Georgia, as part of the Caucasus, is one of the 200 global ecoregions identified by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). At present, 34 biodiversity hotspots have been identified by Conservation International (parts of the Earth, which are richest in biodiversity and, at the same time, most threatened). Of these 34, Georgia is part of the Caucasian (most of the Georgian territory, northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range, southern parts of the Russian Federation, including Adygea, Kabardo-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Chechnya, North Ossethia and Dagestan) and Iran-Anatolian (southern Georgia – Javakheti, parts of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran and Turkey) hotspots.
Forests, covering about 40% of the country’s territory are considered the most important biome for biodiversity conservation in Georgia and Caucasus in general. Many endemic and relict species of woody plants and herbs (flora) as well as important and rare animal species (fauna) are associated with forests.
As a consequence of its location, and its physical and climatic diversity, Georgia has remarkably rich and diverse flora in comparison to other temperate countries. There is a high level of endemism, which includes components of various biogeographical origins. Many groups of plants are believed to originate in the Caucasus Mountain Range and the process of plant speciation is believed to be still taking place.
Forests in Georgia are highly diverse, consisting of broadleaf, coniferous, arid open and lowland (including floodplains) forests and woodlands, which are shaped by elevation, soil conditions and climate. Broadleaf forests consist primarily of oriental beech (Fagus orientalis), Georgian oak (Quercus iberica), hornbeam (Carpinus caucasica, C. betulus) and chestnut (Castanea sativa). Most oak species (Q. iberica, Q. pedunculiflora) growing in Georgia are endemic to the Caucasus region. Georgian oak is the main species growing in the lower and mid-elevation forest belts, and floodplain oak (Q. pedunculiflora) is the dominant species in the floodplain areas.
Chestnut, hackberry (Celtis caucasica), box tree (Buxus colchica), zelkova (Zelkova carpinifolia), yew (Taxus baccata), elm (Ulmus carpinifolia, U. glabra) and high-mountain maple (Acer trautwetteri) are regarded by many experts as particularly valuable tree species which need special care and protection. For instance, in terms of biodiversity, chestnut is a mast (fruit bearing) species important for feeding forest animals, such as wild boar (Sus scrofa) and brown bear (Ursus arctos).
In the Colchic foothills, chestnut and beech forests with evergreen understorey are dominating. Dark coniferous forests, made up mainly of oriental spruce (Picea orientalis) and Caucasian fir (Abies nordmanniana), are found in the western part of the Lesser Caucasus Range and on both sides of the western and central Greater Caucasus Range.
Native pine forests (Pinus kochiana) occur in the northern parts of Georgia in the high mountains of Khevsureti. They are also found in the southern Caucasus, especially in the Kura River watershed in Georgia. Arid open woodlands form on dry, rocky slopes in south-eastern Georgia, made up of juniper (Juniperus foetidissima), pistachio (Pistacia mutica) and hackberry species. Lowland forests are found in floodplains and on low river terraces, generally growing on alluvial, swampy, or moist soils. Very few lowland forests have been preserved to this day. Some stands remain in the Kolkheti lowlands and in the Kura, Iori and Alazani river valleys. In total, there are about 15-25 woody plants growing in the forests, which could be regarded as endemics of Georgia, according to expert estimates.
Georgia has a relatively high percentage of forest cover, according to which it belongs to the forest-rich countries. However, due to the over-use of the forests, canopy cover has reached critically low thresholds (less than 50%) in more than 55% of forest area. Such forests have significantly decreased the protective functions and lost the ability of regeneration which negatively affects the biodiversity. At present, the country’s forest biodiversity is threatened by climate change, unsustainable use (logging and grazing), forest fires, introduction of alien species and unsustainable hunting/poaching. Unsustainable infrastructure development may introduce additional threats.
Source: National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan of Georgia (2013-2020)