves will likely deposit sand from coral. Reefs grow up to 10 to 15 mm per year, faster than sea level rise. As long as the reef remains healthy, a reef island can keep up with sea level rise. Unfortunately, poor shoreline management and human activity also affects some parts of these islands (Pala, 2014), and this can combine with sea level rise to drop inhabited shorelines below sea level.

Forests of the Western Polynesian tropical moist forest ecoregion are dominated by Pisonia (Nyctaginaceae), Cordia (Boraginaceae), Tournefortia (Boraginaceae), Scaevola (Goodeniaceae), and Morinda (Rubiaceae). Common also are Calophyllum (Calophyllaceae), Pandanus (Pandanaceae), Hernandia (Hernandiaceae), and Ficus (Moraceae). Drier areas have herbaceous grasslands. The Funafuti Conservation Area consists of 33 km2 of ocean, reef, lagoon, and six islets (Government of Tuvalu, 2020). The islets are a nesting area for green sea turtle, a colony of black noddy, and terns, sandpipers, shearwaters, boobies, and tropicbirds. The Pacific imperial pigeon and long-tailed curlew use land habitats.


  • Arorae, Gilbert Islands, Kiribati (S2o38’ E176o49’), an atoll 9 km in length. At the north end, navigational stones provide direction for trips to nearby islands (Republic of Kiribati, 2012a).
  • Beru, Gilbert Islands, Kiribati (S1o20’ E176o0’), an atoll 14 km in length. The island features a lake with edible algae (Nein Tabuariki), and a lake with milkfish (Te nei ni man). Causeway construction has created additional lagoon habitat for fisheries. Environmental issues include drought, erosion, and marine overfishing (Republic of Kiribati, 2020b).
  • Funafuti, Tuvalu (S8o31’ E179o12’), atoll and capital of Tuvalu, is comprised of about 30 islets surrounding a lagoon 18 km long and 14 km wide (tuvaluislands.com).
  • Nanumanga, Tuvalu (S6o17’ E176o20’), is a reef island about a square mile in size with a fringing reef. In the center of the island is Vaiatoa lagoon. A cave used by people when sea level was much lower is located off the north shore (tuvaluislands.com).
  • Nanumea, Tuvalu (S5o40’ E176o8’), is the northernmost atoll in Tuvalu, with an area about one square mile. A freshwater pond is in the southeast. There are 9 islets in an atoll about 12 km in length (tuvaluislands.com)
  • Nikunau, Gilbert islands, Kiribati (S1o20’ E176o28’), a reef island 14 km long. It hosts landlocked, saline lagoons. Environmental issues include drought, coastal erosion, flooding, and depletion of sea cucumber. (Republic of Kiribati, 2012c)
  • Niutao, Tuvalu (S6o7’ E177o21’), is a reef island about 1 square mile in size.
  • Nui, Tuvalu (S7o13’ E177o10’), is an atoll with 21 islets about 1 square mile in size.
  • Nukulaelae, Tuvalu (S9o23’ E179o51’), is an atoll with 19 islets, surrounding a lagoon 10 km long by 4 km wide (tuvaluislands.com).
  • Nukufetau, Tuvalu (S8o0’ E178o23’, is an atoll with 35 islets surrounding a lagoon 13 km long by 7 km wide (tuvaluislands.com).
  • Tamana, Gilbert Islands, Kiribati (S2o30’ E176o0’), is a 6-km-long reef island. It is noted as having a good freshwater lens but it is subject to saline intrusion. Drought, soil erosion, and overfishing are among the environmental issues (Republic of Kiribati, 2012d).
  • Vaitupo, Tuvalu (S7o30’ E178o41’), is an atoll of 2 square miles, with 9 islets.


Republic of Kiribati, Office of Te Beretitenti. 2012a. Island Report 18. Arorae. http://www.climate.gov.ki/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/18_ARORAE-revised-2012.pdf (accessed June 21, 2020).

Republic of Kiribati, Office of Te Beretitenti. 2012b. Island Report 14. Beru. http://www.climate.gov.ki/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/14_BERU-revised-2012.pdf (accessed June 21, 2020).

Republic of Kiribati, Office of Te Beretitenti. 2012c. Island Report 15. Nikunau. http://www.climate.gov.ki/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/15_NIKUNAU-revised-2012.pdf

Republic of Kiribati, Office of Te Beretitenti. 2012d. Island Report 17. Tamana. http://www.climate.gov.ki/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/17_TAMANA-revised-2012.pdf (accessed June 21, 2020).

Government of Tuvalu. 2020. https://www.timelesstuvalu.com/ (accessed June 21, 2020).

Nicholls, Robert J. and Anny Cazenave. 2010. Sea-level rise and its impact on coastal zones. Science 328:1517-1520. DOI: 10.1126/science.1185782.

Pala, Christopher. 2014. Warming May Not Swamp Islands. Science 345:496-497.

Wilkes, Charles. 1844. Narrative of the U.S. Ex. Ex. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Volume V. C. Sherman Publisher.

Bight of Benin and Niger Delta, Part 2: Mangroves and Grasslands

Central African Mangroves

This ecoregion is found in Ghana (Greater Accra and Volta Regions) and Nigeria (Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, and Akuwa Ibom States). The coastline of west Africa is a complex network of rivers, estuarine swamps, and barrier islands. In Nigeria, flood tides can penetrate as much as 45 km inland. Mangroves form in these coastal areas, including in the deltas of the Volga and Niger Rivers, as well as in the area around lagoons in coastal Nigeria such as around Lagos. Mangrove swamps capture the sediment load coming from rivers in the Niger and Volta deltas. Three species of red mangrove and two species of white mangrove dominate. The trees provide habitat for the African manatee, soft-skinned turtle, and pygmy hippopotamus.

World Heritage Site

Fort Prinzenstein, Volta Region, Ghana (N5o55’ E0o59’) was constructed in 1784 by Danish traders and used in the slave trade. It is part of the Forts and Castles of Ghana World Heritage listing.

Ramsar sites

Apoi Creek Forest Reserve, Bayelsa State, Nigeria (N4o42’ E5o47’) is a 29,213-ha lowland tidal freshwater swamp forest, known for red colobus monkey.

Keta Lagoon Complex, Volta Region, Ghana (N5o55’ E0o59’), is 3,000 ha noted for migratory birds, Nile monitor, West African manatee, and sea turtle nesting. It is the eastern part of the Volta River estuary. It is an Important Bird Area, the most important wetland in Ghana for water birds.

Songor Lagoon Complex, Accra Region, Ghana (N5o50’ E0o28’) is 51,113 ha in the western part of the Volta River estuary. It contains an estuary, sandy beaches, and floodplain habitats. It is also a Man and the Biosphere Reserve and Important Bird Area.

Other sites

Akassa forests, Bayelsa State, Nigeria (N4o21’ E5o59’) is a lowland forest and mangrove area near the coast in the Niger Delta.

Edumanon Forest Reserve, Bayelsa State, Nigeria (N4o25’ E6o27’) is 86,760 ha east of the Niger River. The freshwater swamp area is known for chimpanzees, manatee, and three species of crocodile (Akani et al., 2014a).

Finima Nature Park, Rivers State (N4o24’ E7o11’) is 1,000 ha on Bonny River managed by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation with funding from the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company.

Lekki Conservation Centre, Lagos State (N6o26’ E3o32’) is 78 ha in the urban area of Lagos. The Nigerian Conservation Foundation manages the site, which features a canopy walkway.

Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands

Guinean forest-savanna

This ecoregion is a humid tropical savanna just to the north of the equatorial rain forests of Africa. Rains occur during a single rainy season of 5 to 7 months in the north. In the south, two rainy seasons of two to four months are separated by a dry period in July or August. The Dahomey Gap portion of this ecoregion, found in Benin, Togo, and Ghana, stretches south to the Atlantic Ocean at the Bight of Benin and separates the rainforests in Ghana from those in the Congo region to the east. The topography is gently rolling plains with scattered isolated mountains rising to 1,500 m. Forest patches include species from nearby rainforests to the east, west, and south. Grasses are generally tall grasses except for short grasses in the Dahomey Gap. Animals include the African palm civit, lesser spot-nosed monkey, and Maxwell’s duiker. Savanna species include baboon, common duiker, helmeted Guinea fowl, and side-striped jackal. Mathey’s mouse and Jackson’s fat mouse are endemic mammals to this ecoregion. The ecoregion is found in Benin (Collines, Zou, Plateau, Kouffo, Mono, Atlantic, and Queme), Ghana (Volta), Nigeria (Ogun, Oyo, Kwara, Kogi, Ekiti, Ondo, Edo, Niger, Federal Capital Territory, Kaduna, Nassarawa, Benue, Enugu, Ebony, Anambra).

World Heritage Sites

Royal Palaces of Abomey, Zou Department, Benin (N7o11’ E2o0’) is 47 ha containing 10 palaces of the Kingdom of Abomey. The kingdom existed from 1625 to 1900 and 12 kings lived in the area until it was conquered by France in 1900. The empire derived its wealth from trading prisoners of war as slaves with European merchants. In lieu of written documents, decorative bas reliefs were used on walls, illustrating the most significant events in the evolution of the empire.

Fort Fredensborg, Greater Accra Region, Ghana (N5o45’ E0o11’), was a Danish Fort constructed in 1734 in present-day Old Ningo. It is part of the Forts and Castles of Ghana World Heritage Site.

Fort Vernon, Greater Accra Region, Ghana (N5o43’ E0o7’) was constructed in 1742 by the British in present-day Prampram. It was used in the slave trade. It is part of the Forts and Castles of Ghana World Heritage Site.

Ramsar Sites

Lower Couffo Valley, Coastal Lagoons, Aho Channel, and Aheme Lake (Bassee Vallee du Couffo, Lagune Cotiere, Chenal Aho, and Lac Aheme) Ramsar Site, Benin (N6o47’ E1o51’), is 524,289 ha of mangroves, flooded grasslands, and wooded savanna, including the valleys of the Couffo, Mono, and Sazue Rivers. The site includes the Mono Biosphere Reserve. Aheme Lake and Aho are Important Bird Areas.

Lower Kaduna-Middle Niger flood plain Ramsar Site, Niger and Kwara States, Nigeria (N8o50’ E5o50’) is 229,054 ha containing swamp forests and savanna woodland. Trees include Uapaca togoensis (Phyllanthaceae), Berlinea (Fabaceae), Pterocarpus (Fabaceae), Terminalia (Combretaceae), and Diospyros (Ebenaceae). The area is an important Bird Area for colonies of the rosy bee-eater.

Lower Oueme, Porto Novo Lagoon, and Lake Nokoue (Basse Vallee de l’Oueme, Lagune du Porto Novo, Lac Nokoue) Ramsar Site, Benin, is 652,670 ha of swamp forest, flooded grassland, reeds, and mangroves harboring 8 primates, aquatic mammals, the leatherback turtle, and 215 birds. Lake Nokoue (N6o25’ E2o25’) is an Important Bird Area. The old lagoons (N6o35’ E2o11’) are west of Lake Nokkoue. The lower Oueme Valley (N6o27’ E2o30’) includes the capital of Cotonou, the Oueme and So River floodplains, and the Lake Nokoue area. Brackish water is found in Nokaue Lake and the Porto Novo lagoon. Swamp forests and relict mangroves are present. Lake Nokoue contains a rich fish fauna and is noted for the black tern. It is an Important Bird Area. The Middle Oueme Valley (N6o50’ E2o40’) has mostly been converted to oil palm and teak plantations but relict Celtis (Cannabaceae), Milicia (Moraceae), and Ceiba (Malvaceae) forests are present. The Adjarra swamps (N6o44’ E2o40’) are east of the river and include marshy grasslands and estuaries of the Porto Novo plateau. Islands of humid and swamp forest are present. Coastal and nearshore oceanic areas are also included in the Ramsar site.

