Madeira Archipelago Nature


The archipelago of Madeira together with Azores, Canaries and Cape Verde belong to the Biogeographic Region of Macaronesia, name that came from greek origin: makáron = fortunate and nesoi = island, due to the privileged characteristics of the islands. This archipelago is compound by the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo, Desertas and Selvagens.

The volcanic origin, the influence of the trade winds generated by the Azores anti-cyclone, the Gulf Stream and the severe effect of its insularity make this archipelago a singular and unique hotspot of biodiversity.

Madeiran Wolf Spider Hogna Nonannulata
Madeiran Wolf Spider © B&C
quoting It's estimated 7571 taxa (species and subspecies) in the Madeira Island Archipelago
quoting1419 of the Madeira Archipelago species and subspecies are endemic to the Islands

The most representative group is the arthropods such as butterflies, beetles, dragonflies and spiders with 51% of the total biodiversity of the archipelago, which the majority of the endemics are in Laurel forest. The second major group with 42% of the total biodiversity, is plants and fungi.

Madeira is a luxuriant green island where we can find indigenous forest – mainly lauraceae, exotic forest - pines, acacias, eucalypts, and agriculture fields that decrease with higher altitudes.

quoting 51% of the Archipelago biodiversity is represented by the arthropods group and the second major group of this biodiversity with  42% is plants and fungi.

Madeira Laurissilva Forest - UNESCO world Heritage

One of the most important natural greenish habitats is the Laurissilva Forest. Acknowledging this is UNESCO’s “Natural World Heritage” award attributed in 1999 to the indigenous Madeira forest, a relic of Tertiary period. About 20 million years ago, Laurissilva Forest covered large areas of the south of Europe and of the Mediterranean Basin. Nowadays, it is confined to the geographical area known as Macaronesia. Madeira island owns the largest area of this forest in the world with around 15000 hectares, located mainly on the north of the island.


The molluscs group with about 300 taxa, has a remarkable 71% of endemics inside his group. The archipelago of Madeira is one of the areas of the earth with major specific diversity of mollusc. The group with less number of taxa and with more endemics (24% of total group), as used to happen in island, are the terrestrial vertebrates. In Madeira and Selvagens archipelagos can be found five classes of native and introduced vertebrates: freshwater fishes (3), amphibians (1), reptiles (5) mammals (12) and birds (45).

Wall Lizard - Teira Dugesii - Madeira Island
Wall Lizard © B&C

The most common freshwater fishes are the introduced Rainbow and Brown trouts that can be found in levadas channels and altitude streams. The amphibians are represented by the introduced specie, Perez's frog. In the archipelago of Madeira the reptiles are compound by 3 gecko, one endemic of archipelago of Selvagens (Tarentola bischoffi) and two introduced in Madeira and Porto Santo.

The other reptiles are the polymorphic Madeiran wall lizard (Teira dugesii), which presents 4 endemic subspecies, one in each islands, Madeira, Porto Santo, Desertas and Selvagens.


The birds are the classes with more species and subspecies in Madeira Archipelago due to their characteristics suited to reach and colonise island.

Learn more about it in Madeira Archipelago Birds

Almost of the terrestrial mammals in archipelago of Madeira are introduced (two species of rats, one mouse, one rabbit, one savage cat, one ferret and one goat in Desertas islands). Only the bats are the group non introduced of terrestrial mammals with about 5 species present. An endemic subspecies to Madeira island, Madeira Lesser Noctule (Nyctalus leisleri verrucosus) and one endemic specie to Macaronesia, Madeira Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus maderensis) living in Madeira and Porto Santo.


Madeira Archipelago Sea Vertebrates

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin- Madeira Island
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin © René Pop

It has been confirmed to date, frequently or occasionally 29 species of cetaceans, such us fin whales, sei whales and tropical whales, species of dolphins, sperm whales and baleotes. The most common are Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncates) and Pilot Whale (Globicephala melaena), both annual residents, and the Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis), Spotted Dolphin (Stenella frontalis) and Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera brydei) with sazonal presence in waters of archipelago of Madeira.

Another common species in the archipelago sea is the Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) that pass through these waters brought by sea currents.

A Madeira Archipelago highlight is the threatened Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) that were in danger of extinction but nowadays, thanks to the conservation programme, has a safe and stable population with approximately 40 individuals
Laurissilva forestMadeira Island
Madeira Laurissilva Forest © B&C

Regarding for the importance of the archipelago natural heritage, conservation and protection habitats and threatened species has been one of the main goal of this region.

67% of the archipelago is protected areas (both marine and land areas) which are managed by the Natural Park of Madeira

Some of these areas, such as the Mountain Massif, the Peninsula of São Lourenço, the Laurissilva Forest, the Desertas Islands, are classified as Special Protection Areas under Birds Directive, and Special Conservation Areas within the Natura Network 2000.


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