Macaronesia


Macaronesia

"Macaronesia" is a modern collective name for several groups of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean near Europe and North Africa belonging to three countries: Portugal, Spain, and Cape Verde. The name (which is often misspelt 'Macronesia') comes from the Greek for "fortunate islands", a term used by Ancient Greek geographers for islands to the west of the Straits of Gibraltar.

Macaronesia consists of five archipelagos:
* Azores "(Portugal)"
* Canary Islands "(Spain)"
* Cape Verde "(Cape Verde)"
* Madeira, including Desertas Islands "(Portugal)"
* Savage Islands "(Portugal)"

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

The climate of the Macaronesian islands ranges from subtropical to tropical. The Portuguese archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira have a generally cooler climate and higher rainfall than the Canaries and Cape Verde.

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 forests, called "laurisilva", 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 Mediterranean 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.


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