enormous diversity of plants in Armenia has been described based both in terms
of classification (algae, fungi, moss and higher plants), and by ecosystem. The
botanic diversity of the country reflects its position between major floristic
regions, with both Mediterranean and Boreal (Caucasian) floras being recorded.
The extent of knowledge of different floristic groups (particularly fungi and
higher plants) is described below, and the numbers of species described in
different floristic groups is summarised in of Plant diversity in
|Number of species recorded
Most groups of higher plants are represented in Armenia, including peat-moss,
horse-tails, ferns, gyrnnosperms (open-seed flowering plaints) and angiosperms
(closed seed flowering plants). A brief overview of each of these groups is
Peat-mosses. In Ammonia only Selaginella
helvelica occurs in sub-alpine meadow wet lands in the north-east of the
Horse-tails. Six species of horsetails are found in Armenia,
mainly in relatively damp areas in forests, river valleys and shorelines. The
most common species are Equisetum arvense, E. palustre, and E.
ramosissumum, and although of no commeraal use, many were
usetl for traditional medicine.
Ferns. Of the 10,000 species of ferns described globally, a
total of 38 species of ferns are found in Armenia, the most common species
include male fern (Dyopteris filix-mas), Ophioglossum vulgatum,
Cystopteris fragilis, Polypodium vulgare, Athyrium filix feminum,, Asplenium
spp. and Trichomanes spp. Compared with other groups of
higher plants ferns have limited economic value, although they do have some
decorative, edible and medicinal uses.
Gymnosperms. Of some 600 species of gymnosperms described
worldwide, only nine species are recorded in Armenia, including some introduced
species. Genera represented include juniper (Juniperus, 5 species), pine
(Pinuss; 1 specie), yew (Taxus; 1 species) and Ephedra (2
Angiosperms. These are the most diverse and abundant group
of higher plants in Armenia, and represent almost 50% of the overall flora of
the Caucasus. More than 3500 species of higher vascular plants of 200 families
grow in Armenia, in total covering approximately 30,000 km? of the land surface
of the country. As well as common temperate zone species, a number of endemic
and relict forms, with restricted distributions, are found. In addition, there
is high diversity among cultivated species. The diversity of plants found in
Armenia reflects not just its bio-geographical position, but the range of
landscapes and habitats represented in the country.
Aquatic and wetland plants
A total of 41.7 plant species (of 67 families) are known to occur in the rivers
and lakes of Armenia. Most of these (58%, 246 species) belong to ten plant
families. Not surprisingly, plant families associated with water or damp sites
are particularly well represented in this flora (Cyperaceae and
In general, relatively few aquatic plants are found in the rivers and lakes of
high mountains (only 10% of the aquatic flora is recorded above 2700m), most
are found at mid- (1200-2700m) or low- (< 1200m) altitude (50% and 40% of
the flora, respectively). Studies of the distribution of aquatic plants in
Armenia have identified some key sites for these plants:
Lakes of mid-altitude and in steppes are particularly rich in water
and marshland plants.
species (such as Nymphaea albs, Salvinia natalis, and Carex
bhemica) are found in the relict lowlands lakes in Lori region.
(Sevajur) river supports many aquatic and marshland species, including
nationally and regionally rare species. This is partly explained by its high
water quality and slow speed.
Sevan basin supports flowering water plants in its upper waters (above 6 m),
while algae flourish at greater depths.
large-scale drainage and destruction of marshland in vicinity in Lake Sevan,
some populations of reeds, rushes, (Juncus), reed mace (Typha)
and sedge (Carex) can still be found close to springs and emerging
number of aquatic plants are found in forest lakes. Ponds in shady woodlands
(such as those of beech and oak) tend to be dominated by algal blooms, and
where flowering aquatic plants do occur, their cover is relative sparse.