Padam and Wise Lakes Wildlife Park, Plateau State, Nigeria (N8o42’ E8o58’) includes 217 bird species such as the white-faced whistling duck and the long-toed lapwing.

Songor Lagoon Complex, Accra Region, Ghana (N5o50’ E0o28’) is 51,113 ha in the western part of the Volta River delta. It contains mudflats, islands, sandy beaches, and floodplain habitats. Also included are saline marshes, wet grassland, and riverine woodland. Birds include herons, egrets, greenshank, avocet, and stilts. Beaches are known for sea turtle nesting; the three species involved are leatherback, olive ridley, and green turtle. Threats to nesting are trawling vessels, poaching from the nesting beach, egg predation by dogs and humans, and hatchling predation by mammals and birds (Agyeman, Riverson, and Andrews, 2013). It is also a Man and the Biosphere Reserve. Songor is a community-owned reserve where the lagoon and estuary are owned by clans. The elders serve as custodians. People in the reserve are involved in subsistence crop farming, animal rearing, fishing, hunting, salt mining, and fuel wood collection. There are several sacred groves (Ashong et al., 2013). It is also a Man and the Biosphere Reserve and an Important Bird Area, especially for terns, herons, and egrets.

Togodo Faunal Reserve, Maritime and Plateaux Districts, Togo (N6o49’ E1o25’), is 31,000 ha, consisting of semi-deciduous forest with ponds and swamps. It is included in the Mono Transboundary Biosphere Reserve.

Biosphere Reserves

Mono Transboundary Biosphere Reserve is 346,286 ha on the lower Mono River in Benin and Togo. The alluvial plain of the Mono River contains savanna, mangroves, and lagoons hosting dugong and hippos. Sites included in the reserve are Bouche du Roy, Benin (N6o18’ E1o52’); Lake Toho (N6o37’ E1o42’), Hadjivi Island Naglanou Forest Complex (N6o33’ E1o42’), the complex of Adjamey (N6o50’ E1o37’), the Togodo Faunal Reserve (N6o49’ E1o25’), Lakes of Afito (N6o46’ E1o36’), the Sacred Forest of Godje-Godjin, the Sacred Forest of Akissa (N6o19’ E1o47’), and the Lake Togo-Gbaga Channel Complex (N6o15’ E1o25’). Financial assistance for reserve management is provided by the German Federal Environment Ministry. The Benin portion is also included in the Lower Couffo Valley, Coastal Lagoons, Aho Channel, and Aheme Lake Ramsar Site.

Songor Lagoon Complex Biosphere Reserve is listed above under Ramsar sites.

Other sites

Digya National Park, Bono East Region, Ghana (N7o26’ E0o0’) is 347,800 ha on the west side of Volta Lake. The park contains isolated mountains, Guinea savanna woodland, 6 primates, elephants, antelopes, manatees, and otters.

Kainji National Park, Niger State, Nigeria is a 534,000-ha important Bird Area in two large tracts. Borgu Sector (N10o0’ E4o0’) is west of the Niger River and Zugurma Sector (N9o40’ E5o0’) is east. The Borgu sector and Kainji lake are in the West Sudanian Savanna ecoregion. The Zugurma sector is in the Guinean forest-savanna ecoregion. The shores of Kainji Lake are a wintering area for migratory birds. Numerous antelope species are also present.

Kalakpa Game Production Reserve, Volta Region, Ghana (N6o29’ E0o29’) is in the foothills of the Togo Mountains. Habitats are dry forest and short grass savanna. Animals found in the reserve include lions, elephants, buffalo, antelope, and red river hog, along with 148 bird species and 227 butterfly species.

Farin Ruma Falls, Nasarawa (N9o9’ E8o45’) is a 150-m waterfall.

Keana Salt Village, Nasarawa state (N8o8’ E8o48’) is a salt mining town dating to the 12th century.

Lama Forest Reserve, Atlantique and Zou Districts, Benin (N6o57’ E2o8’) is 16,250 ha in an east-west oriented depression and an Important Bird Area. Forests are of Afzelia (Fabaceae), Bombax (Malvaceae), Ceiba (Malvaceae), and Parinari (Chrysobalanceae).

Matsirga Waterfalls, Kaduna State (N9o33’ E8o14’) are 30 m in height near Kafanchan.

Mount Patti, Lokoja, Kogi State (N7o49’ E6o43’) is a 458-m flat-topped mountain that overlooks the confluence of the Niger and Benue Rivers. It is popular hiking spot and the location of Lord Lugard’s rest house, a colonial-era structure on the mountain.

Old Oyo National Park, Oyo State, Nigeria (N5o25’ E3o50’), is 2.5 million ha of savanna in both the Guinean forest-savanna and West Sudanian savanna ecoregions. The park contains the ruins of the Oyo Empire’s capital city (Oyo). Topography ranges from lowland plains to granite outcrops.

Peperuwa (Feferuwa) Lake, Nawarawa (N8o39’ E8o50’) is known for hippos and waterfowl.

Sunvit Farm, Edo State, Nigeria (N7o7’ E6o41’) is 13,200 ha of Guinean savanna and riparian forests, bordered by the Ogbudu and Obe Rivers. It is an Important Bird Area.

Shai Hills Resource Reserve, Greater Accra Region, Ghana (N5o55’ E0o4’) is 5,100 ha of grassland and dry forest on granitic hills, housing baboons, green monkeys, antelope, and zebra. It is an Important Bird Area.

West Sudanian savanna

The ecoregion has a distinct dry season that lasts from 6 months in the south to 9 months in the north. Grasses in these areas range from tall grasses in the south to short grasses in the north.  The vegetation consists of woodland ranging from 10 percent coverage in the north to 40 percent canopy coverage in the south. with an understory of long grasses, shrubs, and herbs. Common woody plant families are the Combretaceae and Fabaceae, with common genera Acacia (Fabaceae), Combretum (Combretaceae), and Terminalia (Combretaceae). Along streams and rivers, plants from the more humid Guinean forest-savanna are able to survive. Animals include bushbuck, warthog, vervet monkey, baboon, and savanna monitor lizard. In protected areas, elephant, hippopotamus, roan antelope, and western persist. The ecoregion is found in Benin (Borgou, Collines, Donga), Ghana (Northern, Oti, Volta), Nigeria (Kwara, Niger, Oyo), and Togo (Savannes, Kara, Central, Plateaux.

Abdoulaye Faunal Reserve, Centrale Region, Togo (N8o39’ E1o22’), is representative of the West Sudanian savanna. A plant study indicated 258 plant species, of which 67 were woody. Dominant plant families were Combretaceae, Sapotaceae, and Fabaceae. Dominant woody genera were Anogeissus (Combretaceae), Pouteria (Sapotaceae), Cola (Malvaceae), Diospyros (Ebenaceae), and Dialium (Fabaceae) (Periki et al., 2013).

Fazao-Malfakassa National Park, Centrale and Kara Regions, Togo (N8o50’ E0o45’) includes 192,000 ha of forest patches of the Eastern Guinean forests (Dialium (Fabaceae), Antiaris (Moraceae), Berlinia (Fabaceae)) and lower elevation areas in the West Sudanian savanna (Afzelia (Fabaceae), Anogeisseus (Combretaceae), and Isoberlinia (Fabaceae)). Peaks that dominate the park are Mount Fazao in the center and Mount Malfakassa in the north. Some areas have precipitous cliffs. The Kamassi River drains the park. Between 1987 and 2015 the area of closed canopy forest in the park decreased 40 percent, suggesting overexploitation by local populations due to agricultural expansion, bushfires, and timbering (Atsri et al., 2018). The park is an applicant for Biosphere Reserve status. More than 200 bird species have been recorded in the park, including the white-browed forest flycatcher (Radley and Campbell, 2008).

Kainji National Park, Niger State, Nigeria is a 534,000-ha important Bird Area in two large tracts. Borgu Sector (N10o0’ E4o0’) is west of the Niger River and Zugurma Sector (N9o40’ E 5o0’) is east. The Borgu sector and Kainji lake are in the West Sudanian Savanna ecoregion. The Zugurma sector is in the Guinean forest-savanna ecoregion. The shores of Kainji Lake are a wintering area for migratory birds. Numerous antelope species are also present.

Monts Kouffe Forest Reserve, Donga Department, Benin (N8o45’ E2o6’) is 180,300 ha and part of the Oueme River Basin Important Bird Area

Old Oyo National Park, Oyo State, Nigeria (N5o25’ E3o50’), is 2.5 million ha of savanna in both the West Sudanian savanna and Guinean forest-savanna ecoregions. The park contains the ruins of the Oyo Empire’s capital city (Oyo). Topography ranges from lowland plains to granite outcrops.

Ouari-Maro Forest Reserve, Borgou Department, Benin (N9o9’ E2o25’) is 107,500 ha and part of the Oueme River Basin Important Bird Area

Oueme Superieur Forest Reserve, Borgou Department, Benin (N9o35’ E2o30’) is 177,542 ha and part of the Oueme River Basin Important Bird Area.


Sheila N.A. Ashong et al. 2013. Natural Resources, People, and Livelihoods in the Songor Biosphere Reserve. Pp. 123-140 In Ruida Pool-Stanvliet and Miguel Closener-Godt. AfriMAB, Biosphere Reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa: Showcasing Sustainable Development. Republic of South Africa, Department of Environmental Affairs, and United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Honam Komina Atsri et al. 2018. Changes in the West African forest-savanna mosaic, insights from Central Togo. PLoS ONE 13(10):e0203999. DOI: 10.1371/journal/pone.0203999.

Neil Burgess, Jennifer D’Amico Hales, Emma Underwood, Eric Dinerstein, David Olson, Illanga Itoua, Jan Schipper, Taylor Ricketts, and Kate Newman. 2004. Terrestrial Ecoregions of Africa and Madagascar: A Conservation Assessment. Island Press.

Hodabalo Periki et al. 2013. Woody species diversity and important value indices in dense dry forests in Abdoulaye Wildlife Reserve (Togo, West Africa). International Journal of Biodiversity and Conservation 5:358-366. DOI: 10.5897/IJBC12.061.

Paul M. Radley and Genevieve Campbell. 2008. The birds of Fazao-Malfakassa National Park, including a first record for Togo of white-browed forest flycatcher Fraseria cinerascens. African Bird Club Bulletin 15:203-213.


Bight of Benin, Niger Delta, and São Tomé, Part 1

Bight of Benin, Niger Delta, and São Tomé, Part 1: Rainforest Ecoregions

São Tomé, Príncipe, and Annobon forests ecoregion

On mountainous islands 180 miles offshore in the Gulf of Guinea are rainforests with little seasonal climate variation and high humidity all year. The rainforests show a high level of endemism, with 37 endemic plant species on Principe and 95 on Sao Tome. The fern flora and the families Rubiaceae, Orchidaceae, and Euphorbiaceae have many endemics. There are 28 endemic bird species on Príncipe and São Tomé. The island adaptation of gigantism occurs in birds and plants, with the São Tomé olive pigeon, São Tomé giant sunbird, and giant begonias being larger than similar species on the African continent. One dwarf bird, the olive ibis, is found in the ecoregion.

