The nature

Geolithology

Unlike other mountain ranges of sedimentary origin belonging to the Southern Alps, the igneous rocks that make up the group Adamello are of intrusive origin. The cooling process of the “plutons”, which originated at the centre of the Earth and penetrated in the fractures of existing rocks, started about 42 million years ago from the Re di Castello Mountain area and ended, extending towards the north (Mount Presanella), about 29 million years ago.

The main types of igneous rocks in the Adamello Massif are the following:

  • quarzodiorite (Mount Adamello and Mount Avio)
  • coarse-grained tonalite (Corno Baitone, Val Miller, Val Salarno and Valle Adamé)
  • granodiorite (Monte Re di Castello, Cima Laione, Cima Terre Fredde and Alta Valle di Stabio).
  • These form the core of the Massif (M. Adamello, M. Fumo and Valleys of Avio and Paghéra).
  • Coarse-grained tonalite makes up the Corno Baitone, the Miller, Salarno and Adamé Valleys, while fine-grained tonalite makes up Re di Castello, M. Listino, Val di Stabio etc. 

The main minerals of the Adamello include quartz, feldspar, hornblende, plagioclase. The contact with the incandescent magma, flowing up from deep below, metamorphosized  existing rocks of sedimentary origin, derived from ancient coral reefs, and of which today significant remains can still be seen only in the southern part of the Park, especially in Val Fredda and Val di Cadino. Limestone and dolomite have been turned into saccharoidal and calciferous marble (Corna Bianca), while in the northern part of the park the sandstones were metamorphosized into garnets (Corno delle Granate). The crystalline and impermeable characteristics of the rocks of the Adamello Massif, acting in synergy with the presence of the glacier, means that there is an abundance of springs and watercourses, which once gave rise to large streams and picturesque and spectacular waterfalls.
The pure limestone rocks became marble, clay materials became microcrystalline rocks with splinter fractures (traditionally used as stone slabs to cover the roofs of rural buildings in Vallecamonica) or crystalline formations that contain other minerals such as mica and garnet.
The present forms of the mountains are mainly shaped by the action of glaciers over millions of years and the subsequent erosion produced by weathering.
In the first half of the twentieth century many dams were built for the catchment of waterbodies in the Park, especially in the basins of Lake Arno and Lake Baitone, in Val Salarno and Val d’Avio, as part of two large hydroelectric plants, those of S. Fiorano and Edolo.

The vegetation

The altitude difference of over 3,000 meters between the highest and lowest points of the Adamello Park (ranging from 390 to 3539 meters above sea level) generates considerable climatic variations which, together with the lithological diversification, influence the structure, composition and distribution of all the Park ecosystems.

From the bottom of the valley up to 1000 meters above sea level lie the forests of broad-leaved trees, consisting of chestnuts (Castanea sativa), once assiduously cultivated, interspersed by meadows or more often by woods with a prevalence of hop hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia), ash (Fraxinus excelsior), manna ash (Fraxinus ornus), aspen (Populus tremula), silver birch (Betula pendula), sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), wild cherry (Prunus avium), goat willow (Salix caprea), field elm (Ulmus minor) and common hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), accompanied by common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), hazel (Corylus avellana), and laburnum (Laburnum anagyroides, L. alpinum). Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), durmast oak (Quercus Petrea) and downy oak (Quercus pubescens) can be found in the most weather-beaten and arid areas. The beech (Fagus sylvatica) is not widespread in the Park, having previously been “sacrificed” for economic reasons in favour of the spruce (Picea excelsa). However the Park boasts magnificent monumental specimens of beech in Val Malga, Sonico.

