PLANT Biodiversity of Albania

Although Albania's territory is quite small, its flora is characterized by high diversity of ecosystems and habitats and considerable species richness. This diversity is attributable to the country's geographic position (at the interface among three important regions: the Balkan mountains, the Mediterranean region and the southern limit of continental Europe) as well as geological, hydrological, soil diversity, climatic and large altitudinal range. The Albanian relief is mostly hilly and mountainous. Korabi Mountain  is the highest point (2751m above sea level).  Tthe former Tërbufi Marsh, 8 m below sea level, is the lowest. The medium altitude of the country is 708 m above the sea level. Albania is well known for its rich and complex hydrographic network composed of rivers, lakes, wetlands, groundwater, and sea. The main rivers are the Drini, Buna, Mati, Shkumbini, Semani, Vjosa, Erzeni, Ishmi, Bistrica, and Pavllo, and their courses have an important effect on the country's coastal biodiversity. About 247 natural lakes of different types and dimensions, and a considerable number of artificial lakes, are located inside the country. Based on their origin, they can be divided into tectonic lakes (4), glacier lakes (134), karstic lakes (94), and fluvial lakes (15). Among the more important ones are the transboundary lakes of Shkodra, Ohrid, and Prespa, the most important and largest ones in the Balkans with European and international significance. In the coastal area of Albania there are wetlands such as Karavasta, Narta, Patoku, Viluni, Kune-Vaini, Orikumi, and others, with a total area of 150 kmth. Investigations concerning flora and vegetation in Albania already began in the 192 century when numerous plant species were discovered and described by, among others, Boissier, Heldreich, Haussknecht, Halacsy and Baldacci.  Interest for these studies continued to increase during the last century and the trend  is still increasing as witnessed by recent publications of Kosanin (1913, 1914, 1939), Janchen (1920), Javorka et al. (1926), Novak (1926, 1927, 1928), Markgraf (1926, 1931, 1932), Soska (1938, 1939) etc. The 4-volumes of the Flora of Albania (Paparisto & al. 1988; Qosja & al. 1992, 1996; Vangjeli & al. 2000) comprise 3757 taxa, including 173 cultivated species. Recently many new vascular plant species were reported from Albania by Dimitrov (1997, 1998, 2001a-b), Greuter & Raus (2000), Tan & Mullaj (2000), Rakaj (2006), Shuka & Jahollari (2007), Barina & Pifkó (2008b, 2008c, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013) etc. These and other sources estimate that over 3600 species and 850 subspecies of vascular plants occur in Albania.


Gymnospermium altaicum subsp. scipetarum endemic, Mt. Shalqini, Elbasan, kord.
41 0 10’ 31.4” ; E 020 0 09’ 04”, general view

Gymnospermium altaicum
subsp. scipetarum endemic, Mt. Shalqini, Elbasan, kord.
N 41 0 10’ 31.4” ; E 020 0 09’ 04”, habitus

However, its importance referring not only to the large number of taxa, but also to its endemic species, i.e. taxa native to Albania exclusively. At present, about 30 species and 10 subspecies of higher plants have been identified as Albanian endemics. The percentage of endemic species would increase significantly if we consider also subendemic (166 species or 5.1 % of the total flora) and Balkan endemic species (400 species or 14% of the total flora) that occur in Albania. It is quite possible that some of them originated in Albania and later on spread to other parts of the Balkan Peninsula. The distribution of endemic plants is quite uneven, and is related primarily to the presence of mountains. The Albanian Alps Mountains are the richest in endemics of all the mountain groups.. The deep gorges, which in certain places have the appearance of real canyons, are also rich in endemics. Due to the specific ecological conditions, these gorges served as refugees for numerous tertiary and endemic species. Relatively few endemic species and subspecies are found in the lowlands and in the low mountain foothills. In the lowlands they are preserved mainly in the lower hills with shrub and herbaceous vegetation, where they were undoubtedly widespread in the past. Here occur: Leucojum ionicum, Aster albanicus and others. Some species in this group have quite small populations, as, for example Leucojum ionicum (Uji i Ftohtë, Vlorë). Several centers of endemism can thus be established, based primarily on the overall number of endemic taxa, and secondarily on the number of local endemics. The most important centers in the Albania are represented by:


Mountain areas in North Albania (Alps of Albania) it is outstanding in comparison with other regions. The Albanian Alps are the richest in endemics. Over 50 % of Albanian endemic taxa (species and subspecies) occur there. High number of local endemics, 32–42 sub endemics are recorded.