Ramsar Site

Tinhosas Islands, Autonomous Region of Principe, São Tomé e Príncipe (St. Thomas and Prince), consists of two islands with the largest seabird colonies in the Gulf of Guinea. These are the 3-ha Tinhosa Pequena (N1o23’ E7o17’) and the 20-ha Tinhosa Grande (N1o21’ E7o17’). Birds include the brown gannet, sooty tern, brown and black noddy, and yellow-billed tropicbird. The islands are an Important Bird Area.

Biosphere Reserve

Obô Natural Park of Príncipe Island, Autonomous Region of Príncipe, São Tomé e Príncipe (N1o35’ E7o23’) is 14,200 ha. The park includes 24 species endemic to the island. The southern third of the island is an Important Bird area. The biosphere reserve includes Portinho on Principe Island, Bone de Joquei Island (N1o30.5’ E7o25.5’), Tinhosas Islands Ramsar Site, Bom Bom Island (N1o42’ E7o25’), Mosteiros Island (N1o41’ E7o28’), and Pedra da Gale Island (N1o43.5’ E7o23’) (Abreu, 2013). The southern third of Principe is mountainous and an Important Bird Area for seven endemic birds. There are also endemic skinks, burrowing snake, frog, and a shrew subspecies.

Other sites

Obô Natural Park of São Tomé, São Tomé e Príncipe (N0o12’ E6o33’) is 44,830 ha. The Sao Tome lowland forests (N0o8’ E6o32’) Important Bird Area is 13,000 ha of primary evergreen forests, with 4 endemic birds, 2 endemic bats, and 1 endemic snake. The Sao Tome montane and cloud forests Important Bird Area is 6,000 ha and includes three peaks and a crater lake. There are 6 endemic trees. The Sao Tome northern savannas (N0o25’ E6o38’) is 1,000 ha and includes restricted range bird species and an endemic kite species.

Niger Delta Swamp Forests ecoregion

Africa’s largest coastal wetland, the Niger Delta ecoregion is a generally triangular region in the lower Niger Delta with the Benin River on the western boundary and the Imo River on the eastern boundary. Portions of the Bayelsa, Delta, Imo, and Rivers states extend into this ecoregion. Between the ecoregion and the Atlantic Ocean is a band of mangroves, which is a separate ecoregion. This is a rainforest with a rainy season from March to October. There is some rain in the dry season. The ecoregion is flooded from August to December. In the flooded forest common tree genera include Lophira (Ochnaceae), Pycnanthus (Myristicaceae), Ricinodendron (Euphorbiaceae), Sacoglottis (Humiriaceae), and Uapaca (Phyllanthaceae). Areas that are not flooded have waterlogged soils, with forests dominated by Euphorbiaceae, Annonaceae, Clusiaceae, and Rubiaceae.  Endemic mammals include the red colobus and the pygmy hippopotamus. The white-throated guenon and Sclater’s guenon monkeys are considered near-endemic. The elephant, chimpanzee, and crested genet are also present.

Ramsar Sites

Oguta Lake, Imo State, Nigeria (N5o42’ E6o47’) is 572 ha including a natural freshwater lake. Sclater’s guenon is found in nearby forests.

Upper Orashi Forest Reserve, Rivers State, Nigeria (N4o53’ E6o3’) is 25, 165 ha of lowland rainforest and freshwater swamp forest, inundated September to November. The Sclater’s guenon, white-throated guenon, and grey parrot are found in the area.

Other sites

Biseni forests, Rivers State, Nigeria (N5o15’ E6o30’) includes seasonally flooded Niger Delta forests with Raphia (Arecaceae; palm family), Symphonia globulifera (Clusiaceae), and Ficus (Moraceae). It is an Important Bird Area.

Taylor Creek Forest Reserve, Bayelsa State, Nigeria (N5o10’ E6o30’) is 21,891 ha consisting of freshwater swamp forests, ferns, epiphytes, and aquatic plants. Noted fauna include manatee, dwarf crocodile, and hinge-backed tortoises (Akani et al., 2014b). Seasonally flooded swamp forests are characterized by Raphia hookeri (Arecaceae), Mitragyna ciliata (Rubiaceae), and Nauclea diderrichii (Rubiaceae).

Nigerian Lowland forests ecoregion

This ecoregion extends from the Niger River west to southeastern Benin. Nigerian states that extend into the ecoregion include Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo. The rainforest is bounded by the drier Guinean forest-savanna to the north and west. A three-month dry season extends from December to February. Dominant species are in the Fabaceae and Meliaceae families. The drier northern areas include trees from the Sterculiaceae, Moraceae, and Ulmaceae. Levels of endemism are low in plants; however, Ibadan malimbe, Benin genet, crag gecko, and Petter’s toad are endemic animals. The African elephant and chimpanzee are also present.

World Heritage Site:

Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, Osun State (N7o45’ E4o33’), is 75 ha just south of Osogbo. This is a remnant primary forest and the abode of the goddess of fertility, Osun, a Yoruba god. The landscape is dotted with 40 sanctuaries and shrines, sculptures, and art works. It is the last remaining example of sacred groves that used to be in all Yoruba settlements.

Biosphere Reserve

Omo Strict Nature Reserve, Ogun State, Nigeria (N6o51’ E4o30’) is a 132,000 ha of evergreen rainforest, with notable species grey-throated rail and African dwarf kingfisher. It is named after the endemic Omo tree (Cordia platythyrsa, Boraginaceae). Other common trees are Diospyros (Ebenaceae), Dracaena (Asparagaceae), and Khaya (Meliaceae). Chimpanzee, pangolin, white-throated guenon, long-created eagle, civit cat, and yellow-casqued hornbill are also present. The reserve is an Important Bird Area. Parts of the reserve are being deforested by cocoa farmers who are squatting in the forest reserve. The Lagos-Ore-Benin Highway also bisects the forest, causing additional access and stress to the forest elephant population. (Sunday, 2019).

Other sites

Erin-Ijesha (Olumirin) waterfall (N7o34’ E4o54’) is on the southeastern edge of Osun State at the border with Ekiti State.

Gilli-Gilli Game Reserve, Edo State, Nigeria (N6o0’ E5o26’) is 36,300 ha, 30 km southwest of Benin City, south of Okomu National Park. Elephant, 3 species of antelope, white-throated monkey, red-capped mangabay, Mona monkey, and greater spot-nosed monkey are present (Ayanlade 2016).

Ikogosi Warm Springs, Ekiti State (N7o35’ E4o59’) is a resort area.

International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Oyo State, Nigeria (N7o30’ E3o53’) is 150 ha on the Ona River in Ibadan. The forest is undisturbed since 1965 and has lowland rainforest species. The forest is an Important Bird Area.

Okomu National Park and Forest Reserve, Edo State, Nigeria (N6o20’ E5o15’), is a 12,400-ha Important Bird Area containing the largest block left of lowland rainforest. It is home to the rare white-throated monkey. Rainforest trees include Ceiba pentandra (Malvaceae), Celtis zenkeri (Cannabaceae), Triplochiton scloroxylon (Malvaceae). Birds include the yellow-casqued hornbill and black spinetail. The park is threatened by farmland encroachment and oil palm plantation development (Ayanlade 2016).

Osse River Park, Ondo State (N7o0’ E5o30’) is 38,235 ha is on the boundary with the Guinean forest-savanna ecoregion. Elephant, chimpanzee, white-throated guenon, and Ibadan malimbe are present. The state government, in cooperation with the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, is in the process of upgrading the area to national park status (Oladeji and Fatukasi, 2017).

Eastern Guinean forests ecoregion

This ecoregion is found in Ghana and Togo. Forests in Ghana are wetter and evergreen. The forest is in isolated patches on the Togo Hills and is semi-evergreen or deciduous. In Togo, typical trees are Milicia (Moraceae), Triplochiton (Malvaceae), Antiaris (Moraceae), and Diospyros (Ebenaceae). The Togo Hills are also known for endemic butterflies. The area around Kpalimé (N6o54’ E0o38’) is known for waterfalls in the forested mountains.

Aledjo Wildlife Reserve, Centrale and Kara Regions, Togo (N9o15’ E1o20’) is 765 ha and features a scenic road cut through a rock formation and dense dry mountain forests of Isoberlinia (Fabaceae), Anogeissus (Combretaceae), Melicia (Moraceae), and Voacanga (Apocynaceae)

Agumatsa Wildlife Sanctuary, Volta Region, Ghana (N7o7’ E0o35’) is near the Togo border. It is noted for Wli Falls, Ghana’s highest waterfall (600 m in four falls and 2 cascades). On the trail to the waterfall, thousands of fruit bats may be seen clinging to the walls of the gorge. It is operated by the Forestry Commission of Ghana. Mount Afadjato is the highest point in Ghana. It is an Important Bird Area.

Fazao-Malfakassa National Park, Centrale and Kara Regions, Togo (N8o50’ E0o45’) includes 192,000 ha of forest patches of the Eastern Guinean forests (Dialium, Fabaceae; Antiaris, Moraceae; Berlinia, (Fabaceae) and lower elevation areas in the West Sudanian savanna (Afzelia, Fabaceae; Anogeissus, Combretaceae; and Isoberlinia, Fabaceae). Three peaks that dominate the park are Mount Fazao in the center and Mount Malfakassa in the north. The Kamassi River drains the park. Between 1987 and 2015 the area of closed canopy forest in the park decreased 40 percent, suggesting overexploitation by local populations due to agricultural expansion, bushfires, and timbering (Atsri et al., 2018). The park is an applicant for Biosphere Reserve status. More than 200 bird species have been recorded in the park, including the white-browed forest flycatcher (Radley and Campbell, 2008). The park adjoins the Kyabobo National Park of Ghana.

Kyabobo National Park, Volta Region, Ghana (N8o24’ E0o38’) is 22,000 ha adjacent to the Fazao-Malfakassa National Park of Benin. The park has a variety of African wildlife such as buffalo, warthog, aardvark, lion, and elephant, as well as the 60-m Laboum waterfall. The tree Talbotiella gendtii (Fabaceae) is endemic to the park.

Missahohe Forest Reserve, Plateaux Region, Togo (N6o55’ E0o35’) contains steep hills and habitat for Antiaris africana (Moraceae) and Melicia excelsa (Moraceae). It is the type locality for the tree frog Hyperolius baumanni.

Tafi Monkey Sanctuary, Volta Region, Ghana (N6o54’ E0o23’) is located near the Togo border and is 28 ha with mona and patas monkeys. It is operated by the Forestry Commission of Ghana.

Cross-Niger Transition forests ecoregion

This ecoregion is in Nigeria east of the Niger River and is mostly low and undulating in relief. A distinct dry season lasts from December to February. This ecoregion has a transition from rainforest in the south to mixed deciduous forest and savanna to the north; however, most of the ecoregion has been deforested. Forests in the south were formerly dominated by Fabaceae and in the north by Meliaceae. The drier sections are dominated by Sterculiaceae, Moraceae, and Ulmaceae. The Nigerian States that extend into the ecoregion include Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo.

Ogbunike Caves, Anambra State (N6o11’ E6o54’) are a spiritual site. The caves have numerous passages which may be toured from the main chamber, 5 m in height.

Antonio D. Abreu. 2013. Principe Island’s Biosphere Reserve (Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe): A Living Laboratory for Sustainable Development. Pp. 284-302 in Ruida Pool-Stanvliet and Miguel Closener-Godt. AfriMAB, Biosphere Reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa: Showcasing Sustainable Development. Republic of South Africa, Department of Environmental Affairs, and United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Godfrey C. Akani et al. 2014a. Preliminary surveys of the terrestrial vertebrate fauna (mammals, reptiles, and amphibians) of the Edumanon Forest Reserve, Nigeria. Tropical Zoology 27:63-72. 10.1080/03946975.2014.944376.

