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Canary Islands

The archipelago consists of seven major islands, one minor island, and several small islets, all of which are volcanic in origin, formed by the Canary hotspot, the most recent eruption being that of Tajogaite at Cumbre Vieja, a volcanic ridge on La Palma, in 2021. The Teide volcano on Tenerife, at 3,715 metres (12,188 feet) above sea level, is the highest mountain in Spain, and the third tallest volcano on Earth on a volcanic ocean island. The islands lie in the path of the north-east trade winds that carry moisture. The winds create distinct microclimates on the taller and newer islands of the West (El Hierro, La Palma, La Gomera, Tenerife and Gran Canaria) as a result, and their windward side is heavily covered in forests. In the East however, the lower, older and eroded islands (Fuerteventura and Lanzarote) no longer reach the moisture carried by the winds and are effectively desert or semi desert.

One of the great riches of the islands lies in their biodiversity. Despite being a relatively small archipelago, it has a great diversity of living beings. One of the main characteristics of the flora and fauna of the Canary Islands is that, in most cases, they are endemic species. Approximately 15,000 different species have been counted so far.

The flora of the Canary Islands is exceedingly rich in species, at 1600-1700 species in total. The vascular flora of the Canary Islands comprises about 577 endemic species, which represent ∼40% of the native flora of the islands. These figures place the Canary Islands as the richest in all of Macaronesia, on par with other oceanic archipelagos such as the Galápagos Islands, and not far from those reached in the entire Mediterranean region. The Canary Islands’ climate and terrain have made its endemic flora have very special characteristics, favouring vegetation areas such as the xerophytic area, the thermophilic forest, the humid forest, the laurel forest, fayal-brezal, the pine forest and high mountain vegetation. The endemic flora, such as the relictual laurel forests, originated from the European subtropical forests of the Pliocene, at the end of the Tertiary Era.

The fauna of the Canary Islands is similarly rich, above all, in invertebrate species. Due to the separation of the Canary Islands from the mainland, and partly also due to the variety of climates and landscapes, many of the species in the archipelago are endemic. Among some of the most characteristic species of the endemic fauna are its giant lizards, some of which have gone extinct (Gallotia goliath, G. auaritae), whereas most of the remaining ones (G. simonyi, G. bravoana, G. intermedia) are endangered, except for the giant lizard of Gran Canaria (G. stehlini) which is the most abundant. As for marine fauna, the archipelago has at least 500 types of fish, 80 types of mammals and 5 species of marine reptiles.

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