Guri i Topit, Valamare – Lenie, Gramozi mountains massif (serpentine) SE Albania. Not only it is characterized by a high number of endemics but is also particularly important from an evolutionary viewpoint as many of the endemics belong to relict or isolated groups. Such species are Bornmuellera baldacii, Campanula hawkinsiana, Silene schwarzenbergeri, S. haussknechtii, etc. There is no doubt that these massif is an ancient and active centre of ophiolithic (serpentine) floristic speciation.


The mountains of N and NE Albania represent the next important centre of endemism. There is a high number of relict taxa – Sanguisorba albanica, Veronica andrasovszkyi, Festucopsis serpentini, Aster albanicus subsp. albanicus, Polygala doerfleri, Saponaria intermedia, Genista hassertiana, Centaurea kosaninii. Local endemics include Gentiana nopcsae and Peucedanum serpentini.

The recent composition of Albanian flora is the result of all the changes that have taken place since the Tertiary period. In this respect, the relict species, which play a very important role in the recent flora of Albania, are of special interest. These can be seen as indicators of past climatic conditions. These are morphologically isolated species with no relations of the genus or section in the Balkan Peninsula. Such are the species that were formed during the Tertiary and endured the glacial epochs of the Quaternary in habitats located relatively far from the centers of glaciations. Relict endemics form the smallest group in the Albanian flora. Because the territory that is now included within Albania has been glaciated several times, surviving Tertiary relicts are not very numerous (as a rule they are morphologically primitive and have low chromosome numbers). Within this group fall most of the Balkan endemics, such as Aesculus hyppocastanum, Viscum album etc.
Ramonda serbica is a very interesting relict specie: it belongs to the tropical family Gesneriaceae, ralated to a tropical climate that in the Tertiary period dominated in this part of the Balkan Peninsula. On the other hand, the presence of another group of relict species, found in the Southeastern Mountains of Albania that includes Morina persica and Astragalus parnassi speaks in favor of the existence of a steppe climate which dominated toward the end of the Tertiary period, that is to say, the beginning of the Pliocene. During this period, a steppe-semi desert vegetation of a Mediterranean type was densely developed. In this respect, some species found only in certain parts of Albania are especially interesting. These areas are in fact merely exclaves of their areas which continue east to Asia Minor and the Near East. Such is the case, for instance, with Morina persica and Acantholimon androsaceum. The relicts of the Tertiary period have been preserved in almost every part of Albania, particularly in the deep river gorges in its southern and western parts, where the influence of the glacial phenomenon was much weaker. The gorges on the River Vjosa, Devolli and the River Drin and their tributaries are such places where we can find Ramonda serbica, Viola kosaninii (the gorge on the River Cem); Aesculus hippocastanum (gorge on the spring Bença) and others. The mountain massifs are particularly rich with Tertiary and Glacial relicts. Of the Tertiary relicts, the pines Pinus peuce ("Arnen"; Mt. Runa, Kunora e Lurës, Masdejë, Allamani, Skenderbeu, Martanesh, Shpat, Mokër) and Pinus heldreichii ("rrobull"; between 1000 and 2200 m in all Mountains areas of Albania) deserve special attention. These are joined by the Glacial relicts, which include numerous representatives of the Arctic-Alpine floral element: Dryas octopetala, Salix reticulata, Taxus baccata, Salix retusa, Salix herbacea (Alps, Mt. Korab, Tomorr etc.) and others found near these.
Viola raunsiensis, endemic, serpentine massifs of Surroj, Kukesi District, NE of Albania Hypericum haplophylloides, endemic, limestone rock, National park of Llogora,
1000 mt., Vlora District, SW of Albania