Godfrey C. Akani et al. 2014b. Diversity of terrestrial vertebrates in Taylor Creek Forest Reserve, an area of high environmental value in the River Niger Delta (Bayelsa State, Nigeria). Vie et Milieu 64:59-68.

Honam Komina Atsri et al. 2018. Changes in the West African forest-savanna mosaic, insights from Central Togo. PLoS ONE 13(10):e0203999. DOI: 10.1371/journal/pone.0203999.

Ayansina Ayanlade. 2016. Landuse change within Okomu and Gilli-Gilli Forest Reserves, southwestern Nigeria: Its climatic and societal implications. Tropical Ecology 57:193-203.

Neil Burgess, Jennifer D’Amico Hales, Emma Underwood, Eric Dinerstein, David Olson, Illanga Itoua, Jan Schipper, Taylor Ricketts, and Kate Newman. 2004. Terrestrial Ecoregions of Africa and Madagascar: A Conservation Assessment. Island Press.

Sunday Oladipo Oladeji and Damilola Fatukasi. 2017. Participatory approach to conservation and management of protected areas in Nigeria: Case study of Osse River Park project. African Journal of Environmental Science and Technology 11:471-485.

Paul M. Radley and Genevieve Campbell. 2008. The birds of Fazao-Malfakassa National Park, including a first record for Togo of white-browed forest flycatcher Fraseria cinerascens. African Bird Club Bulletin 15:203-213.

Orji Sunday. 2019. Cocoa and gunshots: The struggle to save a threatened forest in Nigeria. Mongabay.com, 19 July. https://news.mongabay.com/2019/07/cocoa-and-gunshots-the-struggle-to-save-a-threatened-forest-in-nigeria/ (accessed April 17, 2020).



At Vostok Station (S78°28′ E106°50′), the lowest reliably measured temperature on earth of -128.6°F (-89.2°C) was measured in 1983 (Turne et al. 2009). The Russian research station is located at an elevation exceeding 11,000 feet above sea level. Below the station is 4 km of ice. At the base of the ice is the largest of 200 lakes buried beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, Lake Vostok. In 2012, the Russian Antarctic Expedition completed drilling through the ice to reach the surface of the lake. It is estimated that the lake has been isolated for 15 million years.Samples were collected,and the discovery of an unclassified microbe was reported in 2013. But cutbacks in research funding have stopped further progress at the lake (Gramling, 2015; Gramling, 2012).

References: Gramling, Carolyn. 2015. Mysterious Arctic Lake Will Remain Out of Reach. Science 350:494.

Gramling, Carolyn, 2012. A tiny window opens into Lake Vostok, while vast continent awaits. Science 335:789.

Turne, John et al. 2009. Record Low Surface Air Temperature at Vostok Station, Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research 114:D24002. DOI:10.1029/2009JD012104.


Queen Elizabeth Islands

In the 20th century, the Queen Elizabeth Islands tended to retain sea ice throughout the summer. As the Arctic Ocean moves toward being ice free in the next 20 years, the Queen Elizabeth Islands may be one of the last refuges of summer sea ice.

The High Arctic Tundra ecoregion includes all the islands north of Parry Channel and Lancaster Sound, as well as northern Prince of Wales Island and Somerset Island. The Middle Arctic Tundra ecoregion includes Banks Island, Victoria Island, southern Prince of Wales and Somerset Islands, and the Boothia Peninsula.

High Arctic Tundra ecoregion

Ramsar Site

Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area, Nunavut Territory (N75o35’ W98o51’), is 263,648 ha on Bathurst Island. Habitats are lakes, tundra ponds, meadows of grass, sedge, moss, and lichens. The area is important for breeding shorebirds such as sanderling and red phalarope, king eider snow geese, gulls, jaegars, sanderlings, Atlantic brant. A research station is on the property. Adjoining the area on the north is Quasuittuq National Park.

National sites

Beechey Island Sites National Historic Site, Nunavut Territory (N74o43’ W91o51’) includes four archaeological sites on Beechey Island and one offshore shipwreck. Beechey Island is off the southwestern tip of Devon Island. In May 1845, Sir John Franklin left London (Greenhithe) on an expedition to find the Northwest Passage. He entered Lancaster Sound. On Beechey Island is his wintering camp during 1845-1846. Also on Beechey Island are Northumberland House, Cape Riley, and message cairns associated with the expedition. The expedition and its two ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, left the island in 1846 and headed south. By September 1846, both ships were stuck in ice off King William Island. By 1848, 24 men were dead, including Franklin. The remainder of the crew attempted to cross overland in present-day Nunavut but were not found. The two shipwrecks were found in 2014 and 2016 (Pringle, 2019). The HMS Breadalbane National Historic Site (N74o41’ W91o50’) is one mile south of Beechey Island in 100 m of water. The ship was crushed by ice and sank in 1853. The waters surrounding Beechey Island are part of Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area.

Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (N74o3’ W90o4’) is 307 km2 in the Parry Channel northeast of Somerset Island. Vertical cliffs rise 250 m above sea level, providing ledges where 200,000 pairs of seabirds nest. Seabirds protected are northern fulmer, Atlantic black-legged kittiwake, thick-billed murre, black guillemot. Also present are brant, eider, jaeger, raven, and snow bunting. It is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.

Quasuittuq National Park, Nunavut (N76o 0’ W100o0’), is 11,000 km2 on Bathurst Island, Helena Island (N76o20’ W100o3’), Vanier Island (N76o9’ W103o25’), Massey Island (N76o0’ W103o2’), Marc Island (N75o52’ W103o36’), and Alexander Island (N75o52’ W102o46’). The park protects habitat for endangered Peary caribou and muskoxen. It includes marine areas of May Inlet and Young Inlet. The park is cooperatively managed with the Qitiqtani Inuit Association. Adjoining the park on the south is the Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area.

Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (N76o48’ W101o16’) is 5,302 ha 30 km north of Bathurst Island. On the island is an ivory gull breeding area. It is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.

Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation area is located in Lancaster Sound and includes the waters to the south of Devon and Cornwallis Island, the waters surrounding Griffith Island, and water to the north of Somerset Island. Beechey Island National Historic Site and Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary are within the marine conservation area. The marine area protects narwhals and seabirds. Cape Liddon Important Bird Area (N74o40’ W91o10’) is on Devon Island adjacent to the marine conservation area. Vertical cliffs rise 300 m, providing nesting areas for northern fulmer, common eider, and black guillemot. Nearby Caswall Tower is a sea stack and also part of the IBA.

Other sites

The Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar (AMISR), a project of the National Science Foundation, is in Resolute (N74o42’ W94o50’) on Cornwallis Island. The science project is focused on studying global climate trends. Data collected from the atmosphere and ionosphere at polar latitudes provides an opportunity for early detection of climate change phenomena. At this latitude, coupling occurs between the solar wind and Earth’s magnetic field, atmosphere, and thermosphere. One radar points both north, deep into the polar ice cap, and a second points south. Both radars provide measurements of ionospheric parameters. AMISR also monitors space weather, which can potentially damage and disrupt power grids and satellite communications (www.amisr.com).

Cheyne Islands, Nunavut Territory (N76o20’ W97o30’) are 3 small islands off the eastern coast of Bathurst Island. These islands are an Important Bird Area for breeding Ross’ gull; and are one of only two known breeding areas.

North Kent Island (N76o40’ W90o6’) and Calf Island (N76o27’ W89o31’), Nunavut Territory, make up an Important Bird Area for black guillemot and common eider. He steep cliffs offer nesting areas. A nearby polynya attracts marine mammals.

Eastern Prince Patrick Island Coast, Northwest Territories (N76o W119o) is an Important Bird Area and includes the lowlands at Wooley Bay, Walker Inlet, Mould Bay, Green Bay, and Intrepid Inlet, along with Eglinton Island. A large percentage of the population of the West Arctic Brant uses this area.

Washington Point-Baille Hamilton Island, Nunavut Territory (N75°50’ W94°20’) has 200-m coastal cliffs offering nesting sites for black-legged killiwake, glaucus gull, and black guillemot.

Middle Arctic tundra ecoregion

National Site

Aulavik National Park, Northwest Territories, is 12,274 km2 on Banks Island and home to muskoxen and Peary caribou. The park includes Thomsen River, the northernmost navigable river by canoe. Habitats are a broad valley and low hills with deeply cut badlands. Dwarf willows and wet sedge meadows are along the river. The Thomsen River and surroundings are part of the Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, an Important Bird Area for molting lesser snow geese and black brant. In the park, Mercy Bay (N74o4’ W119o0’) is the resting place of the wreck HMS Investigation, which was trapped in ice in 1851.

Other sites:

Creswell Bay, Nunavut Territory (N72o40’ W93o20’) is a large bay with mudflats on Somerset Island and an Important Bird Area for breeding shorebirds such as white-rumped sandpiper, red phalarope, black-bellied plover,and sanderling. Also, snow geese and king eider are present.



Pringle, Heather. 2019. Uncovering an Arctic Mystery. National Geographic 236(3):100-103.


Walgreen Coast

This post includes parts of the Eights Coast, Walgreen Coast, and Bakutis Coast. The Eights Coast extends between Pfrogner Point (S72o37’ W89o35’) and Cape Waite (S72o42’ W103o1’) The Walgreen Coast extends from Cape Waite to Cape Herlacher (S73o52’ W114o12’), and the Bakutis Coast extends west of Cape Herlacher to Dean Island (S74o42’ W127o5’). These points are on the Amundsen Sea embayment, an area fed by two large glaciers and smaller ones (Haynes, Pope, Smith, and Kohler), all of which are retreating (Blaustein, 2014). The West Antarctic Coast is generally bordered by ice shelves, which up until now have buttressed ice streams from the continental glaciers and slowed their discharge. These ice shelves are also losing mass, reducing the buttressing effect (Paolo, Fricker, and Padman, 2015)

Glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea along the Walgreen Coast, especially the large Pine Island (S75o10’ W100o0’) and Thwaites (S75o30’ W106o45’) glaciers, exhibit the largest ice mass loss of any glaciers on Earth. Ice loss occurs as above-freezing water flows underneath the glaciers and melts them at their grounding line—the point where the glacier loses contact with bedrock and goes afloat to become an ice shelf. Problems with melting of these glaciers pre-dates recent global warming. In the 1940s, warm ocean waters from an El Nino event began an incursion beneath Pine Island Glacier. This warm water remained under the glacier and never refroze when the sea waters became colder in subsequent decades (Smith et al., 2017; Voosen, 2016). In more recent years, above-freezing water re-entered the areas underneath these glaciers, attacking the grounding lines, which are below sea level by several hundred meters. The retreat of grounding lines raises fears of catastrophic collapse and rapid sea level rise (Silvano et al., 2018).

Thwaites Glacier is now thinning as much as 4 meters per year and its grounding line is migrating inland (Milillo et al., 2019). This melting is likely to continue this century, with grounding lines retreating about 1 km per year. However, as the glaciers become smaller, it is expected that underlying rock being weighted down by the glacial ice will rebound and change the grounding line in the 23rd century (Larour et al., 2019; Steig, 2019).  This bedrock uplift in response to ice loss delays the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet under moderate warming scenarios (Barletta et al., 2018).

