Before the arrival of man much of the land area of Lebanon would have been covered by oak woodland. There are three main species of oak trees found in Lebanon.
|Distribution in Lebanon||Distinguishing|
|Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon||1400 – 1800m||Deciduous; large, fat acorns with hairy cups|
|Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine||0 – 1500m||Evergreen; long thin acorns|
|Mediterranean region||500 – 1500m||Evergreen; small acorns|
As can be seen from the table oak trees are naturally found from sea level to 1800m. As you go up the mountains the lowland oak forests are evergreen (i.e. they keep their leaves all year round) however, between 1400 and 1500 m the species change to being deciduous (i.e. they lose their leaves for the winter). This is an adaptation to climate – the tough evergreen leaves of the lower slopes keep water inside, with thick coverings, necessary to survive the blasting heat of summer. On the cooler higher slopes conditions are less intense in the summer but trees can not access water in the winter when it is frozen, so they shed their leaves.
Kermes Oak (Quercus calliprinos) with its long thin acorns (right) is a common part of the lowland forests as shown here at Bentael Nature Reserve (above).
Although much reduced, due to man’s activities, these forests are a haven for all sorts of wildlife. Under the canopy of trees there is an understorey of shrubs and under them a ground cover of plants. All sorts of flowers can be found including the Kos Cyclamen (Cyclamen coum) left and the Histrio Iris (Iris histrio) right.
The oak trees and other plants are a rich source of food for an army of invertebrates who in turn are on the menu for many insect eating birds. Some of the commonest include; Blackbirds (Turdus merula), Lesser Whitethroats (Sylvia curruca), Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) above right, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers (Hippolais pallida) below right, Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita) above left, and Great Tits (Parus major).
The seeds of the oak trees – acorns are a special food for a number of animal species including the Jay (Garrulus glandarius), (below left, in the hand of a bird ringer see Birds) which feeds exclusively on them, burying them in the fall for when times are leaner in the winter.
Original home to many of the country’s mammal species – it remains the refuge for several including the Badger (Meles meles canescens), below left and Wild Boar (Sus scrofa lybicus), below middle, the latter being an omnivore feeds on insects, mollusks, fruit, fungi, small mammals etc. and the strictly herbivorous Persian Squirrel (Sciurus anomalus) below right.
*Badger & Squirrel photos courtesy of M. Abi Said
Mediterranean oak forest is widely distributed throughout the country. However, only a fraction remains, as the trees have been cleared from antiquity to make room for our houses and fields. Even today we are losing forest cover due to fires, construction and habitat degradation – see Pine Forest and Maquis and Garrigue. Nevertheless good examples of oak forest can still be found at Arz el Shouf Nature Reserve, Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve, Bentael Nature Reserve, Aammiq, Jabal Moussa, and many other places.