ANIMAL Biodiversity of Albania

Although Albania is a quite small country, biological and landscape diversity is considerable, and this is due to its geographical position, geological factors, hydrology, climate, and soil conditions. Albania is a Mediterranean country on the Balkan Peninsula in the south of Europe. The Albanian coastline is 476 km long, and the Adriatic and Ionian Seas have a great impact on the climate, flora, and fauna in the country. Albania is part of the Mediterranean Alps in the line Dinarido-Albanido-Helenid, and is characterised by a diversity of rock formations since Palaeozoic time. There are more sedimentary and volcanic formations, while metamorphic ones are less common. Other formations such as alluvial, proluvial, koluvial, and deluvial glaciers, marshes, and lakes, are younger and from the Quaternary area. Within Albania there are tectonic zones which during their geological development changed to tectonic and neo-tectonic configurations. The Albanian relief is mostly hilly and mountainous. There is a diversity of morphological formations and slopes.  It has a young age since the Albanian relief originated during the Miocene Age.  At the beginning of the Quaternary Age, the Adriatic lowland and other inland lowlands were attached to the continental part of Albania, but the existing relief shape was generated during the Pliocene Period.   Korabi Mountain is the highest point (2751m above sea level).  The former Tërbufi Marsh, 8 m below sea level, is the lowest. The medium altitude of the country is 708 m above the sea level.  The altitude declines moving towards the west of the country, and this is one of the main aspects determining the conditions of the climate, land, and vegetation. The climate of Albania is characterized by four major climatic zones and 13 sub-zones, which contribute to the country’s considerable biological diversity. Albania is well known for its changing and complex hydrographic network composed of rivers, lakes, wetlands, groundwater, and seas.  The main rivers are the Drini, Buna, Mati, Shkumbini, Semani, Vjosa, Erzeni, Ishmi, Bistrica, and Pavllo, and their courses have an important effect on the country’s coastal biodiversity.

Capreolus capreolus (male): © MAECI - IUCN
Canis lupus (male): © MAECI - IUCN

About 247 natural lakes of different types and dimensions, and a considerable number of artificial lakes, are located inside the country.   Based on their origin, they are divided into tectonic lakes (4), glacier lakes (134), carstic lakes (94), and fluvial lakes (15). Among the more important ones are the transboundary lakes of Shkodra, Ohrid, and Prespa – the most important and largest ones in the Balkans with European and international significance.  In the coastal area of Albania there are wetlands such as Karavasta, Narta, Patoku, Viluni, Kune-Vaini, Orikumi, and others, with a total area of 150 km2. Albania is well known for its high diversity of ecosystems and habitats. Within its territory there are maritime ecosystems, coastal zones, lakes, rivers, evergreen and broadleaf bushes, broadleaf forests, pine forests, alpine and sub-alpine pastures and meadows, and high mountain ecosystems. Albania is rich in forest and pasture resources. The forests cover 1,030,000 ha or 36% of the country’s territory, and pastures about 400,000 ha or 15%. Approximately 60% (244,000 ha) of the pastures are alpine and sub-alpine pastures and meadows. The forests and the pastures have a diversity of types, formations, and plant and animal communities. There is a diversity of landscapes in Albania due to its natural characteristics and long history of population and human activities. Traditional agriculture and stockbreeding developed in the countryside, in accordance with natural conditions, have been the major factors determining the Albanian landscape, where indigenous elements are not missing. Along the coastline of the country there are many ecosystems of significance in the Mediterranean region such as lagoons, wetlands, sand dunes, river deltas, hydrophil and hygrophil forests. Littoral and infralittoral communities of Mediterranean origin along the rocky coast are quite diverse and well preserved. The lakes and rivers are also important for the biological and landscape diversity of the country.


