Climates in Spain range from an oceanic climate in the north and northeastern parts of the country to an alpine climate in the Pyrenees; a semiarid climate in Alicante, Murcia, and Almería; a Mediterranean-continental climate (the predominant climate on the Iberian peninsula) in Spain’s interior regions; a Mediterranean climate along the east coast, in the Balearic Islands, and in most of Andalusia; and a subtropical climate in the Canary Islands.
Thanks to this rich variety of climates, Spanish geography encompasses ecosystems including oceanic deciduous forests, Mediterranean evergreen forests, garrigue and maquis scrublands, high mountain forests, coastal ecosystems, wetlands, deserts, steppes, and laurel forests, which exist only in the Canary Islands and the Portuguese islands of Madeira and Azores.
As a natural consequence of such a wide assortment of ecosystems, the animals and plants found in Spain are incredibly diverse. Within the European continent, Spain is the country with most species of vertebrate animals (570) and vascular plants (7,600). It is estimated that Spain is home to 85,000 species of living things, including both plants and animals. Around 30% of Europe’s endemic species live in Spain: that’s right, they’re not found anywhere else in the world. Perhaps the most famous example of a species endemic to Spain is the Iberian lynx, which is most often found on the Canary Islands, specifically Tenerife, due to geographic isolation.
Spain has also designated a considerable amount of its land as nature reserves in an effort to preserve and protect the local wildlife. According to Yearbook 2016 – the State of Protected Areas in Spain, more than a fourth of the Spanish territory is dedicated to the conservation of wildlife. The country is currently protecting 27% of terrestrial areas, a figure much higher than the 17% target set by the Convention on Biological Diversity, and 8% of marine areas, in line with the 8% target set by the CBD.
These figures are closely related to the development of the Natura 2000 network: within Europe, Spain is the country that has contributed the most to this network, which includes 15 national parks, 151 natural parks, 290 nature reserves, 56 protected areas, and 346 national monuments. This means that if you’re a nature lover, it’s very likely that you’ll have a beautiful place to enjoy the great outdoors close to where you choose to study Spanish.
Of the animals native to Spain, there are a great many types of deer, Iberian wild goats, turtles, bats, snakes, and small reptiles and amphibians. Thanks to its key location for migratory birds flying from Europe to Africa, Spain is home to a large number bird species and is an ideal bird watching destination. Among Spain’s indigenous birds are vultures, eagles, kites, bustards, storks, and flamingos.
Most of Spain’s larger animals are native species in danger of extinction. Cantabrian brown bears are divided into two different subpopulations: the eastern population, with around 40 bears who face a variety of difficulties that threaten their survival, and the western population, with approximately 200 bears. Of these, 62 are cubs, the highest number reached since protectionist measures began. This species has a population somewhat smaller than other European brown bears. The Spanish Pyrenean brown bear became extinct when the last individual died in 2010.
The Iberian wolf is medium sized and although it currently lives in stable populations to the north of the Duero river, it is a protected species to the south of the river, where the wolves live in small, fragile populations. This animal used to be found all across the Iberian Peninsula, but hunting in the early decades of the 20th century drastically reduced their distribution. Iberian wolves number around 2,800 in Spain today thanks to protective measures and policies implemented at the beginning of the 21st century. Over the last 30 years, the population of Iberian wolves has been increasing and spreading. They have reappeared north of the Community of Madrid after more than 60 years without any evidence of their presence in the region.
The Iberian lynx, with an estimated 600 individuals living in the wild between Andalusia and Castile-La Mancha, is world’s most endangered feline species. They leave in the scrublands and the Mediterranean forest, isolated from human activity, and their main source of food is rabbits. Their population has increased in recent years due to special protection and reintroduction measures.
According to the infamous Red List of 2009, created by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Iberian Peninsula and surrounding waters are home to 227 species in danger of extinction, including 16 mammals, 15 birds, 19 reptiles, 6 amphibians, 26 mollusks, 35 invertebrates, and 49 plant species.
The overpopulation of coastal areas has brought some animals, such as the monk seal and the osprey, closer to extinction, while the Spanish wetlands have been drastically reduced, putting the habitat of numerous species at risk. Some animals have adapted to the centuries of human development and the changes in farming techniques, while others, such as rodents, bats, salamanders, and birds, have been deeply affected. Other threats Spanish fauna face are pollution (including industrial pesticide residue, plastics, toxic gases, and toxic waste) and fires (between 10 and 20 million hectares are destroyed by fires each year).
Despite conservation efforts, many native Spanish animals are on the verge of disappearing. Among the animals in danger of extinction are the Iberian lynx, the most endangered cat species; the Mediterranean monk seal; the Hierro giant lizard (Canary Islands); and Spengler’s freshwater mussel. Endangered wildlife endemic to Spain includes the broom hare, the Canarian shrew, the Osorio shrew, and the Canary big-eared bat. There are also animals in danger of regional extinction in Spain, such as the Cantabrian brown bear and various species of whales and bats, among others.