Ellsworth Land Tundra ecoregion is east of Pine Island Glacier and includes the Jones Mountains, Thurston Island, and Hudson Nunatuks, which are volcanic cones extending above the ice sheet. On Thurston Island are nunatuks which extend above the ice and are called the Walker Mountains. On the Noville Peninsula of Thurston Island is the Sikorski Glacier (S71o50’ W98o30’), an Important Bird Area for the emperor penguin. Four island groups in the Amundsen Sea are also Important Bird Areas. Brownson Islands (S74o10’ W103o30’) are an important bird area for the emperor penguin and seabirds. Edwards Islands (S73o50’ W103o10’), Schaefer Islands (S73o39’ W103o20’), and Lindsey Islands (S73o38’ W103o10’) are important bird areas for the adélie penguin and seabirds (Harris et al., 2015).

Marie Byrd Land Tundra includes the Walgreen Coast and Bakutis Coast west of Pine Island Glacier. On the Bear Peninsula at Hummer Point (S74o20’ W110o20’) is an Important Bird Area for the emperor penguin (Harris et al., 2015). Scattered throughout Marie Byrd Land inland of the glaciers and ice shelves are large volcanoes, such as Mount Frakes (S76o48’ W117o42’) and Mount Takahe (S76o17’ W112o5’) in the Crary Mountains and Toney Mountain (S75o48’ W115o50’ in the Kohler Range. All three volcanoes reach 11,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. Further to the south is the 4,000 to 6,000-foot Hollick-Kenyon Plateau.


Barletta, Valentina R., et al., 2018. Observed rapid bedrock uplift in Amundsen Sea embayment promotes ice-sheet stability. Science 360:1335-1339. 10.1126/science.aao1447.

Blaustein, Richard J. 2014. Antarctic Tipping Points—the fate of the Amundsen Sea glaciers. www.nature.com/scitable/blog/eyes-on-environment/antarctic_tipping_points_the_fate.

Harris, C.M., et al. 2015. Important Bird Areas in Antarctica 2015. BirdLife International and Environmental Research and Assessment Ltd., Cambridge, England.

Larour, E., et al. 2019. Slowdown in Antarctic mass loss from solid Earth and sea-level feedbacks. Science 364:969. 10.1126/science.aav7908.

Milillo, P., et al. 2019. Heterogeneous retreat and ice melt of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica. Science Advances 5:eaau3433. 10.1126/sciadv.aau3433.

Paolo, Fernando S., Helen A. Fricker, and Laurie Padman. 2015. Science 348:327-331. 10.1126/science.aaa0940.

Silvano, Alessandro et al., 2018. Freshening by glacial meltwater enhances melting of ice shelves and reduces formation of Antarctic bottom water. Science Advances 4:eaap9467. 10.1126/sciadv.aap9467.

Smith, J.A. et al. 2017. Sub-ice-shelf sediments record history of twentieth-century retreat of Pine Island Glacier. Nature 541:177-180. 10.1038/nature20136.

Steig, Eric J. 2019. How Fast will the Antarctic Ice Sheet Retreat? Science 364:936-937. 10.1126/science.aax2626.

Voosen, Paul. 2016. In the 1940s, warm oceanwaters found Achilles’s heel of crucial Antarctic ice sheet. 10.1126/science.aal0421. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/11/1940s-warm-ocean-waters-found-achilless-heel-crucial-antarctic-ice-sheet.

Ecoregions of Taymyr and Severnaya Zemlya

Taymyr-Central Siberian tundra Ecoregion

The Asian landmass reaches its furthest north point at Cape Chelyakin in the Taymyr Peninsula. To the south is the Taymyr-Central Siberian tundra ecoregion. To the west of the peninsula is the Kara Sea, dotted with islands, and to the east is the Laptev Sea. The area is drained by the Taymyr, Khatanga, Pyasina, and Anabar Rivers. West of the Khatanga Gulf, the peninsula and Severnaya Zemlya are administratively part of Krasnoyarsk, while east of the Khatanga Gulf is the Sakha Republic, which includes the Anabar and Olenek River drainages and Begichev Island.

The Taymyr Peninsula contains two of the largest Russian state nature reserves, the Great Arctic and Taymyr. These areas consist of multiple units. The World Wildlife Fund considers them to be part of its Global 200 ecoregions—the most important for biodiversity in the world.

The coast of the peninsula is dotted with islands and is the summer habitat of migratory waterfowl—four species of geese, Betwick’s swan, and ducks. The Great Arctic Nature Reserve contains 80 percent of the nesting and moulting habitat of the brent goose. On coastal cliffs are nests of peregrine falcon and snowy owl. Marine mammals include fox, reindeer, musk ox, and lemmings, while marine mammals include seals and whales (Mazurov et al., 2012).

Permafrost-preserved horse and wolf bones have provided information important to understanding the domestication of the horse and dog. Based on 35,000-year-old wolf bones found along the Bolshaya Balakhnaya River, Skoglund et al. (2015) were able to recalibrate the wolf mutation rate; and conclude that dogs converged from wolves at least 27,000 years ago. Wolves in Siberia were in the ancestry of high latitude dog breeds.

Based on horse bones radiocarbon dated to 42,000 and 16,000 years Before Present, Schubert et al. (2014) were able to compare ancient genomes to those of today’s domestic horse. The ancient population contributed to the genetics of current breeds. Domestication gene changes focused on muscular and limb development, joints, and the cardiac system. Other gene changes focused on cognitive function, including social behavior, learning, fear response, and agreeableness. These changes were key to taming horses for domestication. Horses are believed to have been domesticated about 5,500 years ago in Kazakhstan. Modern Przewalski’s horse, the last remaining wild horse, is not believed to be the direct ancestor of modern horses. There are believed to be three genetically distinct populations of ancient horses: the archaic group in Taymyr, the ancestors of Przewalski’s horses in Kazakhstan, and the ancestor of modern domestic horses, which is still missing (Leonardi et al., 2018).

Man and the Biosphere Reserve

Taymyr Nature Reserve is 1,781,928 ha in 5 units, protecting the breeding range of red-breasted goose and the summer breeding range of reindeer. The Ary-Mas unit (N72°25’ E102°0’) of 15,611 ha contains the northernmost Dahurian larch forest on terraces above the New River. The main core unit to the west of Lake Taymyr (N74°0’ E100°0’) includes part of the Byrranga Mountain Range, with 96 glaciers, rising to 1,000 m. It is part of the Lower Verkhnyaya Tayyr River Important Bird Area. The Lukunsky Unit (N72°2’ E105°0’) is 9,005 ha and includes Lake Levinson-Lessing. On the Laptev Sea is the Pronchishchev Bay (N76°0’ E115°0’), which includes a walrus rookery, polar bear habitat, marine mammals, and nesting coastal bird areas. The Bikada area to the east of Lake Taymyr (N75°0’ E106°0’) is 937,760 ha.

Ramsar Site—wetland of international importance

Gorbita Delta (N73°0’ E95°0’) is 75,000 ha containing the most important goose breeding area in Taymyr area. White-fronted goose, red-breasted goose, and bean goose use the 80-km-long river valley for breeding. It is an Important Bird Area.

Other sites

Great Arctic Nature Reserve is 4,165,200 ha extending along the Kara Sea and including many of its islands. Some of the major sites include Kara Sea Islands (Sergei Kirov, Voronina, Izvestiy TSIK, Arkticheskiiy Institute, Sverdrup, and Uedineniya), the Nordenskjold Archipelago (N76°35’ E96°40’), Pyasina Gulf (N74°0’ E80°0’), Middendorf Bay (N75°50 E92°30’), Lower Taymyr (N76°E100°), and Chelyuskin (N77°44’ E104°15’), and Brekhovsky Islands (N70°30’ E82°45’). The Nordenskjold Archipelago is an Important Bird Area and includes Ledyanyye Islands, Vkhodnoy Island, Nansen Island, Taymyr Island, Votyochnyye Islands, Litke Islands, Russky Island, Pakhtusov Island, Vilkitsky Island, and Tsivolka Island. The Lower Taymyr unit is also the Nizhnyaya Taymyr River Important Bird Area.

Also on the Kara Sea, Lower Leningrad River (N76°21′ E102°13′) is an Important Bird Area.

In the Khatanga Gulf area of the Laptev Sea, Gusikha River and Lower Balakhnaya River (N73°54′ E106°21′), and Khara-Tumus Peninsula and Nordvik Bay (N73°47′ E110°57′) are Important Bird Areas.

On the Laptev Sea, Olenek Bay (N73°6′ E119°36′), Preobrazheniya Island (N74°39′ E112°57′), and Terpyey-Tumus Area (N73°30′ E117°9′) are Important Bird Areas.

Inland on the Taymyr Peninsula, Anabar River (N70°34′ E112°58′), Dudypta River Plains (N71°32′ E93°31′), Kurluska Lake and Middle Boganida Valley (N71°29′ E97°3′), and Volochanka River Basin (N70°41′ E93°51′) are Important Bird Areas.

Arctic Desert Ecoregion

Between the Taymyr Peninsula and the North Pole are the Northern Lands or Severnaya Zemlya, consisting of large glaciated islands—Bolshevik Island, October Revolution Island, Kamsomalets Island, and Pioneer Island. These islands make up the Arctic Desert ecoregion.

Until the 2010s, the Vilkitsky Straight between the Taymyr Peninsula and Bolshevik Island remained frozen throughout the summer. In recent years, it has become ice-free, allowing navigation in the summer.

Severnaya Zemlya provides habitat for cliff-nesting seabirds such as the little auk, kittiwake, black guillemot, ivory gull, and glaucous gull. Inland are nesting areas for brent goose, purple sandpiper, and snow bunting (de Korte, Volkov, and Gavrilo, 1995).  The islands are also a major gathering point for polar bears. The archipelago is attractive because there is year-round contact with sea ice (Belikov et al. 1998).

However, the year-round sea ice may be changing. The eastern Eurasian Basin is evolving toward a state of less sea ice and a new Arctic climate state. Record-breaking sea-ice loss occurred in 2007 and 2012 for both the Amerasian Basin and the Eurasian Basin. The Eurasian Basin has been nearly ice-free at the end of summer since 2011. Warm Atlantic water appears to be getting into the basin. The area east of Svalbard is melting quickly. This warming continues to move east toward Severnaya Zemlya (Polyakov et al., 2017).


Belikov, Stanislav E. 1998. Polar Bears of the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago of the Russian Arctic. Ursus 10:33-40.

Grimm, David. May 21, 2015. Arctic find confirms ancient origin of dogs. http://sciencemag.org/news/2015/05/arctic-find-confirms-ancient-origin-dogs

J. de Korte, A.E. Volkov, M.V. Gavrilo. 1995. Bird Observations in Severnaya Zemlya, Siberia. Arctic 48:222-234.

Leonardi, Michela et al. 2018. Late Quaternary horses in Eurasia in the face of climate and vegetation change. Science Advances 4:eaar5589 (10.1126/sciadv.aar.5589).

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Iberian Sclerophyllous and Semi-Deciduous Forests

Iberian sclerophyllous and semi-deciduous forests include holm oak forests mostly transformed into an agricultural landscape of olive and almond groves. In wilder spots, a dense shrubland called maquis is found. There are wild olive and carob woodlands. A number of endangered animals are hanging on in the ecoregion, including the Iberian lynx, the Spanish imperial eagle, and the great bustard. Wolves are also present. An endemic shrub, Securineia tinctora, is found in the Guadiana and Tajo river basins.

World Heritage Sites

Alhambra, Generalife, and Albayzin World Heritage Site (N37o11’ W3o35’) recognizes the remains of Arabic Spain from the 13th to the 15th centuries. The Alhambra (red castle) has been called Spain’s most beautiful monument and one of the best examples of Islamic art and architecture in the world.