Information on fauna in Albania is incomplete. The Eurasian, Holartic, Mediterranean, and Balkan elements dominate the faunistic spectrum of the country. Some faunistic elements are still understudied, and the presence of some species is yet to be confirmed. Basic information on well-known taxonomic groups (population size, trends) is lacking. The number of species present in Albania is probably larger, and for some invertebrate groups several times larger, than presently known. Taking into account the existing information, Albania has a considerable faunal diversity, with about 770 vertebrate species and several thousand invertebrate species. The high forests of Albania are the habitat for large game such as the brown bear, wolf, lynx, wild boar, and others, and birds of prey, which flourish in virgin forests. The rich marine faunal communities are an indicator of the high level of preservation and quality of the Albanian coastline.

Felis silvestris: © MAECI - IUCN

Meles meles: © MAECI - IUCN

Endemic/Subendemic taxa

The reliefs and hydrological network of Albania host a number of endemic and subendemic species. Lake Ohrid is the most well known ecosystem in the country in terms of fauna endemism: over 50 species of molluscs and two fish species are endemic. Endemic insects are represented by 16 species (11 species of Hemiptera and five species of butterflies). Further studies of the country’s fauna, in particular biospeleological studies, which just have begun in Albania, will help in finding new country endemics. The Albanian inland and marine ecosystems are a part of the Mediterranean and Balkan natural ecosystems. Transboundary lakes like Shkodra, Ohrid, and Prespa are points of floristic and fauna exchange with other Balkan countries. Species migrate through the rivers and the highest parts of Albanian mountains from their natural habitats outside Albania in Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. The large number of subendemic species linked with Greece and Serbia, and the marine species endemic to the Adriatic Sea highlight the importance of Albania for the protection of biodiversity in the Balkan and Mediterranean regions.

Migratory species

The coastal wetlands and lakes inside the country are particularly important sites for the wintering of migratory species since about 70 waterfowl species with a population of 180,000 are wintering in these areas. Five coastal water bodies (Karavasta and Narta lagoons, Shkodra, Ohrid and Prespa lakes) are sites of international importance for waterfowls ad as such have been identified as IBAs (Important Bird Areas), with more than 20,000 waterfowl species at each site. Karavasta lagoon, Shkodra lake and Prespa lake have the status of Ramsar sites.

Globally threatened species

In Albania, there are a number of globally threatened animals. At least 72 vertebrate and 18 invertebrate species classified as threatened with extinction by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species have at least part of their population in Albania. For some of them (Pelecanus crispus, Phalacrocorax pygmeus, Salmo letnica andAcipenser sturio), Albania has a critical importance. The national Red List of Albania, updated in 2013, classified 575 species as data deficient, near threatened or threatened with extinction. Among these, 45 species are considered critically endangered. These include 7 invertebrates, the elephant shark, green turtles, four snakes, 28 birds, and 3 mammals (water buffalo, monk seal and lynx).