|As a result of
its biogeographical position, diversity of landscapes, variations in altitude
and mountainous nature, Armenia supports a wide range of animal species -
outstanding when compared to other countries of the region. Many of the species
that occur exist at the edge of their range or in separate isolated
populations, and are therefore of particular interest for zoologists and
Invertebrates have been less well studied than vertebrates in Armenia, as in
most countries. Around 17.000 species of invertebrates have been recorded in
the country, of which 90% are insects. Studies have been conducted on around
30% of invertebrates and although the beetles (Coleoptera) are well
studied, other groups such as mayflies (Ephemeroptera) and lace wings
(Neuroptera) are not well known. A number of invertebrates are
considered to be threatened including 7 molluscs, 15 grasshoppers, 1 homopteran
bug, 10 hymeropterns (bees, wasps and ants), 40 butterflies and moths, 20
beetles and 4 flies.
A range of planktonic invertebrates are found in Armenia's water systems
(totaling 124) species, including 46 species of rotifers (Rotatoria) and
78 crustaceans (Crustacea).
In addition a wide ranger of benthic species (316 species) are found in
Armenian water bodies
Fish: Fish belonging to five orders are found
in Armenia (Salmoniformes, Cypriniformes, Siluriformes, Cyprinodontiformes,
Perciformes). A total of 31 species are recorded in Armenia, including 9
endemic species and sub-species.
Amphibians: A total of 8 amphibian species are
found in Armenia. Most of them are generally widespread (European marsh frog,
Rana ridibuna; brusa frog, R. macrocnemis; European green toad, Buffo viridis;
European tree frogs, Hyla arborea shelkovnikovi, and H. savigni), along with
endemic Syrian spadefoot toad (Pelobates syriacus). In addition, a
further species was recently found in Armenia - an isolated population of
banded newts (Triturus vittatus) outside their normal distribution.
Reptiles: Armenia is recognized as having one
of the most interesting reptile faunas - of 156 species recorded in Newly
Independent States a total of 53 are represented here.
Birds: The position of Armenia, its varied
ecosystems and climate result in relatively high bird diversity. Bird faunas of
Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East are represented. A total of 349
bird species are recorded from Armenia and birds constitute over 60% of the
vertebrate fauna of the country. The Lakes Sevan and Arpi, along with Ararat
Valley are of great importance for wetland birds and are used by migrating
species. Together these sites support 145 species of waders and water birds.
Mammals: The mammals represent the second
largest vetrebrate class in Armenia, after birds with 83 species recorded in
the country. Over the last 10 years researchers identified the presence of
seven bat species, previously unrecorded. These included grey long-eared bat
(Plecotus austriacus), barbastelle (Barbastella barbastella),
Leisler's bat (Nictalus leisleri, Nathusius pipistrelle (Pipistrellus
nathusii), Savi's pipistrelle (Pipistrellus savii), particolouredbat
(Vespertilio murinus) and the European free-tailed bat (Tadarida
Endemic plant species
Armenia is positioned at the junction of several bio-geographical regions, and
consequently contains a wealth of botanical diversity. However, these
bio-geographical zones are well linked, and the lack of isolation results in
relatively few endemic species. Overall, 106 species of endemic plants are
recorded (representing 3% of the total Armenian flora, and 1.5% of flora found
across the Caucasus.
In addition, Armenia contains a number of regional endemics which are also
found at a limited number of sites in neighbouring countries. For example,
Campanula inassalskyi outside Republic grows in sole site at Armenian
Platey in Turkey, and Cousinia gigantolepis only grows in the
southern province of Armenia and in sites in northern Iran. Overall, over 300
species are endemic to the Armenian-Iranian region.