The Alhambra was built in 1333 as a fortified castle and was used as a royal palace. It was modified by Christians in 16th century. The structure reflects the last centuries of Muslim rule in Spain. It is the only completely preserved complex from the Islamic period. After the Christian conquest in 1527, Charles V built a Renaissance palace within the Alhambra which sharply contrasts with the rest of the complex, and the mosque was replaced by a church. In 1829 the American writer Washington Irving stayed at the Alhambra and was instrumental in publicizing it to the world.

The Generalife was the vegetable garden and rural residence of the emirs, known for intelligent use of water from an aqueduct.

The Alhambra and Albayzin are on two adjacent hills, separated by the Darro River. The Albayzin has been continuously occupied since the Arabic period. A residential district that retains its Moorish vernacular architecture, it is a medieval town with narrow streets and small squares, the best illustration of Moorish town planning. It was enhanced by Christian contributions of Spanish Renaissance and Baroque elements.

Historic Center of Évora World Heritage Site (N38o34’ W7o54’) protects the medieval walled city that was undamaged during the 1755 earthquake that devastated other cities. Within the city are 20 centuries of history, but Évora’s golden age was the 15th century, when it was the residence of Portuguese kings. It is the finest example of the architecture of the golden age of Portugal and was the model for the architecture of much of Brazil. Ruins of the royal palace of Évora are in the public gardens. Still visible today are the Roman temple and the Roman aqueduct, the 13th century Cathedral of Évora, and the 15th century Santa Clara convent, São Francisco convent and church (including the Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones), and São João Evangelista church and Os Lóios Convent. At the Capela dos Ossos, the walls are covered with skulls and bones. The center of town is Giraldo Square. Along the streets are whitewashed houses decorated with tiles (azuelos) and wrought-iron balconies from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Biosphere Reserve

Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema is an International Biosphere Reserve with limestone caverns, high peaks, and rare plants and animals including the endemic Spanish fir and Egyptian vultures. Cork oak and holm oak groves are present. Rainfall in the park is noted as the highest in Spain. White villages within the park include:

  • Zahara de la Sierra (N36o50’ W5o24’), a high elevation town with a view of a reservoir and a castle built in the 13th century by the Moors.
  • Grazalema (N36o46’ W5o22’), a high elevation village built in the Moslem era. It is famous for textiles made from wool. The main square has a church, bars, and restaurants.

Other sites:

Convento do Espinheiro Hotel, Évora, Portugal (N38o36’5” W7o53’20”) dates to 1458 on the site where an apparition of the Virgin Mary was seen above a thorn bush (espinheiro). The facility was visited frequently by Portuguese royalty.

Monsaraz (N38o26’36” W7o22’51”) is a medieval walled town on an isolated mountaintop in eastern Portugal. Dramatic views are possible from the town and the fort. Medieval fortifications enclose a castle and the town and were built in the 12th to 14th centuries. Additional fortifications were added in the 17th century after the restoration of Portuguese independence. The new fortifications were responsive to the invention of firearms. In the former town hall of the municipality of Monsaraz is the Museu do Fresco. The frescoe was discovered in 1958 during renovations to the structure and was located behind a wall. It is believed to date to the 14th century and depicts good and bad government similar to a 1340 painting in Siena, Italy. Also in town is the House of the Inquisition, which contains a museum about Jewish residents prior to the Reconquest.

Olivenza, Extremadura Autonomous Region, Spain (N38o41’ W7o6’) is administered as part of Extremadura but is claimed by Portugal based on treaties dating back to 1297. Although the Guadiana River is the de facto boundary between the two countries, the border is not shown on a Portuguese highway map purchased in Lisbon (Turinta Mapas, Portugal, 1:600.000), suggesting the boundary is in dispute. The town contains Manueline (Portuguese) architecture, and the Church of Santa Maria Magdalena exemplifies this architectural style.

A city since Roman times, Ronda (N36o45’ W5o10’) is the largest of Andalucia’s white villages, with a population of was conquered first by the Berbers in 713 and then by the Christians in 1485. A railroad was completed to the mountain town (elevation 2,460 feet) from Algeciras in 1892 to provide relief from the heat of Gibraltar in the summer. Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles spent time in the city.

Arab baths at the entrance to city in the river gorge at Ronda (El Tajo) are the best preserved in Spain. The baths are at the confluence of the Culebras Creek with the Guadelevín River, which ensured a reliable water supply. The Arab baths were used as steam baths. It was obligatory for all outsiders visiting the city to use them. The baths were in an area of small shops including potters and tanners.

The Puente Nuevo (New bridge) was completed over the Rio Guadelevín in 1793. It is 390 feet above El Tajo canyon floor. The former town hall is now a hotel adjacent to the bridge.

Plaza de Toros de Ronda is the oldest bull ring in Spain, dating to 1572. The current complex contains a horse-training facility and a museum of bullfighting in addition to the bull ring.

The Museum of Ronda is in Mondragon Palace, which was the palace of Moorish kings after 1314. It exhibits three architectural styles, including a Mudehar-style patio, Castillian-style patio, and Noble Hall, with a flat alfarje ceiling. Exhibits track the archaeological history of the area from caves in the mountains dating to 500,000 years before present through the Late Antiquity period after the Romans.

Hotel Catalonia Reina Victoria, Ronda (N36o44’48” W5o10’10”) was built in 1906 on a cliff overlooking the mountains. It was the residence of the poet and writer Rainer Maria Rilke, who was born in Prague and wrote in the German language on existential themes.


Southwest Iberian Mediterranean sclerophyllous and mixed forests

Southwest Iberian Mediterranean sclerophyllous and mixed forests (PA 1221) are found on the Atlantic coastal strip of southern Portugal and Spain, especially in the Guadiana, Tajo, and Guadalquivir River basins. The most common forest is of cork oaks, mixed with other genera such as Laurus, Arbutus, Erica, and Ilex. Holm oak and holly oak are also common. Scleroophyllous forests typically have evergreen leaves, which are thick and leathery and small to conserve water.

World Heritage Sites within this ecoregion include:

Monastery of Batalha World Heritage Site, Leiria District,Portugal (N39o39’33” W8o49’34”) was constructed at the end of the 14th century. It is considered a masterpiece of Gothic art. King John I built the structure in gratitude for a victory at the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385 over the Castilians, in which King John obtained the throne and independence of Portugal. In the chapel are the tombs of the king and his wife, as well as his sons.

Complex of Belem (Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belem) World Heritage Site, Lisbon Municipality, Portugal, includes the Tower of Belem (Torre de Belem) and the Jeronimos Monastery (Hieronymites Monastery). Both commemorate Portuguese power in the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Tower of Belem (N38o41’30” W9o12’57”) was built on a small island from 1514 to 1520 for defense of the Tagus estuary and is considered an architectural jewel of its time. It commemorates the maritime discoveries of Portugal and is a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. The nearby Hieronymites Monastery (N38o41’50” W9o12’25”) was built to provide spiritual assistance to seafarers and to pray for the king.

The University of Coimbra World Heritage Site, Coimbra District, Portugal (N40o12’30’ W8o25’30”), includes the hilltop campus and botanical gardens of the university (Alta area), including the hilltop the Royal Palace of Alcazaba (Paco das Escolas or University Palace) and the Joanine Library with baroque décor and documents extending back to medieval times; as well as buildings along Sofia Street (N40o12’44” W8o25’47”) including the 12th century Cathedral of Santa Cruz. As the country’s oldest university (dating from 1290), Coimbra played a key role in the institutional and architectural development of universities throughout the Portuguese colonies. It has outstanding universal value as a university city hilltop location for the Portuguese world encompassing four continents in the colonial era.

Historic Center of Córdoba World Heritage Site, Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain, includes the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, the Judería, the Roman Bridge, the Torre de la Calahorra, and Molino de Albolafia (flour mills). Other notable sites are the Sinagoga, Caballerizas Reales (Royal Stables), and Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos (Fortress of Christian Monarchs). This area became urban in Roman times and has subsequently been occupied for thousands of years by Visigoth, Islam, Judaism, and Christian peoples. In the 8th century, 300 mosques, other palaces, and other public buildings were built in the city, and Cordoba was the main urban and cultural focus of the western world.

  • Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (N37o52’45” W4o46’45”), or the Great Mosque, is one of the world’s greatest Islamic buildings and the most important monument in the western Islamic world. Construction began in 786 and it was expanded to its current size in 991. Unique features are double arches in the roof, a ribbed vault with intertwined arches, and 856 columns, some recycled from Roman ruins, to hold up the arches. The arches have a distinctive terracotta and white-striped pattern. An intricate mihrab, or prayer niche, faces Mecca. With the conquest of Córdoba in 1236, the mosque was converted into a church. The church is known as the Capilla Mayor, and is a Gothic chapel built completely inside of the mosque in the 15th A Renaissance cathedral was built inside the mosque in the 16th and 17th centuries. Entrance to the Mosque-Cathedral is through the Patio of the Oranges, which has orange trees and fountains.
  • Judería (Jewish Quarter) is to the west and north of the Great Mosque. The narrow cobblestone streets and whitewashed walls are typical of Andalusia. However, there are also the Courtyard Houses of Córdoba, which are distinctive in being communal and built around interior courtyards. This design is believed to be of Roman origin. The Andalusian touch is the hanging flower gardens that adorn the walls of the courtyards, with a fountain in the middle and a well to catch rainwater. Some patios date to the 10th The annual Courtyards Festival in May is a World Heritage Event.
  • Puente Romano (Roman bridge) features 16 arches and its appearance was enhanced by an 8th century Moorish reconstruction. It was featured in the Game of Thrones television series. Today it is a pedestrian-only bridge.
  • Museum Torre de la Calahorra (N37o52’32” W4o46’36”) is in a tower built to protect the Roman bridge and guard the entrance to the city that is noted during the Islamic Period. In 1369, additions were made to make the tower a more effective defensive structure. The museum features exhibits on life in Córdoba during the 10th century when Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived there.
  • Molino de Albolafia includes a water wheel which has been on the city logo since the 13th They are first believed to be built by Romans but are also known to have carried water to the Emir’s palaces in the Islamic period. They were taken out of operation during the Christian reconquest.
  • Sinagoga dates to 1315 and was believed to be a family synagogue.
  • Caballerizas Reales date to 1567.
  • Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos is the palace where Ferdinand and Isabella met Columbus and dates to the 13th and 14th

Cathedral, Alcázar, and Archivo de Indies in Seville World Heritage Site (N37o23’0” W5o59’30”) commemorates three adjacent buildings in Seville, Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain. Together, they are an exceptional testimony to the civilization of Islamic and Christian Andalusia. The sites epitomize the Spanish golden age, with vestiges of Islamic culture, Christian ecclesiastical power, royal sovereignty, and trading power.

  • Real Alcázar and Gardens of Sevilla, begun in the 10th century as the palace of the Moslem governor, was reconstructed on the same site by Moorish workers working for the Christian King, Peter the Cruel of Castile, in the 1360s. It is currently used as the Spanish royal family residence when in Seville and is the oldest royal palace in Europe still being used. The palatial buildings and extensive garden display cultural treasures from the Renaissance to Neoclassical periods. It is directly associated with the discovery of the New World and its colonization, for within the Alcazar is Cuarto del Almirante, or Admiral’s Hall, headquarters of the House of Trade with the Americas, where plans for history’s greatest expeditions were made, including Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe. The Italian Renaissance gardens extend south from the Alcazar. Episodes of the Game of Thrones TV series were filmed at the Alcazar.
  • Jewish Quarter (Santa Cruz district) occupies the city adjacent to the Alcazar. A wall was constructed to separate Jews from the rest of the city following the Reconquest. After 1391, most Jews left after the reconquest persecuted the population of non-Christians.
  • Catedral de Sevilla (Cathedral of St. Mary of the See) is the largest Gothic cathedral (seat of the bishop) in the world and one of the largest churches in the world. It was constructed from 1184 to 1198 as a mosque. Following the reconquest in 1248, the mosque was used as a Cathedral. The Gothic Cathedral was constructed between 1434 and 1517. In the 1500s, Renaissance-period works were added, and in the 1600s Baroque phases were added. Inside the cathedral are several tombs, including that of Christopher Columbus. Giralda Tower on the east wall is the former minaret of the mosque and is now used as the bell tower of the cathedral. It dates to 1195 and is considered a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. The top of the tower can be reached by a walkway of 34 ramps and a final flight of stairs.
  • The General Archive of the Indies dates to 1598 and contains valuable historic documents on the colonization of the Americas. The building is Spanish Renaissance architecture and is between the Cathedral and Alcazar.

