High Altitude Slopes

The higher slopes of the mountains are covered with snow for much of the year and after the snow has melted remain dry until its return the following winter. This leads to a harsh habitat where plants struggle to thrive. Those that do are specially adapted to the tough conditions, many being dwarf with a low “cushion” form as shown below.

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The technical term for this high altitude vegetation is “tragacanth.” It is dominated by rocky slopes with large areas of bare soil and rock, interspersed with low spiny shrubs such as Vicia, Erodium, Astagalus and Acantholimon. Although the amount of plant production is low these are very interesting places to visit, as the species that do live here are specialized, many not being found lower down. This is particularly true of the plants where delicate alpine flowers can be found amongst the rocks and in sheltered positions.

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(Arabis caucasica above, between 2 species of crocus that grow in the high mountains.)

Wherever there are flowers there will be insects. Although not restricted to the high slopes, the False Apollo (Archon apollinus) right is commonly found up to 2500m.

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Few people travel to the upper slopes and so they remain a refuge for some of the rarest of Lebanon’s mammals, including the wolf, left. The few wolves that still live in Lebanon travel huge distances on a daily basis including onto the highest slopes.

Certain migratory birds also use the higher slopes to roost, breaking their long journeys in isolated mountain areas in the fall when the slopes are still free from snow. Other birds are specialist high altitude species and make their living high in the mountains including such species as Shore Lark (Eremophila alpestris), below right, Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), below left, and present, but rare, the crow of the high mountains the aptly named Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) right.

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The upper slopes might seem lifeless in the winter but the evidence that even when snow covers these slopes, they harbor life, is all around. Animal tracks, such as these opposite and below, criss cross the snow fields as mammals and birds continue to go about their lives.

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