The endemic flora of Armenia is of relatively recent origin (dating from the
Quaternary or Holocene), with no ancient endemic species
recorded. This reflects the relatively recent diversification of flora in the
region, which has resulted in the current botanical richness of Armenia. The
distribution of endemics corresponds closely with climate, and most are found
in the southern and central arid zones of the country. In particular the
regions of Daralagiaz and Yerevan show high numbers of endemics (with 38 and 36
Relict plant species
Relict species, which have been preserved since geological time practically
unchanged, are an important component of Armenia's botanical diversity. It is
estimated that between 150 and 200 relict species occur, although accurate
determination is limited by gaps in the fossil record. Some species (such as
Oriental beech Fagus orientalis, which originated in the Tertiary
period) are well adapted to today's conditions, and compete well with younger
species. Other relicts are widely spread but are only associated with
particular habitats (e.g. yew, Caucasian rosebay), while some species are
restricted to specific sites or refuges (e.g. Oriental plane Platanus
orientalis and male fern Dryopteris filix-mas). There is also
evidence of relict fungi species occurring in deserts and steppes including
Podaxis pistillaris and Battarea phalloides).
Rare and declining plant
Threatened plant species have been recorded from all regions. Many of the rare
and threatened plants in Armenia are associated with wetlands; water-marsh
systems alone contain 45 plant species which are considered to be in need of
conservation attention. The greatest threat to wetland plants has been drainage
of marsh and wetlands for agriculture. Around 20,000 ha of wetland sites have
been drained across the country, resulting in inevitable damage to these
ecosystems and associated flora. However, a number of other threats affect
A number of species (including yellow water lily (Nuphar
luteum), bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), and flowering rush
(Butolnus umbellatus) were lost when Lake Arpi was converted into a
The drainage of Lake Gilly, and decline in water levels in Lake
Sevan, severely affected populations of around 60 species of water plants
(including Peucedanum zedelmeyerianum, Eleocharis transcaucasica,
Astragalus goktschaicus and Puccinellia grossehimii), and a
number of species disappeared completely following these activities.
Medicinal plants, such as sweet flag (Acorus calamus), which
has traditionally been used to treat gastro-intestinal problems, have suffered
Red-listed plant species
The Armenian Red Data Book (RDB) for plants was published in 1990, having been
under preparation for 15 years (including 5 years in press). Publication of
these works involved substantial review of the species concerned and the
selection criteria used. However, more recently socio-political change has led
to revision of priorities for conservation, and the need for quantitative
indicators and impartial criteria has been recognised. The current listings
include many rare species which are not threatened, but exclude a number of
species undergoing population declines. New criteria based on quantitative
indicators were proposed by the World Conservation Union - IUCN (Mace &
Lande 1991) have been used in the most recent IUCN Red Lists, but further
research will be needed to apply them to both the flora and fauna of Armenia.
At present Armenian biodiversity faces serious threats, and as many as half of
all plants in the country may require some conservation action. This is not
reflected in the Red Data Book which represents only the most highly threatened
species and lists only 387 species (12% of the flora).
Of the 17.500 vertebrate and invertebrate species recorded in the country, 329
are endemic to Armenia. These include a wide range of invertebrates (including
Phytodrymadusa armeniaca, Nocarodes armenus, Olophrum aragatzene, Amphycoma
eichleri, Cantharis araxicola, Tomomyza araxana, Bombilius schelkovnikovi,
Shadinia akramowskii, andGabbiella araxena), as well as a number of
vertebrate species and sub-species.
Nine species and sub-species of fish are endemic to Armenia. These include the
endemic species of Sevan trout (Salmo isshkhan), and its four races or
sub-species (winter bakhtak S. ischchan, gegharkuni S. ischchan gegarkuni;
boiak S. ischchan danilewskii, and summer bakhtak S. ischchan aestivalis), that
occur in Lake Sevan and surrounding rivers. In addition, the following
sub-species of fish are also endemic to Armenia, a roach (Armenian karmrakn,
Rutilus rutilus schelkovnikovi); a schneider species (Armenian tarekhik,
Alburnoides bipunctatus armeniensis); Sevan koghak (Varicorhinus capoeta
sevangi); a barbel (Sevan beghlou Barbus lacerta goktschaicus); and a white
bream species (Armenian goustera (Blicca bjoerkna derjavini). Populations of
trout (Salmo trutta), which until recently was found in all rivers in Armenia
and Wels catfish (Silurus glanis) have reduced significantly as a direct result
of human activities such as intensive poaching, reservoir pollution, unlimited
water use and uncontrolled fishing.