Ursus arctos: © MAECI - IUCN

Vulpes vulpes: © MAECI - IUCN

List of endemic/subendemic species and subspecies of Albania

List of globally threatened species found in Albania
(according to the IUCN Red List)
1 Alosa fallax lacustris
2 Chalcalburnus chalcoides tiranensis
3 Rhodeus sericeus amarus
4 Salmo letnica
5 Salmo letnica lumi
6 Salmothymus ohridanus
1 Orientalia curta
2 Ohridohoratia pygmaea
3 Ohridohoratia carinata
4 Polinskiola polinski
5 Polinskiola sturanyi
6 Ohridohauffenia depressa
7 Ohridohauffenia sublitoralis
8 Ohridohauffenia rotonda
9 Ohridohauffenia drimica
10 Ohridohauffenia minuta
11 Ohridohauffenia sanctinaumi
12 Ohrigocea samuili
13 Ohrigocea karevi
14 Ohrigocea miladinovorum
15 Ohrigocea stankovici
16 Dolapia ornata
17 Gocea ohridana
18 Pseudohoratia ohridana
19 Pseudohoratia brusinae
20 Pseudohoratia lacustris
21 Lyhnidia gjorgjevici
22 Lyhnidia hadzii
23 Lyhnidia karamani
24 Lyhnidia stankovici
25 Lyhnidia sublitoralis
26 Strugia ohridana
27 Zaumia kusceri
28 Zaumia sanctinaumi
29 Pyrgohydrobia grochmalickii
30 Pyrgohydrobia sanctinaumi
31 Pyrgohydrobia jablanicensis
32 Chilopyrgula sturanyi
33 Neofossarulus stankovici
34 Macedopyrgula pavlovici
35 Macedopyrgula wagneri
36 Stankovicia baicaliiformis
37 Trachyohridia filocincta
38 Ohridopyrgula  macedonica
39 Ginaia munda
40 Xestopyrgula wagneri
41 Micropyrgula stankovici
42 Valvata stenotrema
43 Valvata rhabdoda
44 Valvata hirsutecostata
45 Acroloxus macedonicus
46 Acroloxux improvisus
47 Ancylus lapicidus
48 Ancylus scalariniformes
49 Ancylus tapirules
50 Gyraulus  lychnidicus
51 Gyraulus trapesoides
52 Gyraulus albidus
53 Gyraulus crenophillus
54 Gyraulus fontinalis
1 Rhinolophus euryale X
2 Rhinolophus hipposideros X
3 Rhinolophus ferrumequinum
4 Rhinolophus blasii X
5 Myotis bechsteini X
6 Myotis capaccinii X
7 Myotis emarginatus X
8 Myotis myotis X
9 Miniopterus schreibersi X
10 Nyctalus lesleri X
11 Sciurus vulgaris X
12 Myoxus (Glis) glis X
13 Dryomys nitedula X
14 Microtus felteni X
15 Microtus thomasi X
16 Mus spicilegus (abbotti) X
17 Canis lupus X
18 Monachus monachus X
19 Bubalus bubalis X
20 Ziphius cavirostris X
21 Stenella coeruleoalba X
22 Pelecanus crispus X
23 Phalacrocorax pygmeus X
24 Anser erythropus X
25 Aythya nyroca X
26 Branta ruficollis X
27 Marmaronetta angustirostris X
28 Oxyura leucocephala X
29 Aquila clanga X
30 Aquila heliaca X
31 Falco naumanni X
32 Haliaeetus albicilla X
33 Circus macrourus X
34 Aegypius monachus X
35 Crex crex X
36 Otis tarda X
37 Tetrax tetrax X
38 Numenius tennuirostris X
39 Gallinago media X
40 Dermochelys coriacea  X
41 Caretta caretta X
42 Chelonia mydas X
41 Emys orbicularis X
42 Elaphe situla X
43 Vipera ursinii X
44 Triturus carnifex macedonicus X
45 Hyla arborea X
46 Lampetra fluviatilis X
47 Carcharodon carcharias X
48 Acipenser naccarii X
49 Acipenser sturio X
50 Alburnus albidus X
51 Barbus prespensis X
52 Leuciscus illyricus X
53 Salmo letnica X
54 Hippocampus ramulosus X
55 Barbus graecus X
56 Chalcalburnus belvica X
57 Chalcalburnus chalcoides X
58 Chondrostoma prespensis X
59 Pachychilon pictum X
60 Misgurnis fossilis X
61 Alosa fallax X
62 Cyprinus carpio X
63 Paraphoxinus epiroticus X
64 Paraphoxinus minutus X
65 Paraphoxinus pstrossi X
66 Sabanjewia aurata X
67 Atherina boyeri X
68 Aphanius fasciatus X
69 Syngnathus abaster X
70 Zosterisessor opiocephalus X
71 Xiphias gladius X
72 Thunnus alalunga X
73 Carassius carassius X
74 Bubrestis splendens X
75 Cerambys cerdo  X
76 Morimus funereus X
77 Rosalia alpina X
78 Osmoderma eremita X
79 Parnassius apollo X
80 Coenagrion mercuriale X
81 Saga pedo X
82 Carabus intricatus X
83 Formica pratensis/nigricans X
84 Formica rufa X
85 Lycaena dispar X
86 Maculinea alcon X
87 Maculinea arion X
88 Maculinea nausithous X
89 Hirundo medicinalis X