The Cultural Landscape of Sintra, Lisbon District, Portugal, is described as “an extraordinary and unique complex of parks, gardens, palaces, country houses, monasteries and castles, which create an architecture that harmonizes with the exotic and overgrown vegetation, creating micro-landscapes of exotic and luxuriant beauty…This syncretism between nature and ancient monuments, villas and quintas [estates] with monasteries and chalets influenced the development of landscape architecture throughout Europe.” (https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/723 ). The following properties are included in the World Heritage site:

  • The Convent of the Capuchos (Arrabalde convent) (N38o47’3” W9o26’17”) was founded in 1374, destroyed in a 1755 earthquake, rebuilt, and abandoned in 1834.
  • The Chalet and Garden of the Countess of Edla (N38o47’6” W9o23’57”) was built as a retreat in the 19th century for King Fernando II and his future wife, the Countess of Edla.
  • The Park and Palace of Montserrate (N38o47’40” W9o25’15”) was built in the 19th century and is considered one of the most beautiful architectural and landscape Romantic properties in Portugal. The Farmyard of Monserrate served the palace of Montserrate and today is managed to reflect the cultural heritage of agriculture in the region.
  • The Moorish Castle (N38o47’33” W9o23’21”) was built in the 8th and 9th
  • The Park and Palace of Pena (N38o47’15” W9o23’25”) are the greatest expression of European Romanticism in Portugal, built by King Ferdinand II in the 19th It is one of the seven wonders of Portugal. The gardens contain 500 tree species. The Pena Farm and Stables were used for carriage rides and contain a hillside planted with tea.
  • The National Palace of Sintra (N38o47’51” W9o23’26”) is in the town center. A grandiose and magnificent palace of the kings of Portugal, it is the best preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal. It was built as a Moorish fort in the 11th century, conquered by Christians in 1147, and improved by various kings from 1281 to the 16th The silhouette has remained the same since the 16th century. The palace retains geometric tiles and arched windows of Moorish era. Distinctive cone-shaped chimneys are visible in the kitchen area. One of the most important features of the national palace is facing with tiles, the finest example on the Iberian Peninsula. Management of the state-owned property is by Parques de Sintra-Monte da Lua, S.A., a non-profit corporation.
  • Other buildings in the World Heritage site are the Palace of Seteais (late 18th /early 19th century), the Regaleira estate (late 17th century), the Town Hall (early 20th century), and 4 churches in Sintra.

International Biosphere Reserve in the ecoregion:

Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema, Cádiz Province, Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain, is an International Biosphere Reserve with limestone caverns, high peaks, and rare plants and animals including the endemic Spanish fir and Egyptian vultures. Cork oak and holm oak groves are present. Rainfall in the park is noted as the highest in Spain.  White villages within the park include:

  • Quesos El Bosqueño (N36o45’ E5o31’), an artisan cheese-making factory in the village of El Bosque (the forest), which makes traditional cheeses from goat and sheep milk.
  • Zahara de la Sierra (N36o50’ W5o24’), a high elevation town with a view of a reservoir and a castle built in the 13th century by the Moors.

Other sites in the ecoregion of note include:

Coimbra District, Portugal

Conimbriga Museum and Archaeological Park (N40o5’57” W8o29’37”), Condeixa-a-Nova, Portugal, preserves the remains of a large Roman settlement, which was constructed by the Romans from their arrival in 139 BC until barbarian invasions in 468. It is considered the best-preserved Roman ruin in Portugal.  The walled settlement was served by an aqueduct, baths, and Roman road, which can still be viewed. The Repuxos House (Fountain House) contains a garden with original irrigation system and 500 water jets which are still operational.

Pousada de Coindeixa Coimbra, Condeixa-a-Nova (N40o7’2” W8o29’4”), is a restored building used as a hotel on the site of the 16th century former palace of the Almadas, a noble family.

Evora District, Portugal

Cromeleque dos Almendres (N38o33’27” W8o3’40”) is a double circle of 95 stones erected about 5000 B.C. This makes it 2,000 years older than Stonehenge and the oldest megalithic monument in Europe. The monument is associated with the development of Neolithic communities in Europe. The stones’ flattened side faces the sun, and some have geometric carvings. The stone circles are a short walk from a parking area on a hilltop forested with cork oak trees. The hilltop is the drainage dividing line of the three largest rivers in Portugal, the Tagus, Sado, and Guadiana. The site is accessible from the village of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe via signed dirt roads. On the drive to the parking area is another marked side trail to the Menhir dos Almendres (N38o33’50” W8o2’54”), a single granite monolith rising 4 meters. A line from the menhir to the stone circle marks sunrise in the summer solstice.

Lisbon District, Portugal

Palace of the Arches (Vila Gale Collection Palacio dos Arcos, Paco de Arcos, Oeiras Municipality, Lisbon District, Portugal), is a hotel built in the 15th century; the king watched ships leaving for India from the balcony. The current hotel is dedicated to Portuguese poetry, with verses from famous poetry on the walls of public areas. Public gardens are adjacent to the palace (N38o41’48” W9o17’21”).

Lisbon Municipality sites include:

  • National Azuelejo (Tile) Museum (N38o43’28” W9o6’50”) displays hundreds of ornate patterns in the rooms of the former Convent of Madre Deus, 1509. The decorative tiles date from the 15th century to the present. Also, ceramics and porcelain are also displayed.
  • The Alfama District (N38o43’ W9o8’) of Lisbon is a former Muslim district with a maze of narrow streets and home of Fado music.
  • Restoration Square (Restauradores) (N38o43’ W9o8’30”) and Baixa District (downtown) including the Santa Justa elevator. The name celebrates the restoration of the independence of Portugal in 1640, after 60 years of having a shared king with Spain.
  • Parque Eduardo VII (N38o43’50” W9o9’17”) provides a panoramic view of Lisbon and the Tejo (Tagos) River from a hill above the city. It was named for an English king who visited in 1902.

Parque Natural Sintra-Cascais is 14,583 ha and includes megalithic monuments, the Guincho-Oitavas dunes, Guincho Beach, Ribafria estate, Ramalhao Palace, the Sanctuary of Peninha, and the Cultural Landscape of Sintra World Heritage Site. It is the westernmost point on the European continent. The Cultural Landscape of Sintra World Heritage Site (see) is within this park. Also, the coastal overlook, rocky coastline, and wildflowers at Cape Raso, Guincho Beach, Cascais Municipality (N38o43’ W9o29’), are part of the park. A view to the north is of Cape Roca, the westernmost point in the European continent.

National Palace and Gardens of Queluz (N38o45’0” W9o15’30”), Sintra Municipality, Lisbon District, Portugal, is a royal residence located west of Lisbon. It is a landmark of both Portuguese architecture and landscape design from the 18th and 19th centuries and includes baroque, rococo, and neoclassical influence. It is sometimes compared with Versailles. The structure was built as a summer palace in 1747 and transferred to state management in 1908. The Queluz Gardens surround the palace on three sides and include a botanical garden, a channel for boat or gondola rides, a maze garden, hanging garden, and Malta garden. Management of the state-owned property is by Parques de Sintra-Monte da Lua, S.A., a non-profit corporation.

Santarém District, Portugal

Campanhia das Lezirias is a state-run farm located at the confluence of the Tagus and Sado Rivers. It is currently 20,000 ha in area and is managed for agriculture (rice), cattle, breeding of Lusitano horses (the oldest saddle horse breed in the world), and forestry.  The farm includes the Estate Monte de Braco de Prata (restaurant, horse sports activity center, and stud farm (N38o52’47” W8o51’45”), the cork oak forest (N38o49’ W8o51’), and the Catapereiro Winery (N38o48’47” W8o52’56”).

Cádiz Province, Andalusia, Spain

Arcos de la Frontera (N36o44’52” W5o48’24”) is dramatically positioned on a rocky cliff above the Guadalete River. There is a tangled labyrinth of cobblestone streets with a castle at the high point. The castle has shields of the Dukes of Arcos on the outside. An overlook and hotel are adjacent to the castle. The town was at the frontier in the 13th century battles with the Moors.

Seville Province, Andalusia, Spain

Hotel Inglaterra, Sevilla, is an 1857 hotel is located on Plaza Nueva (N37o23’20” W5o59’45”), opposite the city hall. It features a rooftop bar with a panoramic view of the city including the cathedral. In the 19th century, monarchs visiting Seville stayed at the Iglaterra Inn. Behind the city hall was a prison that held Cervantes. During his time in jail in 1598 he conceived the idea of Don Quixote, the most influential work of Spanish literature.

Plaza de España, Sevilla (N37o22’35” W5o59’10”), was built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 as a semi-circular brick building in the Renaissance style. It was the location for the filming of movies such as Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia. Today it offers a park-like setting along the Guadalquivir River.

Great Slave Lake and Queen Maud Gulf

North of the 60th parallel in Northwest Territories and Nunavut Territory, the boreal forests become sparser and grade into tundra vegetation. This post describes four ecoregions located between the 60th and 70th parallels in this region. Muskwa-Slave Lake forests ecoregion was described last month. The Great Slave Lake, the deepest lake in North America at 600 m and the 10th largest in the world (500 km by 225 km), is named after a First Nations people, known as the Slave or Dene. The largest river flowing into the lake is the Slave River, from the south, and the lake drains from its west side by the Mackenzie River, an Arctic Ocean tributary. On the north side of the lake is Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories.

Low Arctic Tundra

This ecoregion in Nunavut Territory and Northwest Territories consists of shrubby tundra vegetation including willow and heath. It includes much of the area south of Coronation Gulf and Queen Maud Gulf in Nunavut.

Ramsar Site in Low Arctic Tundra

Ahiak Migratory Bird Sanctuary (formerly Queen Maud Gulf MBS) is 6,292,818 ha; this makes it the world’s second largest Ramsar site. The site is managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service, part of Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the Ahiak Co-Management Committee (settlements of Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, and Umingmaktok). The vast flat expanse of tundra meadows and marshes is the nesting ground for 450,000 Ross’s geese, 90 percent of the world’s population. Also 8% of the Canadian population of snow geese nest here. There are about 60 goose colonies, the largest of which is at Karrak Lake, where there is a research station (N67o14’ W100o16’). In addition to research on lesser snow and Ross’s geese, there is also research on Arctic fox (http://www.usask.ca/biology/fox/). Access to the sanctuary requires a permit. Other animals are barren ground caribou (calving ground), musk oxen, wolves, grizzly, and wolverine. Habitats are web meadow, marsh tundra, dry tundra, rock and boulder fields.

