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Macaronesia


Macaronesia is a modern collective name for several groups of islands in the North Atlantic Oceanmarker near Europe and North Africa belonging to three countries: Portugalmarker, Spainmarker, and Cape Verdemarker. The name (which is often misspelt 'Macronesia') comes from the Greek for "islands of the fortunate" μακάρων νῆσοι makárōn nêsoi, a term used by Ancient Greek geographers for islands to the west of the Straits of Gibraltarmarker.

Macaronesia consists of five archipelagos:

The islands of Macaronesia are volcanic in origin, and are thought to be the product of several geologic hotspot.

The climate of the Macaronesian islands ranges from subtropical to tropical. The Portuguesemarker archipelagos of the Azores and Madeiramarker have a generally cooler climate and higher rainfall than the Canariesmarker and Cape Verdemarker.

The islands have a unique biogeography, and are home to several distinct plant and animal communities. None of the Macaronesian islands were part of a continent, so the native plants and animals reached the islands via long-distance dispersal. Laurel-leaved forestsmarker, called laurisilvamarker, once covered most of the Azores, Madeira, and parts of the Canaries between 400-1200 m altitude (the eastern Canaries and Cape Verde being too dry). These forests resemble the ancient forests that covered the Mediterraneanmarker basin and northwestern Africa before cooling and drying of the ice ages. Trees of the genera Apollonias (Lauraceae), Clethra (Clethraceae), Dracaena (Ruscaceae), Ocotea (Lauraceae), Persea (Lauraceae), and Picconia (Oleaceae), which are found in the Macaronesian laurel forests, are also known from fossils to have lived around the Mediterranean before the ice ages.

Felling of the forests for timber and firewood, clearing vegetation for grazing and agriculture, and the introduction of exotic plants and animals by humans has displaced much of the native vegetation. The laurisilva has been reduced to small pockets. As a result, many of the endemic biota of the islands are seriously endangered or extinct.

The jumping spider genus Macaroeris is named after Macaronesia.

See also


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