The Alps are the highest and most extensive mountain range system that lie in south-central Europe. The mountain range stretches approximately 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) in a crescent shape across eight Alpine countries: France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia.
The Alps are an interzonal mountain system (Orobiome), or a “transition area” between Central and Mediterranean Europe. The Alps have high habitat diversity, with 200 habitats classified throughout the mountain range. This mountain range is home to a high level of biodiversity.
According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), there are over 4,500 species of plants, 200 bird species, 21 amphibian species, 15 reptile species, and 80 mammal species. Many of these species have made adaptations to the harsh cold conditions and high altitudes.
None of the 80 mammal species found in the Alps are “strictly” endemic, meaning they occur in the Alps and nowhere else in the world. Some of the larger carnivore species found in the Alps include the Alpine ibex, the chamois, the Eurasian lynx, the wolf, and the brown bear. These populations have been reduced in size or fragmented into small groups. There are also numerous rodent species found in the Alps, such as voles and marmots.
There about 200 breeding bird species, as well as an equal number of migratory species, in the Alps. The largest bird species found in the Alps are the golden eagle and the bearded vulture. The alpine chough is the most common bird found in the region.
Of the 21 total species of amphibians, only one is endemic, Salamandra lanzai. There are fifteen reptile species are present, including adders and vipers.
According to WWF, the Alps are one of the regions with the richest flora and fauna in Europe, second only to the Mediterranean. There are about 4,500 species of vascular plants, 800 species of mosses, 300 liverworts, 2500 lichens and more than 5000 fungi found in the Alps. About 8 percent of the vascular species are endemic. The variety of habitats in the Alps helps to promote the uniqueness of Alpine flora, along with the harsh environmental conditions that drive species to change and adapt.
Mont Blanc is the highest peak at 15,776 feet (4,808 m). It is the second-highest and second most prominent mountain in Europe and the eleventh most prominent mountain summit in the world. The mountain stands between regions of Italy and of France. There are about a hundred peaks higher than 13,000 ft (4,000 m) in the Alpine region.
The Alps provide lowland Europe with drinking water, irrigation, and hydroelectric power. Although the area is only about 11% of the surface area of Europe, the Alps provide up to 90% of water to lowland Europe. Major European rivers flow from the Alps, including the Rhine, the Rhône, the Inn, and the Po.
The major glacierized areas in the Alps are situated along the crest of the mountain chain, with the largest glaciers often found at the highest elevations. There are smaller glaciers scattered throughout the Alps.
The Swiss Alps is known for glaciers, containing around 1,800 glaciers. The region’s glaciers include the longest glacier in the Alps: the Aletsch Glacier.
- At over 12 miles long and about a half-mile thick, the famous Aletsch valley glacier is the longest in the Alps, but due to climate change, the Aletsch is shrinking and predicted to completely melt by the end of this century.
- The Alps are Europe’s highest and most extensive mountain range.
- Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps, spanning 3 countries. Its granite ramparts distinguish it from other peaks. Mont Blanc’s ranges rose straight from the deep and are still rising, a phenomenon caused by glacial movement.
- The limestone Dolomites in Italy are half as high as Mont Blanc and were created as Africa’s collision with Europe pushed together an ancient tropical seafloor with the ancient skeletons of marine organisms into the sky.
- Humans have been living in the Alps since Paleolithic times, about 60,000 to 50,000 years ago. The Alpine region continues to have a strong cultural identity and its traditional culture of farming, cheesemaking, and woodworking still exists in Alpine villages. However, the tourism industry has been growing since the 20th century. While the region is home to 14 million people, it has 120 million annual visitors.