Of the 53 reptile species found in Armenia, over 13% are endemic. These include
several species of rock lizards including Lacerta unisexualis (white-bellied
lizard, found in the Sevan basin and surrounding areas), L. armeniaca (the
Armenian lizard, found in the north of the country), and L. nairensis (found
around Hrazdan River and Lake Sevan). Other endemic species and sub-species
include Eremias arguta transcaucasica (the racerunner, from Lake Sevan basin),
Vipera darevskii (Darevsky's viper, from Djavakhk Ridge at 2000-3000 m), and V.
raddei (Armenian viper, from Armenian Plateau and Minor Caucasus). Regional
endemic species (restricted to the Armenian Plateau) include several rock
lizards (Lacerta dahli, L. rostombekovi and L. valentini). In addition, one
amphibian, the Syrian spadefoot toad (Pelobates syriacus), is endemic to the
No true endemic bird species are found in Armenia, although the Armenian gull
(Larus armenicus) is considered to be an endemic species, and has been
recorded in the Lake Sevan basin, along the Arks, Hrazdan, and Akhurian Rivers,
and in recent years in the Ararat valley. In addition, the Caucasian grouse
(Tetrao mlokosiewiczi), which is endemic to the Caucasus, is uncommon in
Among 83 mammals recorded in Armenia, six endemic species or sub-species are
recorded - the northern mole vole (Ellobius lutescens), Vinogradov's
jird (Meriones vinogradovi), a jerboa (Allactaga williamsi), the
Caucasian birch mouse (Sicista caucasica), the Armenian mouflon (Ovis
orientalis gmelinii), and a sub-species of Natterer's bat (Myotis
nattereri araxenus). Of particular note is the Armenian mouflon which is
now restricted to areas in southern Armenia.
Relict animal species
Few relict animal species have been recorded from Armenia. One of fish
sub-species, a roach ("Armenian karmrakn", Rutilus rutilius
schelkovnikovi) appears to be a relict of Tertiary origin, which has been
preserved within the Metsamor basin. Two birds, the white-winged scoter
(Melarlitta fusca) and the boreal owl (Aegolius funereus), are
also considered to be relict species.
Rare and declining animal species
A number of vertebrate species are listed in the Red Data Book for Armenia, and
many more are now considered to be undergoing decline. Studies of around 316
endemic species and sub-species, have revealed that around 100 of these are
rare or declining.
Among the vertebrates species of key concern include a number of sub-species of
fish, which have been threatened by declines in the water level of Lake Sevan
and by over-fishing. For example, 'winter bakhtak' (Salmo ischchan), which
previously made up 30% of Sevan trout stocks, has now practically disappeared,
and 'bojak' (S. ischchan danilewskii) is also rarely found now. Spawning of
'summer bakhtak' (S. ischchan aestivalis) has been disrupted by both the
decline in the level of Lake Sevan, and the damming of rivers, leading to
declines in this sub-species, while populations of 'gegharkuni' (S. ishkhan
gegarkuni) are currently maintained through artificial breeding. 'Sevan
beghlou' (Barbus lacerta goktschaicus) declined following the changes in Lake
Sevan (leading to habitat loss) and this species is now listed in the Red Data
Book of Armenia.