National Sites in the Low Arctic Tundra

Bloody Falls National Historic Site and Kugluk/Bloody Falls Territorial Park (N67o45’ W115o22’) is an archaeological site on Coppermine River terraces which records pre-contact hunting and fishing sites. The falls was also the site of the 1771 Bloody Falls Massacre, where Inuit were killed by Chipewayans while on a survey of the Coppermine River.

Thelon River is designated as a Canadian Heritage River between Eyeberry Lake (N63o10’ W104o40’) and Baker Lake (N64o16’ W96o8’). The Thelon is the largest river flowing into Hudson’s Bay, at 900 km in length, and is an unaltered drainage basin. Much of the Heritage River flows through the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary. The Thelon is an important bird area for Canada geese, greater white-fronted geese, and snow geese.

Territorial and Other Sites in the Low Arctic Tundra

The Back River Volcanic complex is a 2.7-billion-year-old stratovolcanic complex including the Heywood Range (N64o47’W107o50’) and Peacock Hills, roughly bounded by the Back and Contwoyto Rivers, Keish Lake (N65o2’ W108o21’), Regan Lake (N65o5’ W107o48’), Gold Lake (N64o50’ W107o42’), and Jim Magrum Lake (N64o44’ W108o2’) (Villenueve et al., 2001). To the east, the Back River Gold District is a proposed mine complex south of Bathurst Inlet. Open-pit mining would take place near Goose Lake (N65o33’ W106o26’) and George Lake (N65o55’ W107o28’) (Rescan Environmental Services Ltd., 2012). An open-pit diamond mine is located at Lac de Gras (N64o31’ W110o34’) northeast of Yellowknife.

Bathurst Inlet (N67o35’ W108o10’) hosts the Bathurst caribou herd, which was made up of 500,000 individuals in the 1980s, has declined to less than 10,000 today. The cause of the decline and whether it is a natural fluctuation are debated, but the drastic loss in a few years is cause for concern (Government of Northwest Territories, 2019). The topography around the inlet includes sea cliffs used by raptors.

Daring Lake Tundra Ecosystem Research Station (N64o52’ W111o36’) is operated by the government of Northwest Territories to conduct long-term research on the tundra ecosystem, including global change and caribou grazing.

Middle Back River Important Bird Area extends from Pelly Lake (N65o58’ W101o40’) to Lower Garry Lake (N65o53’ W100o0’). It provides nesting habitat for Canada goose, lesser snow goose, and other waterfowl. Molting Canada geese are observed in shoreline grass and sedge habitats. Snow geese breed at Pelly Lake. The Back River was formerly known as Back’s Great Fish River.

Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary is 52,000 km2 in both Nunavut Territory and Northwest Territories and was established in 1927 to protect muskoxen. It is also the calving grounds for the Beverly caribou herd. It extends from Moraine Lake on the Baillie River (N64o10’ W105o55’) on the west to Wharton Lake in the east (N64o4’ W100o0’) and from Dubawnt Lake in the south (N63o10’ W102o5’) to the Back River-Consul River confluence in the north (N65o41’ W102o2’).

Wilburforce Falls on the Hood River (N67o6’ W108o48’) at 49 m is the highest cataract north of the Arctic Circle.

Middle Arctic Tundra

To the north of the Low Arctic Tundra, this ecoregion includes Victoria island and parts of the Kent Peninsula in the Coronation Gulf. Vegetation includes Arctic willow, herbs, and lichens. The Dolphin and Union caribou herd migrate across the straight between Victoria Island and mainland Nunavut. They spend time on Victoria Island for summer grazing and the shoreline from Bathhurst Inlet west to Northwest Territories for winter use (NWT Species at Risk, 2019; Torney et al., 2018).

Territorial and Other Sites in the Middle Arctic Tundra

Ovayok Territorial Park (N69o10’ W104o43’) includes a prominent esker rising to 210 m east of Cambridge Bay. The park is known for sitings of muskox.

Jenny Lind Island (Qikiqtaryuaq Island) (N68o42’ W102o0’) is a low-lying island with low lying wetlands, and is an Important Bird Area for nesting snow geese and Ross’ geese.

Walker Bay Research Station (N68o21’ W108o6’) is on the Kent Peninsula south of the Augustus River. Research on lemmings, a keystone prey for Arctic fox, snowy owl, weasel, and jaegers is conducted here. The longest record of lemming dynamics and habitat use in the Canadian Arctic has been compiled here (Dupuch et al. 2014).

Northern Canadian Shield Taiga

This area is mostly in the Northwest Territories south of the limits of tree growth. It is east of Great Bear Lake and north and east of Great Slave Lake. Vegetation is stunted black spruce and tamarack, with a ground cover of dwarf birch and ericaceous shrubs. Sedges and sphagnum moss are also common.

National Sites in the Northern Canadian Shield Taiga

Kazan River is designated as a Canadian Heritage River from Ennadai Lake (N61o15’ W100o57’) to Baker Lake (N64o2’ W95o29’). Three waterfalls are present between Angikuni Lake (N62o15’ W100o0’) and Yathkyed Lake (N62o43’ W97o55’). Further downstream is Kazan Falls and gorge. Muskoxen are commonly seen by canoeists.

Fort Reliance National Historic Site (N62o47’ W108o56’) is at the northeastern end of Great Slave Lake at the mouth of the Lockhart River. This was a Hudson’s Bay Company Fort and trading post dating to 1855. The remains of 4 fireplaces and chimneys are at the site.

Thelon River is designated as a Canadian Heritage River between Eyeberry Lake (N63o10’ W104o40’) and Baker Lake (N64o16’ W96o8’). The Thelon is the largest river flowing into Hudson’s Bay, at 900 km in length, and is an unaltered drainage basin. The Thelon is an important bird area for Canada geese, greater white-fronted geese, and snow geese.

Territorial and Other Sites in the Northern Canadian Shield Taiga

Fort Confidence (N66o53’ W119o3’) was a Hudson’s Bay Company post at Dease Arm of Great Bear Lake from 1837 to 1848. The remains of stone and clay chimneys are still present.

Nicholson Lake Impact Crater (N62o40’ W102o41’) is 12 km in diameter, on the Dubawnt River, and dates to 400 million years ago. It contains a large island in its center.

North Arm, Great Slave Lake, Important Bird Area (N62o34’ W115o14) is a staging area for spring-migrating waterfowl, including Canada geese, scaup, pintail, tundra swan, gulls and terns.

Pilot Lake Impact Crater (N60o17’ W111o1’) is 6 km in diameter and dates to 445 million years ago. It is northeast of Fort Smith and stands out prominently as a circular lake in an area where most are irregularly shaped.

Old Fort Providence (N62o17’ W114o6’) is on Wool Bay on Great Slave Lake, southeast of Yellowknife. This was the site of an early trading post on the lake, dating to 1786, established by the North West Company. The remains of 4 buildings are spread over 1 ha.

Port Radium (N66o5’ W118o2’), on Great Bear Lake, was the site of a mine producing uranium, pitchblende, and silver from 1930-1982. Radioactive mine tailings were cleaned up in 2007.

Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary is 52,000 km2 and was established in 1927 to protect muskoxen. It is also the calving grounds for the Beverly caribou herd. It extends from Moraine Lake on the Baillie River (N64o10’ W105o55’) on the west to Wharton Lake in the east (N64o4’ W100o0’) and from Dubawnt Lake in the south (N63o10’ W102o5’) to the Back River-Consul River confluence in the north (N65o41’ W102o2’).

Park on Route 3 (Yellowknife Highway)

Fred Henne Territorial Park (N62o28’ W114o25’) is at km 335 on Route 3 adjacent to Yellowknife. It includes the 4-km Prospector’s Trail.

Parks on Route 4 (Ingraham Trail)

Yellowknife River Territorial Park (N62o31’ W114o19’) is east of Yellowknife at km 8 on Route 4.

Prosperous Lake Territorial Park (N62o32’ W114o9’) is at km 20 on Route 4.

Madeline Lake Territorial Park (N62o33’ W114o4’) is on Route 4 at km 24. There is a canoe launch on the lake.

Pontoon Lake Territorial Park (N62o33’ W114o2’) is at km 26 on Route 4.

Prelude Lake Territorial Park (N62o34’ W113o59’) is at km 28 on Route 4.

Powder Point Territorial Park (N62o31’ W113o44’) is at km 44 on Route 4, overlooking Prelude Lake.

Hidden Lake Territorial Park (N62o33’ W113o39’) is a 3,000-ha park on Route 4 at km 46. It includes Cameron Falls.

Cameron River Crossing Territorial Park (N62o30’ W113o33’) is on Route 4 at km 55. It includes Ramparts Waterfall.

Reid Lake Territorial Park (N62o29’ W113o28’) is on Route 4 at km 59 near the Cameron River.

Northwest Territories Taiga

This ecoregion is west of Great Slave Lake, extending north to Great Bear Lake, and includes open stunted black spruce with dwarf birch, Labrador tea, and willow.

National Sites in the Northwest Territories Taiga

Edehzhie Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area (N62o W118o) is 1,425,000 ha, including the Horn Plateau west of Great Slave Lake and Mills Lake area along the Mackenzie River. The expansive area of boreal forests and wetlands is jointly managed by the Dehcho First Nations and the Canadian Wildlife Service, part of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Wildlife includes caribou, moose, and wolves.

Territorial Sites in the Northwest Territories Taiga

Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary is bordered by Great Slave Lake on the east and Route 3 (Frontier Highway) on the west for 50 miles; it is on the north side of the Mackenzie River ferry. On Frontier Highway, km 24 is Mackenzie River and km 26 is the bison sanctuary boundary. The Mackenzie population of wood bison descended from a population of 18 individuals released north of Fort Providence in 1963. Numbers currently fluctuate between 500 and 2,000. In recent years the population has suffered from anthrax outbreaks. In addition, lakes are expanding in area due to climate change. The resulting landscape flooding is reducing their habitat (Korosi et al., 2017). Chan Lake Territorial Park (N61o54’ W116o32’) is at km 124 on Route 3 at the north end of the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary.

Martin Lake (Lac La Martre) (N63o21’ W117o58’) is the third largest lake in the Northwest Territories and is noted as a migratory bird staging area.

North Arm Territorial Park (N62o43’ W116o5’) is on Route 3, km 232, at Great Slave Lake.


Dupuch, Angelique et al. 2014. Landscapes of fear or competition? Predation did not alter habitat choice by Arctic rodents. Oecologia 174:403-412 (DOI:10.1007/s00442-013-2792-7).

Korisi, Jennifer B.  et al. 2017. Broad-scale lake expansion and flooding inundates essential wood bison habitat. Nature Communications 8:14510 (10.1038/ncomms14510).

Northwest Territories Government, Environment and Natural Resources. 2019. Barren-Ground Caribou. https://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/en/services/barren-ground-caribou (accessed February 23, 2019).

NWT Species at Risk. Dolphin and Union Caribou. https://www.nwtspeciesatrisk.ca/species/dolphin-and-union-caribou (accessed February 23, 2019).

Rescan Environmental Services, Ltd. 2012. The Back River Project, Project Description. Prepared forSabina Gold and SilverCorporation. Accessed February 10, 2019, at https://backriverproject.com/about/.

Thelon: https://www.gov.nu.ca/sites/default/files/ED_Thelon_ENG.pdf

Torney, Collin J. et al. 2018. Inferring the rules of social interaction in migrating caribou. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 373:20170385 (DOI: 10.1098/rsstb.2017.0385)

Villenueve, Mike, et al. 2001. Geochronology of the Back River volcanic complex, Nunavut-Northwest Territories. Geological Survey of Canada Current Research 2001-F2. Accessed February 10, 2019 at http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/M44-2001-F2E.pdf.