Common alder (Alnus glutinosa), willows (Salix alba, S. elaeagnos, S. purpurea, etc.) and grey alder (Alnus incana) are present in riparian thickets along the numerous streams.
Above 1000 metres of altitude,  the forest cover is mainly composed of vast and dense coniferous woods , with dominant spruce (Picea excelsa) and a rich under storey of bilberries and saxifrages (Vaccinium myrtillus, V. vitis idaea, Saxifraga cuneifolia). Woods consisting mainly of silver fir (Abies alba) are less common and located mainly in Val Malga, Sonico.
Higher up the spruce forests give way to larches (Larix decidua), of which you can admire some impressive monumental specimens near Malga Casentia, in Val Saviore. The Swiss pine (Pinus cembra) is much rarer but splendid examples can be admired in the Val d’Avio, around Lake Arno, Lake Aviolo and Monte Piccolo. The upper limit of the forest is around 1900-2000 metres, but isolated trees can be found up to 2350 meters
Above the tree line there is the zone of twisted, dwarf shrubs, almost prostrate on the ground, with a prevalence of green alder (Alnus viridis) and juniper (Juniperus nana); the dwarf mountain pine (Pinus mugo) is present mainly on carbonatic soils, especially on the gravelly slopes of Mount Columbine. The rusty-leaved alpen-rose (Rododendron ferrugineum) and the hairy alpen-rose (R. hirsutum), vicariant species, are widespread on siliceous and carbonatic soils respectively.
The alpine meadows lie above 2200 meters. On sunny slopes on siliceous substrate plant communities of the fescue Festuca scabriculmis are common, often accompanied by the flowering plants Potentilla aurea and Campanula barbata, while on less steep slopes the sedge Carex curvula together with the flowering plants Gentiana kochiana, Astrantia minor and Trifolium alpinum are found. On pasture intensively exploited for livestock the grasses  Nardus stricta and Deschampsia caespitosa prevail with occasional Leucorchis albida, Arnica montana  and Astrantia minor. Carbonatic substrates are dominated by pasture composed of the grasses Sesleria coerulea, Carex sempervirens and C. firma. Up to the snowline, sedge meadows alternate with fragmented  rocks and crags, where live only species specialised in surviving at very low temperatures.

In small hollows in the snow zone some prostrate willows (Salix reticulata, S. retusa and S. herbacea) survive together with bryophytes and lichens, sometimes with Sibbaldia procumbens, Arenaria biflora and Soldanella alpina.
The vegetation of wetlands and bogs is widespread in the Park due to the considerable amount of these transitional ecosystems within the protected area. Together with sphagnum (Sphagnum spp.), there are many  species which have adapted to the acidic and  low in nitrogen substyrate typical of bog ecosystems: Eriophorum scheuchzeri, E. angustifolium, E. vaginatum, Carex fusca, Trichophorum caespitosum, Andromeda polifolia, Vaccinium microcarpum, Drosera rotundifolia and Carex pauciflora.

Mammals

In the Adamello Park all the alpine fauna is present including the brown bear (Ursus arctos), which has been recently found in the Park.

There is currently no confirmed information on the location of its hibernation sites. However, the presence of this splendid animal has been recorded in several areas at different times of the year, and an ongoing project is seeking to study and better understand the dynamics of repopulation of both the brown bear and grey wolf (Canis lupus) through a monitoring programme. 

The lower  part of the valley and in the broad leaved and coniferous forests are home to some representatives of the Mustelid family: the badger (Meles meles), elusive carnivore of nocturnal habits that prefers more open wooded and bushy areas near cultivated land, the beech marten (Martes foina) is widespread and can be found on both cultivated and uncultivated land. The marten (Martes martes), an arboreal species, perfers mature forest and the weasel (Mustela nivalis) is present in the forests of the mountain horizon in Paghera Valley of Ceto, basins of Lake Arno and  plain of Gaver.

The hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), an insectivorous species, is widespread from the basal plain up to approximately 1500 meters of altitude, in clearings, forests of broad leaves and near cultivable land.

Among the arboreal Rodents it is easy to spot the squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), that prefers the forests of broad leaves and conifers from 500 to 2000 meters of altitude, while the edible dormouse (Glis glis), although associated with the mature forests of deciduous leaves, can be spotted near barns.

The fox (Vulpes vulpes) an ubiquitous species, prefers wild habitats from 500 to 2000 meters of altitude, rich of vegetation, bushy gorges and rocks which allow them to establish breeding dens.  The forests  with scattered clearings within the sub mountainous and mountainous horizons are inhabited, respectively, by the shrew (Dorex araneus) and the alpine shrew (Sorex alpinus).

From 500 to 1800 meters, in wide glades near the edge of the mixed forests of broad-leaves and conifers and in unclosed firwoods, lives the deer (Cervus elaphus) a dominant Ungulate belonging to the Cervidae family .