Many Armenian reptiles are threatened (including a number of endemics and
regional endemics). Threatened species include the Caucasian rat snake (Elaphe
hohenackeri), Armenian viper (Vipera raddei), and a lidless skink (Ablepharus
chernovi) among others. The population of the racerunner (Eremias arguta
transcaucasica) numbering 100 individuals in the Sevan basin, is the only one
in the Caucasus. A number of semi-desert and alpine bird species are considered
threatened, vulnerable or extinct, while status of others has not yet been
determined. Research on many of these species is limited, but such birds appear
to be under increasing threat. Among mammals, the distribution and population
of Armenian mouflon (Ovis orientalis gmelinii) have declined as a result of
habitat loss and poaching. This species has undergone a significant range
reduction during the last 20 years, when it has disappeared from the Ararat
Valley, and is now restricted to sites in southern Armenia (Khosrov Reserve and
Red-listed animal species
A national Red Data Book for Animals has also been published, and the Armenian
Red Data Book for invertebrates is in preparation. From around 17.500 species
of invertebrate and vertebrates recorded in Armenia, approximately 300 are
considered to be rare or declining. Preparation of the Red Data Book for
invertebrates indicates that over a hundred species will be listed, and 48
species occurring in Armenia are also listed in the RDB of the Former Soviet
Union. A total of 97 vertebrates are currently listed in the Armenian RDB, of
which 39 are also listed in the RDB of the Former Soviet Union, and a number
are considered internationally threatened (according to the IUCN Red List of
Threatened Animals. However, updating the Armenian RDB would be likely to lead
to the inclusion of many more species (perhaps doubling the existing list). The
status, distribution, and even scientific names, of many species have changed
sine the Armenian RDB was last published. A number of species occurring in
isolated populations was not included in the book. Furthermore, the recent
economic crisis and natural disasters have severely impacted many species, and
legislation has not been effective in protecting wildlife resources. A number
of species are now thought to be on the verge of extinction in Armenia.
Among the species listed in the Armenian ROB are 15 species of amphibians and
reptiles and 18 mammal species or sub-species. The following mammals appear
most at risk: Mehely's horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus mehelyi), European
free-tailed bat (Tadarida teniotis), long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus
auritus), marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna), European otter
(Lutra lutra), brown bear (Ursus arctos), manul (Felis
manul), the Asian wild sheep (Ovis orientalis gmelini), and wild
goat (Capra aegagrus). The striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), and the
Caucasian birch mouse (Sicista caucasica) with more or less extinct
populations have also to be added.
|Farming has a long history in
Armenia, dating back two millennia. Since that time it has continued to be an
important factor acting on natural ecosystems, and on the genetic diversity of
the country, both through the use of land and through man's effects on the
genetic composition of species through selective breeding.
Armenia is considered to be one of the centres of origin for wild ancestors of
crops and livestock, and for the artificial selection of new varieties and
The Armenian Plateau is recognized an important center of origin for cultivated
plants. This is based upon both the number of extant wild relatives of crop
plants (criterion used by Humbolt &. Brown in the l9th century), and upon
the number of varieties of different species occurring in the country
(criterion used by Vavilov). Historical evidence has revealed ethno-botanical
use dating from the 8th century BC, with excavations showing evidence of crop
growing as early as the 5th century BC. This discovery of early ethnobotanical
use is supported by evidence from ancient Assyrian cuneiforms (9-8th centuries
BC) which suggest widespread cultivation of wheat across the Armenian Plateau.
Further evidence comes from Armenian chronicles that mention the use of a range
of fruit species, including Armenian varieties (e.g. fig, apple, pear, and
peach) while wheat, vegetables and forest plants are mentioned by Barsegh
Archeological and ethno-botanical studies also indicate long-term cultivation
of grains (wheat, barley, rye, millet, oats), pulses (peas, lentils, chick
peas, broad beans), fruit (water-melon, grapes, apricot, quince, plum, cherry,
pomegranate, peach, apple), as well as nuts and wild grasses on the Armenian
Plateau. This extent of cultivation and variety of crops indicates that Armenia
is an important site of origin for crop cultivars.
Wild relatives of crops in Armenia
The following varieties and wild relatives of crops occur in Armenia:
Cereals. A total of 13 species and approximately 360
varieties of wheat are found in Armenia. Three species of world importance grow
in Armenia (Triticum boeoticum, T. urartu and T. araraticum), and the latter
two species appear to have originated in the vicinity of Armenia. A further
nine species of wheat (genus Aegilops) are recorded in Armenia, including some
wild varieties. A number of species of rye occur in Armenia (sub-species of
Secale cereale, and wild relatives S. vavilovii and S. montanum, including 36
varieties). Barley cultivars (Hordeum distichon, H. intermedium and H. vulgare)
are planted and a further eight wild species (with high intra-specfic
diversity) occur naturally (including H. spontanem and H. bulbosum).
