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Forest – habitat of Velebit

The Park is predominantly covered by forest habitat (more than 80% of the total surface area). The main feature of mountain forest habitats is zonation – distribution in belts arranged according to altitude. With the increasing altitude, the climate becomes more severe, which is reflected in the plant cover or vegetation.

Habitats 01

If you start climbing from the sea up the coastal slopes towards the peaks of north Velebit, you will first pass through the forest of downy oak and hornbeam. As you climb higher, the vegetation changes from hornbeam to hop-hornbeam and you find yourself in the downy oak and hop-hornbeam forest. The forests on the coast-facing slopes often take the form of a thicket, and are extremely important for conserving the soil that is exposed to strong bora winds.
Continuing up the hill, you enter the coastal beech forest with autumn moor grass (Seslerio autumnalis-Fagetum),

which forms the boundary between coastal and inland vegetation. As you near the top, you will notice that beech trees have a pipe-like curve at the bottom – this is due to the pressure of snow on the young trees, and you find yourself in the sub-alpine forest of beech and sycamore (Polystcho lonchitis-fagetum). You have now reached a true mountain habitat with clearly visible features of mountain climate. On the coastal slopes, you can also find a forest of black pine with tomentose cotoneaster, which is a relic – a surviving remnant of ancient times to be found only in specific localities.


The coastal slope


On the highest peaks, you’ll find dwarf beech trees or European mountain pines, with lumpy and curved branches hugging the ground. At such elevations, trees are exposed to extremely harsh conditions, with cold and short growing season preventing them from developing into full-grown trees. Instead, they develop stunted growth forms called krummholz. European mountain pine is a special pine species, characterized by longevity and resistance to harsh climatic conditions. This shrubby pine usually does not take the form of a tree, but develops close to the ground, without a central stem. Its branches lie low to the ground and are

bent upwards. Thanks to its low, cushion-like shape, it is protected from wind and cold, with a layer of air trapped around it acting as an insulator. Moreover, European mountain pine can grow in a variety of soils.


Mountain Peak Region


At high elevations, when you start descending the slopes of North Velebit towards inland – the Lika plateau, you will again pass through sub-alpine beech forest. In this most unwelcoming habitats consisting of rocky precipices, sinkholes and closed depressions, you will encounter spruce trees. In north Velebit, several types of sub-alpine spruce forests can be found: the steep, rocky slopes, such as those of crags, are home to sub-alpine spruce forest. The steeper and rockier sinkholes and enclosed valleys are occupied by sub-alpine spruce forest with listera (Listero-Piceetum abietis), while the wetter and more humus-rich areas are occupied by sub-alpine spruce forest with Alpine adenostyles (Adenostylo alliariae – Piceetum). On warmer rocky slopes with more sun you may encounter the Dinaric fir forest on calcareous blocks, which is quite rare in north Velebit.

Descending further down, you enter the area of Dinaric beech-fir forest. Such forests have a greater species variety than the Central European beech-fir forests. In this mountain belt, in the wide valleys where the cold air accumulates, you again encounter spruce, this time in form of mountain spruce forest with bastard agrimony (Aremonio Piceetum). This type of spruce forest is found at Štirovača, the largest spruce forest in Croatia, which is partly located within the boundaries of the Park. Your descent down the Velebit slopes will end in a beech forest with giant dead nettle (Lamio orvalae-Fagetum), which occupies the lowest slopes of the Velebit facing the Lika region. This forest is rich in Illyrian plant species that are indigenous to Western Balkans and the eastern Adriatic coastal areas.


Inner Slope

The species composition and distribution of trees in the Northern Velebit forests is similar to what you might find in a primary old-growth forest – forest that has never been cut down or exposed to other significant human influence. In addition, it contains a number of old and dead trees. This “deadwood” is not composed of mere tree carcasses, but soon becomes home to a wide variety of wildlife – countless species of insects, fungi and bacteria. They feed on old trees, turning them into fertile soil. The Park is home to as many as five out of the nine European woodpecker species that are

dependent on dead and old trees – they feed on insect larvae found under the bark, and nest in cavities excavated in decaying trees. Thus, woodpeckers prevent insects that feed on the wood and damage the trees to multiply excessively. The old woodpecker nest holes are used for nesting by numerous other bird species, which makes them dependent on woodpeckers and old trees. Among the users of these cavities are six owl species and several species of forest bats, which use the cavities as refuge during the day, but also for raising the young. Among them are, for example, the barbastelle(Barbastella barbastellus) and lesser noctule bats(Nyctalus leisleri) , which also hunt in the forest.


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