The same habitat, although with a rich shrub layer, is occupied by the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), a graceful animal of elusive habits.

Among the Lagomorphs, the common hare (Lepus europaeus) is distributed uniformly between the lower valley and 1500 meters of altitude, near uncultivated land and forests of broad-leaves full of glades.

High up on the culminating plateau, in alpine prairies and in heaps of stones live the mountain hare (Lepus timidus), the ermine (Mustela erminea) and the marmot (Marmota marmota) which is a large Rodent, found in the Park between 1800 and 2800 meters of altitude. The social organisation of this species imitates that of a colonial species where members of the colony acts as lookouts and warn the others of the presence of potential predators by emitting  a shrilly hiss. T

he snow vole (Microtus nivalis) is a small Rodent that lives in dug lairs in the subalpine and alpine horizon.

Beyond the limit of the arboreal vegetation it is possible to observe the chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) and the ibex (Capra ibex), elegant Ungulates belonging to the Bovidae family, which prefer the rocks in the most difficult and steep terrain of the Park. The chamois, an animal of gregarious habits, differs from the ibex by the reduced dimension and the presence of small horns folded like a hook in both sexes.

Birds

There are numerous species of birds which live in the various habitats of the Park. The Picidae are typical of the forests of the sub mountainous horizons:, the green woodpecker (Picus viridis), the great spotted woodpecker (Picoides major) are easily located thanks to its characteristic call, a short and acute kik emitted very fast. The rare black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) is closely linked to the availability of old rotten trees. During spring and summer it feeds mainly on larvae of insects parasitic of trees, that it finds by drilling holes in the tree trunks. In autumn and winter it feeds on insects under the bark of trees and on seeds of  pinecones. To extract the pine seeds, the pecker embeds the pinecones in a fissure on the tree trunk, usually always the same one, this is evident by the empty  pinecones  accumulated near the base of the tree.

The tengmalm’s owl (Aegolius funereus) is a Strigiformes that lives in the forests of tall larches and nests in the cavities produced by the woodpeckers. Other night rapacious animals that live in the Park are the pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum), the tawny owl (Strix aluco) and the long-eared owl (Asio otus), which prefers the forests clearings. Among the diurnal rapacious species there are the honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus), the sparrow hawk (Accipiter nisus), the common buzzard (Buteo buteo), the kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and the goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) present in the forests of conifers at altitudes comprised between 1000 and 1800 meters.

In the park live also the Tetraonidae, birds of particular interest due to their rarity and remarkable ecological requirements. In the mixed forests with a rich underbrush it is possible to sight the hazel grouse (Bonasia bonasia), while the black grouse (Tetrao tetrix) prefers the alpine larch forests between 1600 and 2200 m of altitude. The black grouse is a polygamous species and the courtship happens after several chases and combats between males in order to adjudicate, by means of parades, dances and songs at the break of dawn the best display sites within the lek. The lek is usually a plain area deprived of vegetation that is re-used every year. At the end of the exhibitions, the mating of the females with the dominant males happens.

The capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) a very rare species that lives only in intact natural habitats, is now, relegated, with paltry presence, to a few woody areas of Paghera Valley of Vezza d’Oglio and Olda di Sonico. Its habitat consists mainly of mixed forests of broad leaves and conifers, with abundant herbaceous and shrubby underbrush, rank renewal and presence of ancient trees used by this bird to take flight and as perches. The capercaillie is particularly sensitive to anthropic disturbance.

The ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) is the tetraonidae that lives at the highest altitudes. Like the mountain hare and the ermine, in winter the ptarmigan assumes a completely white livery that enables a perfect camouflage with the frequented environment, to the limit of perennial snow at an altitude between 2300 and 2800 m. On the culminating plain the rock partridge (Alectoris graeca) was formerly present. It is a cock-of-the-rock species whose ideal habitat is the dry and exposed south facing mountainside between 1700 and 2300 meters of altitude.

The alpine prairie is inhabited by the wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), the alpine accentor (Prunella collaris) and the snow finch (Montifringilla nivalis) .

On the rocky crags of the extreme horizons, the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaëtos) and the alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) nest. The eagle is a territorial and monogamous species, during summer  it eats mainly marmots, young Ungulates, hedgehogs, foxes, corvidae and passeriformes. In winter and spring it consumes the carcass of wild herbivores and domestic cattle swept away by avalanches.