Pulses. Native cultivars of runner beans (Phaseolus), lentils (Lens), garden
pea (Pisum), and broad bean ( Vicia) are found in Armenia. In addition, wild
relatives of lentils (2 species), chickpeas (Cicer arietinum, 2 varieties), and
garden peas (3 species) are found.
plants. A range of fodder plants occur, mainly from two families - Fabaceae
(among others Medicago (10 species/varieties), Trifolium (30), Onobrychis (6)
and Vicia (36) and Poaceae (including species and varieties of Agropyron,
Arrhenaterum, Dactylis, Festuca, Lolium, Phleum, and Bromus).
and berries. Fruiting plants have been grown since ancient times, and a
wide range of cultivated, wild and semi-wild forms are found today. These
include apples (4 varieties), pears (17), whitebeam (10), hawthorns (11), plums
(4), and almond trees (4). Species and varieties of peach, quince, walnut,
pomegranate, melon and fig, are cultivated as well as varieties and species of
the genera Ribes (includes blackcurrant), Dospyros, Cerasus, Pistacia (includes
pistachio and turpentine), Elaeagnus (includes silverberry and oleaster)
Fragaria, and Rubus.
Vegetabjes and salad crops. As well as cultivated species, a
number of wild crop species occur, including beetroot, spinach, carrots,
coriander, mint, asparagus, and leek.
bearing plants. As well as cultivated crops the following wild species
grow: flax hemp, camiline (false flax), mustard (several species), safflower,
edible plants. A wide range of plants have been collected from the wild
since historical times, and some of these have since been brought into
The conservation of the natural diversity found within wild populations and
relatives of crops is an important issue. This is most likely to succeed in
protected areas (reserves and reservations). In addition, ex-situ conservation
takes place in nurseries, seedbanks, research laboratories and herbaria.
Special collections and nurseries might also be established to help protect
endemic varieties of cultivated plants.
Native breeds of livestock
Armenia appears to have been the source for a number of wild relatives of
domestic livestock, including sheep. Recent studies suggest that the endemic
Armenian mouflon (Ovis orientalis gmelinii) may be the ancestor of domestic
sheep. In addition, the Kharabaghian race of horse appears to have derived from
native wild horses of the Armenian Plateau. Armenia also appears to have been a
centre for goat breeding, and endemic varieties of goat (such as Kilikian
semifine-wool goat) have been described.
There is a long history of animal breeding in Armenia, with archeological
studies indicating the keeping of livestock since Neolithic times (including
horses, cows, sheep and pigs).
Cuneiform records from Urartu also affirm that all the main agricultural
species in Armenia were also bred at that time. Further evidence for the
history of livestock breeding comes from ancient Armenian chroniclers (3-4th
centuries AD). Since that period there is extensive evidence for artificial
selection and the development of distinctive animal breeds in Armenia.
The Causcasian breed of cow was derived from the crossing of native
Caucasian, Lebedinian and Castroma varieties.
varieties of domestic sheep derive from the Armenian mouflon, while the
Armenian semicoarse-wool sheep derives from selective breeding of
Balbas-American and Ramboulliet-British Lincoln breeds. A range of sheep
bearing semi-fine wool have also been developed through mixed breeding.
"Armenian manufacturing pig" was developed from crosses of big white
pigs, and Landras, Wales and Djurok breeds.
"Yerevan" chickens were developed from crossing Rhode
Island, Austalorp and New Hampshire breeds.
breed of rabbits ("Armenian marder") were bred from blue-coated
rabbits crossed with Himalayan and chinchilla breeds.
bred in Armenia were originally derived from the Asian water buffalo.
coypu (originating in South America) have been bred in Armenia since 1940.