Fish, Amphibians and Reptiles

In the flowing waters the most frequent fish species is the brook trout (Salmo trutta fario), present thanks to both periodic re-populating and its high reproductive capacity. The original native sub-species is widespread in the central and top parts of Val Camonica and in the high Caffaro Valley, up to over 2000 m of altitude. Other Salmonids even though not native, are the marble trout (Salmo trutta marmoratus) and the rainbow trout (Salmo gairdneri). The fish fauna of the Park  also includes the bullhead (Cottus gobio), with a similar range to the brook trout but at lower altitudes. The minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus) is only recorded with certainty in the lower stretches of the main streams of the Adamello Park.

Amphibians are associated to water and generally prefer humid habitats, at least for the first stages of their  life cycle. Salamanders and newts belong to the Chordata group. The spotted salamander (Salamandra salamandra) lives in the humid valleys of the mixed forest. It has been recorded  within the Park in the Re Valley at Niardo, the Paghera Valley at Ceto, and the Saviore, Malga and Avio valleys. The alpine salamander (Salamandra atra) is more typical of high-mountain and alpine areas and is isomorphic from the spotted salamander. It lives in damp and shady places in forests of conifers and is present up to the area of twisted bushes (2000m). It can also be found on prairies, alpine screes and sites with a high level of environmental humidity. Within the Park it is only found in the Braone Valley and in the top part of  Malga Valley (around Lake Baitone and near Refuge Tonolini). The newt (Triturus carnifex) is a common species with a wide sub-mountainous and mountainous distribution and can reach also the sub-alpine zone in the interior valleys. It prefers stagnant or slow flowing waters. In the Park, despite its wide adaptability, it has been recorded only at Lagoja, above Berzo Demo. In the Alps, the alpine newt (Triturus alpestris), typical of high-mountainous sites, frequents lakes, ponds and the loops of the torrents where the flow is less strong. For the territory of the Park it has been reported exclusively in the top part of Avio Valley, near Malga Lavedole. 

The rarity of the newts in Vallecamonica is thought by experts to be a consequence of the indiscriminate re-populating of trouts, authentic predators of Chordates. Regarding the Anuran Amphibians in the Park, there are green frogs, red frogs and toads. The singular green frog (Rana esculenta) is found only around Breno, but its presence is possible also along the lower valley of the river Oglio. The common frog (Rana temporaria) is part of the red frogs group. It is a mountainous and sub-alpine species , temporarily aquatic: in fact, the adults can be found dispersed over vast areas, far from their birthplace. In the Park, the common frog has been reported in several localities, even above 2000 meters of altitude, whereas the common toad (Bufo bufo), notoriously erratic in various sub-mountainous and mountainous environments, is found only in Saviore Valley and Malga Valley.

The common grass snake (Natrix natrix) and the dice snake (Natrix tessellata) are bound to stagnant waters between 300 and 1800 meters of altitude. The snakes have been reported in  Breno, Niardo, Cedegolo, Malonno, Vezza d’Oglio and Temù. In dry and bushy environments, at the limit of the forests, in the clearings and uncultivated land it is possible to find the western whip snake (Coluber viridiflavus), recorded within the Park between 650 and 1300 m of altitude around Breno, Ceto, Capo di Ponte, Berzo Demo, Saviore Valley, Malonno and Sonico. In the same horizon but with a more arboreal charachter, is the aesculapian snake (Elaphe longissima) that frequents forests, clearings and ruderal environments. A more xerophilous Colubrid is the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), reported in Breno, Saviore Valley and Avio Valley. Among the Ophidia, the only poisonous species are the aspic viper (Vipera aspis), widespread between 500 and 1200 m, and the adder (Vipera berus) which can be found between the upper mountainous and the high alpine horizons. Among the  Sauri reptiles there are slow worms (Anguis fragilis), that live in the forest litter and in terrains rich of humus, the common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis), the green lizard (Lacerta bilineata), that lives  on slopes and in clearings of the sunny forests. However, from a naturalistic point of view , the more interesting Saurian is the viviparous lizard (Lacerta vivipara), present in many localities, but prefers exposed, damp places, occasionally near streams, from 1230 to 2550 m.